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Sean Kemper. Photo by Norbert VonDerGroeben/ISIphotos.com.
Seniors Lead Card to Victory
Courtesy: David Kiefer  
Release: 02/28/2015

Box Score

STANFORD, Calif. – In the midst of a brutal homestand against some of the top teams in the country, Saturday night’s men’s volleyball match was all about opportunity for Stanford, especially for Matt Aiello and Sean Kemper.

Both are seniors. Neither had started as collegians.

That changed during the Cardinal’s 25-21, 25-16, 25-17 victory over Holy Names in a nonconference match at Maples Pavilion. Recruited as middles, Aiello started as a hitter and Kemper as the setter. Together, they helped lead (6-11) to its first sweep of the season. The timing was perfect for a confidence booster after a loss to No. 5 Pepperdine on Friday and with No. 4 BYU coming for a pair on March 6-7.

Aiello, who had never been credited with a kill in his collegiate career, had six against Holy Names (1-8). Kemper, who switched positions last fall, had his first assists – 36 of them.

“Sean is absolutely one of my favorite people at Stanford,” Aiello said. “We've grown to be close friends over these four years. It was awesome playing with him tonight. Sean understands me pretty well and knew the right things to say to me to keep me calm and focused during the match and made sure I didn't get in my own head. He made tonight possible for me and the rest of the team.”

After the match, coach John Kosty looked over the scoresheet and immediately took notice of the team’s sideout percentage of 76 percent, its’ highest of the season, and a reflection on Kemper’s play.

“I was really happy with how Sean played,” Kosty said. “Out of necessity, we moved him into of the setting position. He deserved the start tonight and played really well. He ran a really nice offense and gave his hitters a lot of good swings.”

It wasn’t perfect. A time or two, he set too high for middle Kevin Rakestraw, quite a feat when passing to a 7-footer. But the hitting percentage of .325 was strong and the offense even, with Daniel Tublin and Clay Jones belting 10 kills apiece, and Rakestraw had a career-high eight.

Aiello, by any measure, has had a sterling Stanford career. He was a local star at San Jose’s Bellarmine College Prep, leading the Bells to the Central Coast Section Division I championship and being named Santa Clara County Player of the Year. At Stanford, he has been part of some exceptional teams, including last year’s NCAA finalist.

Off the court, he is majoring in English literature honors. In the fall of 2013, he attended Oxford University and did a tutorial in Anglo-Saxon and medieval literature.

Aiello won the Elite 89 Award for having the highest GPA at last year’s final four and applied for a Rhodes Scholarship last fall. He was selected as one of 14 finalists in his district, but ultimately was not selected after a long interview process. However, Aiello has applied to Oxford for a master’s program in medieval studies.

Though Aiello has not played often – his 2015 season consisted of serving in two sets against Hope International – his dedication to the volleyball program had not gone unnoticed.

“All four years, he’s worked his butt off,” Kosty said. “Everybody has their ups and downs in their careers from injuries and other things. He’s persevered and done a tremendous job in his role that he’s embraced. It was great to see him out on the court doing all the things that he does in practice.”

Aiello also had two service aces, which helped offset some early hitting errors.

“I was very excited to start tonight,” Aiello said. “I was definitely nervous for the majority of the match,  but after a while, I hit my stride. I think the practice hours were worth it, but as much as I tried to tell myself ‘It's just like practice,’ to calm myself down, it felt entirely different and the pressure to preform was definitely on.”

Kosty said of Stanford’s starting lineup, which included Rakestraw, Jones, and regular starters Daniel Tublin and Conrad Kaminski: “The team we put out there tonight is the team that continually beats our first team in practice. When I put that team out I had full confidence that they could do the job.”

Kosty was right. Aiello and Kemper finally got their opportunity, and they made the most of it.




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