Defending NCAA Champion Stanford Ranked No. 3 In CSTV/AVCA Coaches Pre-Season Poll
Aug. 9, 2005
Colorado Springs, Co - It's easy to see the reason for Stanford's success in the sport of women's volleyball. For years, the Cardinal coaching staff has recruited outstanding volleyball talent that has resulted in two NCAA titles (2001, 2004) and a runnerup finish (2002) in the last four years.
An added ingredient for Stanford's success has been the team's outstanding team chemistry. As the Cardinal gathered for a recent pre-season clinic for the Palo Alto community, it was very apparent to nearby Stanford fans that the team exhibits outstanding character and togetherness.
'Competing in a championship program makes me a very proud participant,' said Stanford starting middle blocker Lizzie Suiter, who played a major role in Stanford's title season last year. 'I get excited everytime someone asks me, 'how did you guys do this year?' It also makes us a target to our future competitors, so we will have to work that much harder to defend our title. My education at Stanford has been one of the most influential components of my thinking of life in general. I am lucky to be here.'
Starting libero Courtney Schultz echoes the comments of Suiter. 'Coming to Stanford has impacted my life in many ways. When I decided on Stanford, I realized that I was going to be a part of arguably the best athletic department in the country, a national championship volleyball program, and a university that is known world wide for its academic excellence. However, what I cherish the most about Stanford are the things I did not expect to experience when I decided to attend this university. I did not expect to have such a love for the campus, to be apart of such a supportive and fun student-athlete community, or to be continually surprised and awed by the achievements of my peers. But most of all, I did not expect to be a part of a team that consists of such wonderful women that I now consider them my lifelong friends. The experiences and bonds with my teammates are what I will remember most about my Stanford experience.'
Stanford junior outside hitter Kristin Richards gained All-American honors last year, and can't wait to get started on another title run in 2005.
'It's a great blessing to be able to be at this institution,' said Richards. 'My education at Stanford has impacted my life in a big way up to this point and if things go well, will continue to throughout my life. Along with the opportunity of competing for a championship program comes pressure to perform, but the good kind of pressure. I can't wait to play.'
And on the eve of their first day of practice (Wednesday, August 10, 2:00 p.m. at Maples Pavilion), the CSTV/AVCA Division I Coaches Preseason Top 25 poll has been released, and the Cardinal finds itself ranked third in the nation behind top-ranked Nebraska and Pac-10 rival Washington. The Cardinal generated eight first-place votes for a total of 1,333 points compared to Nebraska with 1,463 points (35 first place votes) and Washington with 1,424 points (15 first-place votes).
Nebraska returns six starters from last year's 30-2 team. The Cornhuskers return three AVCA All-Americans in senior middle blocker Melissa Elmer (first team), sophomore right side/opposite hitter Sarah Pavan (first team) and senior outside hitter/libero Jennifer Saleaumua (second team).
Washington returns five starters and its libero from last year's Pac-10 championship team. Junior setter Courtney Thompson and sophomore outside hitter Christal Morrison were 2004 first and second-team All-Americans, respectively. Senior libero Candace Lee was an AVCA All-American honorable mention pick, while the Huskies also return 2003 AVCA All-American second team outside hitter Sanja Tomasevic for her final season.
Hawai'i (1,311 points) and Penn State (1,243 points) round out the top five with a first place vote each.
Stanford head volleyball coach John Dunning, who is entering his fifth season on The Farm, definitely likes the makeup of this year's Cardinal squad. It's a roster that features talent, dedicated student-athletes, and a nice blend of veterans and young players. With continued hard work and defined team goals, the pieces are there to make another attempt at winning an NCAA Championship.
'We are in some ways young and in other ways very mature,' said Dunning who has coached Stanford to two NCAA titles in four seasons at Stanford. 'We may not know until later in the season just where we are headed. But one thing is for sure; it will be exciting.'
Stanford lost one of its all-time great players to graduation, Ogonna Nnamani, who won numerous athletic and academic awards last year including AVCA Player of the Year, and Collegiate Woman of the Year (Honda/Broderick Award). Nnamani was a dominant, intimidating player for Stanford opponents, and her presence on the court will be difficult to match.
'There is no way to replace Ogonna,' said Dunning. 'Kills, blocks, intimidation, team attitude, maturity, Olympic determination and leadership were all a part of Ogonna's personality.'
Stanford also graduated a second starter, Jen Hucke, who was a steady influence in terms of blocks and kills. 'Ogonna and Jen both had such great senior years,' said Dunning.
Leahi Hall was another Stanford senior who graduated. Hall, a defensive specialist/libero, brought excellent defensive skills and a strong work ethic to the court each day.
Stanford returns a strong group of players, including five starters. The list includes two-time All Pac-10 selection Kristin Richards, starting setter Bryn Kehoe, middle blocker Lizzie Suiter, outside hitter Franci Girard and libero Courtney Schultz. Richards, a two-year starter and an All Pac-10 selection in 2004, set a school record last year with 502 digs and was second in kills (486). Kehoe etched her name into the Cardinal record book with a school record 1,637 assists as the team's starting setter as a freshman. Suiter dominated at middle blocker with 198 total blocks, second-best in school history. Girard started as a freshman last year and recorded 234 kills, third-best on the team. Schultz averaged 2.61 digs per game as the team's starting libero.
Stanford also returns excellent depth with the likes of senior setter Katie Goldhahn, sophomore defensive specialist Kirsten Hornbeak, junior outside hitter Nji Nnamani, and junior middle blockers Michelle Mellard and Jennifer Wilson.
'We have ten returning players who have worked very hard,' said Dunning. 'All of them are fighting for their chance to help the team. Our late season run to the NCAA title gave us valuable experience as we now head to the 2005 campaign.'
The Stanford freshman class is nothing short of outstanding. Five new players are entering the Cardinal program, and their talent and work ethic will help continue Stanford's strong tradition in women's volleyball. The list of newcomers includes Foluke Akinradewo, Cynthia Barboza, Jessica Fishburn, Alex Fisher and Erin Waller. Akinradewo was an outstanding three-sport athlete in high school. Akinradewo has been a member of the United States Junior National Team the past three years. Barboza is a very gifted athlete who despite being only a freshman served as an alternate on the 2004 United States Olympic Team. Barboza's talent is limitless. Fishburn played outside hitter while in high school, but her marvelous ball control skills and her passion for playing defense means that she will probably make the change to defensive specialist and libero at Stanford. Fisher, according to the Cardinal coaching staff, has the talent to make a contribution immediately at the outside hitters position or at the opposite position. Waller has gained experience playing on some of the best club and high school teams in the nation.
'We are excited with the talents and the experience level of our five freshmen,' said Dunning.
Stanford's 2005 schedule will be challenging, but the Cardinal is ready to face the nation's top teams. The Cardinal will open the year August 26-27 at the AVCA/NACWAA Showcase in Omaha, Ne. The tournament includes national powers Hawaii, Nebraska and Penn State.
'We will have to develop quickly as a team,' said Dunning. 'This is hard work and may take time. If we are committed to this and it comes quickly, we could become very good.'
The Cardinal returns to renovated Maples Pavilion for its home opener at the Stanford Invitational (Sept. 15-17). The Cardinal played at Burnham Pavilion last year while Maples Pavilion underwent a $25 million renovation. A total of 12 home matches are slated including a tough Pac-10 schedule that includes national powers Washington, USC and UCLA.
'We will have lots of competition within the team to see who plays,' said Dunning. 'I think we can become a great defensive team and have the ability to a very effective serving team.
Stanford begins its 2005 season on August 26-27 at the AVCA/NACWAA Showcase in Omaha, Nebraska ... The Cardinal will face fifth-ranked Penn State on August 26 (5:00 p.m.) ... The winner will advance to the championship match the next day at 7:00 p.m. ... Eight teams (including the season opener against fifth-ranked Penn State) that rank in the CSTV/AVCA pre-season poll are on the Stanford schedule in 2005 ... The Cardinal will face 23rd ranked St. Mary's on Sept. 15 (7:00 p.m.) at the Stanford Invitational; 15th ranked UC Santa Barbara on Sept. 17; and Pac-10 matches against seventh-ranked USC on Sept. 23 and Nov. 26; 13th-ranked UCLA on Sept. 24 and Nov. 25; second-ranked Washington on Oct. 8 and Nov. 3; Arizona on Oct. 13 and Nov. 11); and California on Oct. 21 and Nov. 18.
CSTV will televise the AVCA/NACWAA Showcase on August 26-27 including Stanford's season opener against fifth-ranked Penn State.
CSTV/AVCA Division I Coaches Top-25 Preseason Poll
1. Nebraska (35 first place votes, 1,462 points)
2. Washington (15 first place votes, 1424 points)
3. Stanford (8 first place votes, 1,333 points)
4. Hawai'i (1 first place vote, 1,311 points)
5. Penn State (1 first place vote, 1,243 points)
6. Minnesota (1,126 points)
7. USC (1,075 points)
8. Florida (997 points)
9. Tennessee (985 points)
10. Wisconsin (853 points)
11. Texas (835 points)
12. Ohio State (728 points)
13. UCLA (696 points)
14. Louisville (650 points)
15. UC Santa Barbara (573 points)
16. Texas A & M (518 points)
17. Arizona (513 points)
18. San Diego (481 points)
19. California (479 points)
20. Georgia Tech (304 points)
21. Missouri (290 points)
22. Colorado State (241 points)
23. St. Mary's (217 points)
24. Long Beach State (201 points)
25. Pepperdine (177 points)
Others receiving points: Kansas State (123 points); Notre Dame (118 points); Santa Clara (85 points)l Utah (77 points); Purdue (57 points); Ohio (51 points); Illinois (44 points); Wichita State (41 points); Kansas (40 points); Nevada (35 points); Brigham Young (33 points); Florida A & M (23 points); Colorado (22 points); Duke (14 points); Loyola Marymount (9 points); Rice (9 points); Pacific (5 points)
Stanford will host the Palo Alto Regional of the 2005 NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Tournament on Dec. 9-10 at Maples Pavilion. For additional information, call 800-STANFORD. or go to ww.gostanford.com
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