The last time the Stanford men's volleyball team reached an NCAA championship, it was filled with poignant memories of beloved assistant coach Al Roderigues.
In 2010, the popular coach had died from stomach cancer about six weeks before the Cardinal played Penn State for the title. He was 67.
When Stanford (24-8) faces top-seeded Loyola Chicago at 5 p.m. Saturday on the Ramblers' court, the players won't carry such emotions with them.
"Tomorrow feels like another match," coach John Kosty said Friday. "It doesn't feel like a championship. We've taken every day for itself."
Kosty hopes the one-day-at-a-time sensibility will help the Cardinal win its third title, the first since 2010.
Stanford held off two match points in the fourth set Thursday night to upend No. 2 seeded Brigham Young 3-2 in the national semifinals.
Loyola (28-1) won its 26th match in a row by defeating Penn State in five sets in the other semifinal.
Although Stanford represents the hyper-competitive Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, the Ramblers deserve their top seeding, according to Kotsay.
While Loyola has been almost unbeatable this season, third-seeded Stanford has experienced a difficult path to the championship.
"We've been scratching, clawing and grinding our way up the ladder," said Kosty, the Mountain Pacific coach of the year.
The Cardinal started the season 6-7 after tough trips to Southern California. Stanford also lost its first five matches that went the distance.
On March 15 against Hawaii, everything changed. The Cardinal defeated the Rainbows in five sets behind senior All-American Brian Cook of Santa Cruz.
"He took over that fifth-game match putting away balls that were unbelievable," Kosty said. "Brian stepped into the senior leadership role."
Cook said the Cardinal regrouped in the locker room after the fourth set, playing the final frame vowing not to lose. The players did it again Thursday after tying the score in the fourth set against BYU.
The victory makes it a special weekend for the Cook family. Former Stanford star Karissa Cook led No. 4 Hawaii past top-seeded USC on Friday as the Rainbow Wahine advanced to the semifinals of the AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball Championships at Gulf Shores, Ala. Hawaii plays third-seeded Florida State on Saturday morning. The final is scheduled for 3:30 p.m., 4 ½ hours before Stanford's match.
Father David Cook of Santa Cruz and Suzy Cook-Loustalot of Palo Alto plan to shuttle between the two events Saturday, according to Brian.
It was easier when both kids played at Stanford. But Karissa, a Santa Cruz-Harbor High graduate, is earning a master's degree at Hawaii, and thus became eligible for sand volleyball.
She was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention setter while playing four years with Stanford's indoor team.
As Brian tells it, he followed his sister into volleyball because "she needed someone to practice with around the house. We grew up doing that almost all day every day."
Kosty said learning to play with his sister gave the 6-foot-5 Cook the ball control he needed to become an elite indoor player.
"It doesn't hurt that he had Karissa dragging him down the beach every day," Kosty said.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.