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(Photo: Mike Rasay,
Vega Sparks Cardinal
Courtesy: Mark Soltau  
Release: 03/26/2015

STANFORD, Calif. - Gabriel Vega looked beat. After taking 8 a.m. finals each of the last three mornings in signal processing, circuits and programming, the electrical engineering major was spent.

“As a whole, I know how to handle finals a lot better,” said the 6-foot-7 sophomore opposite on the men’s volleyball team. “But the material is getting harder and more interesting, so it kind of balances out. Finals are never a fun time for anyone. It keeps you on edge.”

Vega’s hometown is Kailua, Hawai’i, where his father is an engineer and has worked with renewable energy for 30 years.

“So at a young age, I was very interested in renewable energy as a concept,” Vega said. “I liked math and science in high school, so I kind of geared toward engineering.”

At Stanford, where creativity in majors is encouraged, he has taken his interest a step further.

“I took an intro to circuits class last year and really liked it,” he said. “I was originally going to major in atmosphere and energy. I thought I could encompass the interest I have outside renewable energy and didn’t want to be limited.

“Last year, I got a concussion, so I was out for a while. It made me interested in studying the process of the brain. Interesting applications in neuroscience and brain-related fields and I thought it was a good way to combine renewable energy and neuro science into a tech-based degree.”

Having options before and after graduation helped draw him to Stanford.

“Absolutely,” said Vega. “It’s incredible that we have Silicon Valley, the center of technology for the U.S. and possibly the world and center of the start-up culture, and it’s only a 10 or 15-minute drive away. That was definitely something that I was looking at when I was thinking about coming here.”

So was the success of the Cardinal volleyball team. Iolani School in Honolulu has been a pipeline for Stanford players, producing All-America Brad Lawson, 2010 AVCA National Player of the Year Kawika Shoji, and recent graduate Scott Sakaida.

“I didn’t know who Brad Lawson was and I only knew of Kawika because his senior year, he was the state volleyball player of the year and also the state basketball player of the year,” Vega said.

That said, Vega is now very aware and proud of the Iolani connection.

“I do think it’s pretty cool,” he said. “They are obviously great guys and national-team caliber players and All-Americans. So that is pretty incredible to come out of a small island in the Pacific.”

Basketball was Vega’s favorite sport growing up.

“I started as a kid and we won a state title my sophomore year in high school,” said Vega. “I like to think of myself as a guard, but I was 6-7, so I ended up playing a ton of forward.”

Vegas can dunk flat-footed and had a vertical jump in the mid-30s.

“I dunked every couple of games,” he said. “It’s a big deal in Hawai’i, they go especially crazy.”

During the offseason, Vega enjoys playing in pickup games with Cardinal teammates James Shaw, Matt Aiello and Kevin Rakestraw.

“Just a fun time and a little change of scenery,” said Vega.

Vega didn’t become interested in volleyball until his freshman year in high school.

“I actually burned out of basketball late in my sophomore year,” Vega said. “I started playing volleyball on the junior varsity team and went into it thinking I’d get some PE credit taken away and ended up really liking the sport.”

The similarities are obvious.

“As silly as it sounds, it’s fun to jump,” he said. “Volleyball is not a very physical sport, so it was something I had to get used to. It’s also a little harder on the body because it’s such a repetitive motion. The knees felt it when I initially played.”

Vega saw limited action in his first season, playing in four matches. This year, he’s fourth on the team in kills with 100 and fourth in points per set with 2.39.

After a rough start, 9-11 Stanford has won four-straight matches and has started to find its rhythm.

“It just took some time,” said Vega. “We lost some incredible players. All of us were going through a period of changing roles. It took time for all of us to step into these new roles and figure out how it works.”

Last year, the Cardinal started 6-7 in MPSF play, then caught fire and wound up national runner-up. Vega is encouraged by the team’s recent play, but insisted no one is looking past the next match on Friday at CSUN.

“I don’t believe any of us believe we have suddenly made it,” he said. “Our coaches have been reiterating this idea throughout the season that this is a process. You need to take the process by the horns and do everything you can to get the process going, but it will take time. Don’t get too frustrated and keep working at it.”

Then again, Vega already knew that.

“When you first come here and you realize how incredible the people are who go to this school – let alone the people on this team – it is pretty intimidating,” said Vega. “That’s something that you need to adjust to and get over and develop your own confidence. If you need to be humbled, that will definitely happen sometime during the course of your career at Stanford.”



Cardinal AXEcess

Cardinal AXEcess
#GoStanford Student-Athlete of the Week