2004 Stanford Women's Volleyball Outlook
Aug. 26, 2004
Fans should prepare themselves for another exciting season of Stanford women's volleyball. The 2004 edition will feature some fresh new faces as well as some old familiar ones. Led by fourth-year head coach John Dunning, the Cardinal remain one of the elite programs in the country with four national titles in the past 10 years.'Each year is exciting and different in it's own way,' said Dunning. 'We lost five seniors to graduation and are adding four new freshmen. We also have a new second assistant coach, a new volunteer coach, a new strength coach and a new trainer. It's exciting because it's going to be different. And how good we are is going to depend on how this new puzzle fits together.'Although Stanford lost five seniors to graduation, including 2003 AVCA All-American Jenn Harvey, the Cardinal return four starters from last year's squad that counts an Olympian and Volleyball Magazine's National Freshman of the Year in its mix. Ten letterwinners return for the 2004 season after finishing the '03 campaign with a 25-7 overall record.'As with any team in our situation, I expect us to get better as the season progresses,' noted Dunning. 'We have some youth and some experience and if we practice hard every week of the season, who knows where we could end up!'We had a very good spring in terms of hard work and commitment to learning,' he continued. 'We improved a lot while focusing on defense and laid a solid foundation. Our team has the personnel to be a good defensive team.'Stanford made its 23rd consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament last year after posting a 25-7 record and a 14-4 mark in the Pac-10 Conference. The Cardinal bowed out of postseason play in the regional semifinal to end their season. Two student-athletes garnered All-America accolades: outside hitter Ogonna Nnamani (first team) and Jennifer Harvey (second team). Kristin Richards was tabbed Volleyball Magazine's National Freshman of the Year as well. Nnamani was also one of four finalist for the Honda Award, presented to the top collegiate female volleyball player yearly. Nnamani also broke the single-season record for kills on The Farm last season, posting a hefty 627 kills on the year. She was a first-team All-Pac-10 selection along with teammates Harvey and Richards. Nnamani also excelled in the classroom and was honored as a third-team Academic All-American.The Cardinal will once again have a challenging schedule facing them in 2004. On Stanford's schedule are perennial postseason teams such as USC, UCLA, Penn State, Pacific, Arizona, Santa Clara, California and Washington. The Pac-10 Conference continues to be the dominant league nationally claiming the eventual NCAA national champion in its ranks for the past three years.Following is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2004 Stanford Cardinal women's volleyball team.Outside Hitter
The Cardinal will feature the nation's premiere outside hitting tandem this year with both Ogonna Nnamani (Normal, IL) and Kristen Richards (Orem, UT) back for another season.Nnamani, a 6-1 senior outside hitter, is the only collegiate player on the U.S. National Team and competed in her first Olympics this summer in Athens, Greece. The three-time All-American set the single-season kills record on The Farm last season with 627 and is a three-time first-team All-Pac-10 honoree as well. Her incredible vertical and powerful swing continue to wow the crowds. She averaged 5.45 kills per game and enters '04 with 1,627 career kills. She needs just 313 kills this year to become the all-time kills leader at Stanford. Nnamani has tallied double figures in kills in 65 of her last 69 matches and ranks 22nd all-time in kills in the Pac-10. She averaged 6.06 points per game with a .309 hitting percentage in 2003.'Ogonna is a unique player who has this high-level of experience and is clearly one of the best collegiate players given her training with the U.S. national team,' said Dunning. 'The training she's done and the improvements she's made, make her someone who's a joy to coach and a joy to watch.'When you ask Ogonna why she wanted to make the U.S. National Team, ' he continued, 'she gave me two reasons - it's always been her dream to play in the Olympics and she wanted to do it for her Stanford team. She's a very special athlete.'Joining Nnamani in the L2 position is sophomore Kristin Richards. The 6-0 outside hitter made an immediate impact her freshman season averaging 3.38 kills and 3.03 digs per game. She was tabbed Volleyball Magazine's National Freshman of the Year, Pacific Region Freshman of the Year and the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. Richards will once again be a primary passer for the Cardinal in 2004.'Kristin developed tremendously last fall during the season,' Dunning said. 'It gave her a good idea of where she was and where she wanted to go - and she wants to play at the highest level. She really applied herself in the off-season and is a significantly better player. She should have a tremendous year.'On the right side, look for Jen Hucke (Fallon, NV) and Courtney Schultz (Pacific Palisades, CA) to battle it out.Hucke, a 6-1 junior outside hitter, spent the majority of last season on the right side for the Cardinal, averaging 1.60 kills, 2.25 points and 2.35 digs per game. She notched eight service aces in a match against Weber State last season, tying her for third on The Farm for a single match.'Jennifer did a good job for us last fall and gained lots of good experience,' said Dunning. 'She worked very hard this spring and she too has seen significant improvement.'Schultz, a 6-1 sophomore, originally settled into the role of libero in 2003, but the Cardinal looks to expand her presence on the court this year. She averaged 1.36 digs per game and was an honorable mention Pac-10 All-Academic selection in '03.'Over the past two year, Courtney's role has been an interesting one,' noted Dunning. 'During high school she was an aggressive middle hitter but it was her ball control that got her on the court for us. In order for our team to use her ball control, we moved her to the outside hitter position, which is new for her. But she has improved each week during the winter and spring and we're excited about what she can add to the team.'Another familiar name to keep an eye on is Njideka Nnamani (Normal, IL).'We're all very excited that Njideka has the opportunity to watch her sister play in the summer Olympics before returning to campus,' said Dunning. 'She got a lot of experience playing at the outside hitter position this spring and did a good job. She is very fast and plays very high above the net. She's just such and exciting player to watch.'New to the outside hitter mix in 2004 is incoming freshman, Candice Wiggins (La Jolla, CA).A 2003 graduate of La Jolla Country Day School, Wiggins is an extremely talented two-sport athlete, who will also compete for the Cardinal women's basketball team.'Candice is a terrific volleyball player who is also an amazing basketball player,' Dunning noted. 'When we saw her play with her junior team last year, she had really stepped up her game and developed into a very good player. She is a very exciting athlete to watch whether she's playing volleyball or basketball.'Middle Blocker
With the departure of both starting middle blockers, the 2004 edition of the middle corps. will feature some fresh new faces including sophomores Liz Suiter (Aspen, CO), Michelle Mellard (Leawood, KS), and Jennifer Wilson (Spokane, WA) along with freshman Franci Girard (Brooklyn, NY).'The middle blocking position will be an interesting one this season because you want to depend on experience and in our case that's not what we're depending on,' said Dunning. 'Our relative youth will allow us to improve all year long.'Knowing we were graduating three middle blockers last year, we began training our freshmen and building their fundamentals and had them play against our three senior middles. They have improved tremendously and while they don't have game experience, they are ready to play. Our middle blockers will get better every match we play this season. Everyone is excited about what their doing and the effort level is high.'Libero/Defensive Specialist
The Cardinal return the defensive dynamo of Leahi Hall (Haiku, HI) and add freshman Kirsten Hornbeak (Encinitas, CA) in the libero/defensive specialist category.Hall, a 5-9 senior, has always provided a spark off the bench for the Cardinal and averaged 2.08 digs last year in 28 matches. She was also an honorable mention Pac-10 All-Academic selection.'Leahi will start out as our libero this season,' Dunning noted. 'She did a very good job in the spring and is always an exciting player on the court when we've brought her in. She's a key part to the kind of defense we want to play this year.'Joining Hall as a key defensive player is freshman Kirsten Hornbeak.'Kirsten was an outside hitter/libero in high school,' said Dunning. 'She's a very competitive, scrambling-type player. The kind you like to have in a defensive specialist or libero position.'Setter
Stanford will have experience at the setter position with the return of Katie Goldhahn (Lodi, CA) and add newcomer Bryn Kehoe (North Bend, OH) to the mix as well.Goldhahn, a 5-11 junior setter, took over starting setting duties last season and averaged 10.25 assists and 2.37 digs per game. Her six service aces against Pacific (10/7) ties her for sixth all-time for a single-match.'It's nice to have a returning setter like Katie who has lots of experience,' Dunning said. 'This year she's worked harder, prepared better and thought more about the game - she is clearly more ready and greatly improved heading into her junior season.'Challenging Goldhahn will be freshman setter Bryn Kehoe who has experience in the junior national team program and led her high school team to two state championships.'Bryn will challenge Katie this season,' noted Dunning. 'Her teams have won at every level she ever played on and can be used as a setter or libero. She was tabbed high school player of the year in the setter position nationally last year and has been the starting libero for the junior national team for the past two summers. She has a high level of success under her belt and lots of experience for a freshman.'