Kosty, Stanford face new challenges now that men’s volleyball program is back in play

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Stanford men's volleyball
Stanford men's volleyball plays its MPSF playoff match against Pepperdine without the Stanford logo/Fabiana Beatriz, Stanford

As it turned out, a total team effort helped save Stanford men’s volleyball, and that included almost all of the program’s previous players.

“I truly think our Stanford men’s alumni volleyball group, who was incredibly supportive through this trying time, was the key,” Stanford coach John Kosty said. 

“When we first started asking for pledges, 97% of our alums donated.”

As we reported Tuesday, Stanford reversed its decision from last July to eliminate 11 sports — men’s volleyball, men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, and wrestling — as the university cited improved investment results and philanthropic interest as factors.

“Looking forward, we’re all excited, but also, our brain is spinning to regroup everything and try and prioritize what is the most important thing moving forward for today, for tomorrow, and then as we get into next week, more long-term,” Kosty said.

“We are so excited to have that problem. And you know, for the last eight or nine months, we were looking forward to this possibility that our program was reinstated, and how we can move forward and make us even better.”

The men’s volleyball program alone collected more than $7.7 million in pledges.

Kosty, who heads into his 16th season as the program’s head coach, can finally look ahead.

“We’re just excited. We’re taking today for today,” he told us Tuesday. “It’s a great day for everybody. Our student-athletes are excited, our coaches are excited for all 11 sports. All 36 sports are excited that the university had the courage to re-look at the situation and found a path back. It’s been incredible.”

Stanford sponsors 36 sports, twice the average of teams at NCAA Division I schools. The 11 reinstated sports represent a combined 20 national titles and 27 Olympic medalists. In the case of the Stanford men, the Cardinal won it all in 1997 and then Kosty coached the team to the 2010 NCAA championship.

Stanford Kosty men's volleyball 5/20/20212-John Kosty-Stanford men's volleyball
John Kosty

“I think the plan is going to help the university, along with the athletic department, along with the 11 sports,” Kosty said. “I think it’s a triple win. It’s a win for the university, a win for the athletic department,  and a win for the student-athletes whose sports were just reinstated.”

Stanford, of course, is a member of the Pac-12. But in men’s volleyball it plays in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation because the only other Pac-12 schools that also play men’s volleyball are UCLA and USC. 

This past season, Stanford struggled to a 3-14 finish, 3-13 in the MPSF regular season and a loss in the postseason tournament. For that matter, the Cardinal has had its struggles since losing in the 2014 national-championship match to Loyola. 

In 2015, Stanford was 10-18. It bounced back to go 19-6 in 2016, but went 13-13 in 2017. In 2018 the Cardinal finished 6-20 before going 15-11 in 2019. Last spring, the season was cut short with the team 6-11. 

Accordingly, Kosty’s challenge is significant, switching gears from dismantling a program to rebuilding a program that had been headed to its demise for months. A number of Stanford athletes are listed in the transfer portal and even with the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibilty, NCAA Division I-II men’s volleyball allows for just 4.5 scholarships per team. 

“We don’t know what next year’s team is going to look like, but we’re going to give it our all,” Kosty said. “It’s going to be an incredible season next year.

Stanford’s roster this spring included 18 players who learned of the reversal in a team Zoom meeting Tuesday, which ignited a team celebration. That roster will be quite a challenge for the coach.

“Some are graduating, and I’m not expecting some to come back, because they’re graduating, but we need to unwind it, it can’t be quick, but we need to be diligent with it,” Kosty said. 

“We need to be thoughtful of it. We need to figure out ways that we can give everybody opportunities to come back academically. That’s the ultimate decision. Academically, how do we have guys come back.”

Just minutes after the decision was released, Kosty’s phone and email blew up with congratulations from alumni and the volleyball community.

“I can tell you they’re thrilled. I’ve already received I don’t even know how many texts I have. It took me a good couple of minutes to find your phone call,” he said.

“The outpouring of congratulations has been incredible. It’s good to be back.”

Now the hard work begins.

“Stanford is resilient. That’s what Stanford is about. It’s to look at things differently, it’s to be gritty when presented with a challenge, to be willing to look at things from every angle, not just the decision you’ve made,” Kosty said. 

“I think that has come through clearly now that everybody was willing to engage and figure out a way to make Stanford athletics and everybody even better than it was before.”

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