Stanford, Penn State in 'friendly' final
STANFORD, Calif. — Kawika Shoji, Stanford's national player of the year, will see some familiar faces across net.
The top-seeded Cardinal (23-6) play third-seeded Penn State (24-7) for the NCAA men's volleyball championship today.
Shoji played with Nittany Lions' hitters Max Lipsitz and Will Price on the U.S. junior national team. He will be joined by his younger brother, Erik — both are two-time first-team All-Americans.
Penn State swept Cal State Northridge in three sets in the semifinal. Stanford advanced with a sweep of Ohio State.
"Penn State has been here a lot," said Kawika Shoji , an 'Iolani alum from Hawai'i. "The experience factor is an issue. Having a few guys who played in the final game gives them one-up on us. I feel we're ready for any situation and we're playing at home and that's one-up for us."
Lipsitz is a three-time All-American and junior libero Dennis Del Valle made the second team. Stanford coach John Kosty considers Penn State's Joe Sunder, Price and Del Valle to be All-American worthy.
"You have the top two liberos in the country," Kosty said. "They are both talented, they pass well and they play defense."
Del Valle is plenty animated, sometimes taking a victory lap inside the lines after a good play.
"He energizes the team," Penn State setter Edgardo Goas said. "I'm used to having him run around. He can really get the team going."
Del Valle and Erik Shoji (Punahou alum from Hawai'i) are putting their own stamp on the position.
"Over the past six to 10 years we've had some good liberos out there who became role models for young players," Penn State coach Mark Pavlik said. "Normal-sized guys have the opportunity to affect the outcome of the match. Dennis and Erik are redefining the position for younger players."
The teams have common opponents in Southern California, Hawai'i, Ohio State, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Northridge. Penn State was 5-5 against the group this year while Stanford went 12-4.
Other players from Hawai'i on the Cardinal roster are Brad Lawson ('Iolani) Jordan Inafuku (Kamehameha), Spencer McLachlin (Punahou), Max Halvorson (Punahou) and Chandler Ka'a'a (Kamehameha-Hawai'i).