Being that I’m sure most of our NCAA Tournament brackets are bust, we are well aware the month of March breeds upsets. But that’s just with men’s basketball, right? Wrong.
This past weekend, the #1 ranked NAIA defending champs California Baptist University Lancers knocked off AVCA #3 ranked Stanford in five sets (18-25, 28-26, 30-32, 25-21, 16-14).
Maybe it’s not as huge an upset as we initially thought. The Lancers have an unbelievably great program led by Head Coach Ryan McGuyre culminating in a NAIA Championship a year ago. They knocked off then–No.2 UC Irvine to open the season, then-No.15 UC San Diego plus a myriad of wins against DIII top five ranked teams such as No. 1 Springfield. They certainly don’t play a cupcake schedule and have a 19-5 record to show for it.
However, for a team like Stanford, who considers themselves a serious contender to repeat as the DI National Champion, this loss can’t be a good sign. With just two teams in the AVCA top-10 not in the MPSF (Ohio State and Penn State), how can the Cardinal expect to beat the likes of USC, BYU (more on them in a minute) and Long Beach State if they can’t take care of business against Cal Baptist?
To be fair to Stanford, they probably were not at their best for a couple of reasons. Three starters - outside hitters Brad Lawson and Brian Cook, and middle blocker Gus Ellis - did not play at all. Here’s what Head Coach John Kosty had to say about the decision to mix up the lineup:
"We need to give an opportunity to some guys who hadn't played yet, to get a good match under their belt heading into the last part of the season," Kosty said. "We're going to have to rely on more than seven guys to reach our goal of winning a national championship. And this went a long way in helping us in that department."
Fair enough. If you were ever going to get non-starters playing experience, it might as well be in a non-conference match. Also one more thing to note, Stanford hadn’t played a match in two weeks prior to their loss. Factoring Cal Baptist being an excellent team, Stanford not playing their full lineup and not playing a match in two weeks, maybe it’s not so shocking.
Going back to those #2 BYU Cougars. They split their weekend series with unranked Cal State Northridge. More notably, in their first match those pesky Matadors swept BYU in straight sets 3-0, but the Cougars returned the favor in the second match by sweeping Northridge.
"I think we were very sharp last night and BYU was not," said Matador head coach Jeff Campbell after the BYU victory. "They came in tonight and were very sharp, they served extremely well and we were out of system the entire night. They served as well as any team has served against us all year."
I think that loss on Friday was more of an aberration than anything else, but as I said about Stanford, they can’t afford to have any lapses or aberrations when playing top-flight MPSF schools. I’m sure BYU would love to have that first match back as we’ll see if that MPSF loss comes back to haunt them.
Perhaps they psychologically relaxed a bit when entering the weekend set against the unranked Matadors. If they did, they got a pretty quick lesson: when it comes to conference play, there is simply no room for that.
So move over college basketball, March Madness will have to be shared.