Stanford’s Spencer McLachlin is a senior, yet at times leading up to the season, he’s felt like a freshman.
Not only is it different as the defending national champions, knowing the target is squarely on your back, but the 6-foot-7 outside hitter is also adjusting to life on the court without one of the program’s most successful players.
Kawika Shoji, a 2006 ‘Iolani graduate, was the unquestioned leader of a Cardinal squad that won the national title a year ago, a mere three seasons after finishing 3-25.
Shoji was named the national Player of the Year, and is either first or second on the school’s all-time lists during the rally-scoring era in digs, assists and service aces.
He’d been there for every swing of McLachlin’s Stanford career, so not having him around to open the 2010-11 season has been a learning process for the 2007 Punahou graduate.
"Yeah, it’s been an adjustment," McLachlin said. "He’s been our captain since (my freshman year) and it’s been different without him.
"He’s really an intense guy and that’s one of the things I made sure I picked up on is keeping practices intense, even though he’s not here anymore."
McLachlin credits Shoji’s leadership as one of the biggest influences in the Cardinal winning their first national title in 13 years.
Now that he’s gone, McLachlin has stepped into that leadership role as a team captain, but has help. Fellow Cardinal Brad Lawson, a 2008 ‘Iolani graduate, and senior Jordan Inafuku, a Kamehameha alumnus, are also captains as the three of them together try to bring the same influence to the team that Shoji did.
"It’s really helped to make it easier for me, because I haven’t had to have that burden of being the only captain," McLachlin said. "I can share it with Jordan and Brad and it really helps because it’s a challenge to try and be the leader in the way that Kawika was."
In case McLachlin ever needs more help, he can always go to Shoji’s younger brother, Erik, a junior libero and one of seven kids from Hawaii on the team.
Seven of the 21 players listed on the Stanford men’s volleyball roster are from Hawaii:
"(Erik) is still here and he has that same fire that helps to keep practices intense," McLachlin said.
Even with the loss of Kawika Shoji, All-American Evan Romero and middle blocker Garrett Werner, Stanford is loaded in its quest to become the first repeat national champion since UCLA in 1995-96.
Lawson was named the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation player of the week on Monday after leading the Cardinal to two wins over then-No. 2 BYU, helping Stanford move up to No. 2 in this week’s AVCA rankings.
Lawson and McLachlin are Stanford’s top two kill leaders and along with Shoji, the team’s leader in digs, make up the core group of Cardinal that will be key in getting back to the final four.
"There’s been a lot of challenges we’ve had with losing two All-Americans and a lot of that leadership," McLachlin said. "The bull’s-eye is on our backs now, which gives us that added pressure every match."
The Cardinal visit Hawaii this weekend for matches at the Stan Sheriff Center on Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m.
It’s McLachlin’s first trip home in more than six months and he’s looking forward to the challenge of matching up with Hawaii’s two outside hitters.
"I grew up going to almost every (UH) men’s and women’s volleyball game and it’s always fun to actually play in the Stan Sheriff Center instead of watching," he said. "I don’t think (Hawaii’s) record shows it, but they’ve got experience with Josh Walker on the outside and a very powerful opposite attack in (Jonas) Umlauft.
"I don’t think both have played well on the same night yet, but when they do, they are a very dangerous team."