A resilient senior class shines in men’s volleyball

As Stanford men’s volleyball secured a win against USC during senior night, the families of the nine soon-to-be-graduates congregated on the court to celebrate. This year marks a historic one for Stanford men’s volleyball with the highest number of graduating seniors and fifth years leaving the program. But this night almost never happened.

Just four years ago, Stanford announced its decision, which was later reversed, to cut 11 sports, including men’s volleyball.

“The commitment that you have to give to the program is unimaginable and when you come in as a freshman, you just don’t know what you’re getting yourself into,” head coach John Kosty said. 

Kosty described the seniors and fifth years as an especially resilient group and had high praise for each one. The 17-year Stanford head coach reflected on some of his favorite moments with the seniors and fifth years, including the postgame locker room when they beat the No. 1 seed UCLA in the 2022 MPSF Final, the road trips and playing for a crowd of 9,000 people in Hawaii. 

“In that moment, I think there was a fire in all of our hearts,” Kosty said about the UCLA win. “We just believe, you know, with this core group of guys, we could do a lot and we’ve done it for years for the past few years.”

He also described the sheer joy on the seniors’ and fifth years’ faces when the program was reinstated after being cut in 2020. 

“We’ve had some great runs with his team and it’s, those are the memories I’m going to take with me along with some of the other ones that you know, just the simple ones, just the simple conversations,” Kosty said.

Senior libero Matt Martinez will always cherish “Just being able to go to practice every day and knowing you’re going to be playing a sport that you love. And it’s with people who love and care about you as much as you care for them.” 

He also discussed his experience as a walk-on to the volleyball team. He recounts how his volleyball skills and confidence have improved immensely through his time as an athlete.

“I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. This has been one of the most special moments of my life and I just am extremely grateful for Coach Kosty for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the team,” Martinez said.

The extra year has also allowed for enhanced opportunity to grow and reflect on that growth. Comparing his senior year to his freshman year, fifth year Nathan Lietzke appreciates all that he’s learned over the years. 

“I would say the biggest thing for me, has been sort of like letting go a little bit. I came in a little bit naive as to how hard adjusting to college would really be and expected the results to happen immediately,” Lietzke said. “I learned to be patient with myself and enjoy the process of maturity and getting better instead of just focusing on the results and being upset.”

This was echoed by Kosty, who said Lietzke is “always working to be better.”

One of Lietzke’s favorite moments has also been giving back to the community he came from. 

“I’m from Austin, Texas and there’s just not much boys volleyball. But my parents helped put on a collegiate showcase,” Lietzke said. “In the last three years, Stanford’s gone down there. And so I got to play in front of a bunch of family and friends. And I think that was probably most special for me just going to play back, which is something I didn’t really ever think I was gonna do.”

With this additional year, from living together in Suites to training diligently on and off the courts, the seniors have been able to cultivate an exceptionally tight bond.

“I’ve been blessed to be a part of this class. I think these guys have become my best friends over the years and it’s been really fun to spend time with them,” Lietzke said. “Like all nine of us are really good friends, best friends. But there’s so much variety in the interests of the people that make up our group personalities.”

As graduation season nears, the team hopes to stay in touch. 

Graduation talk is kept “at bay because we don’t want it to come yet. But we have talked about how bittersweet it’s gonna be when the year’s over,” Lietzke said. “I think mostly to start talking about making sure that after this year, we set things up so that we’re constantly keeping contact with each other and staying in touch and hanging out.”

The men’s volleyball season ended on Thursday in a MPSF loss versus Grand Canyon after a great season. But Kosty expressed appreciation for the group and stressed that it was a celebratory moment.

“They allow me to grow as a person,” Kosty said. “This group has truly represented Stanford so well.”

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