No. 7 Stanford Defeats No. 9 Lewis

3/7/2009

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STANFORD, Calif. - "Shoji? C'mon!"

That was the exasperated reaction from a player on the Lewis bench to another of Stanford libero Erik Shoji's spectacular digs on Saturday night at Burnham Pavilion.

The freshman had 24 digs to overshadow the hitting of Evan Romero (20 kills) and Spencer McLachlin (16) in No. 7 Stanford's 32-30, 30-25, 27-30, 30-20 victory over the No. 9 Flyers. Shoji already owns the Stanford single-season digs record in the rally-scoring era, a total (280) that leads the country.

The rumors of Shoji's numbers were confirmed to Stanford players as they filed to the scorer's table after the match to glance at the scoresheet and see if those totals were true.

"He's got great court sense," said freshman outside hitter Brad Lawson. "Unbelievable."

Shoji's ability was well known before he arrived at Stanford, as he won Best Digger and Best Libero honors for the United States junior national team at international tournaments. But what has been a mild surprise has been his ability to mesh with the Stanford veterans on the court.

"He gives us 24 opportunities to score points," Stanford coach John Kosty said, referring to Shoji's Saturday total. "He gives us opportunities to get transition kills and separate from other teams, and gives us an opportunity to get one more swing in a sideout situation.

"We want him to be more vocal, but he's got a calmness on the court that really settles the team."

On one play, Shoji dived headlong for a dig to extend a rally that ended with a Romero blast. And, even more memorable, was Shoji's lone kill, a one-armed stab of the ball in the backrow that went over net and fell in for a point.

"Our block did a good job of setting up a wall," Shoji said. "I'm not guessing. I look for a seam and go hard."

Stanford (14-7) had 12.5 team blocks and bolted to a 10-4 fourth-set lead on the strength of four blocks in a six-point span. Freshman Gus Ellis had eight blocks and Romero seven, often in tandem on the right side.

As for Shoji, on the few occasions when he failed to get to the ball, he still felt like he should have made the play.

"I'm a perfectionist," he said. "If I shank a ball, I try to get better and try to make an adjustment the next time."

His play is one reason why Stanford extended its winning streak to a season-high six as the team heads into a two-week break because of Dead Week and finals. The Cardinal had won 16 consecutive sets until Lewis won the third to end the streak.

The consecutive set streak was the longest for Stanford since the 1997 team did the same during a run that extended into the first two sets of the national championship match against UCLA that Stanford would win. The last time Stanford had a longer streak was 1995, with 17.

Also, Stanford's six consecutive victories is its longest since a streak of 25 bridging the 1997 and 1998 seasons.

"It's bad that we get a break when we're on a roll," said Lawson, who had 12 kills. "But it's a great opportunity to get some rest. The first half was the rugged part, being on the road all time. In the second half, we'll be at home and that will help a lot."

Said Kosty, "Now, we're heading into Dead Week and finals with a winning streak and with a lot of confidence, and we get to think about our six wins for the next two weeks."

Article courtesy of Stanford athletics.

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