Bring It Home: Stanford Volleyball Prepares for Another Championship Season

Aug. 9, 2007

Stanford, Calif. - Six National Championships, 12 national title matches, 16 Final Four appearances and ten Pac-10 crowns are among Stanford volleyball's list of unprecedented accomplishments. Over the years, the program has produced some of the nation's most elite players, consistently found itself in the upper echelons of the AVCA poll and firmly established itself as a yearly contender for the NCAA title.

The program has won more NCAA Championships than any other school and has been in the championship match four of the last six years. The team made a great run at the 2006 Championship, but the Husker Nation ended its season. This year, with the NCAA Championship to be held in Stanford's backyard, the team is more ready than ever to bring it home.

The impressive ranks of the 2007 Cardinal begin with three returning All-Americans - Foluke Akinradewo, Cynthia Barboza and Bryn Kehoe. Two of those players, Akinradewo and Barboza, are seasoned members of the 2007 US National Team, having been in the starting lineup at the Pan Am Games in Brazil this summer. Four more returning starters, senior setter Kehoe, senior All-Conference honoree Franci Girard, junior outside hitter Erin Waller and junior libero Jessica Fishburn further bolster the 2007 mix. Added to the talented group is the best set of newcomers in the country. And to top it all off, the Cardinal has John Dunning, one of the most accomplished head coaches in collegiate volleyball at the helm. The combination could not be more promising.

'We all feel that the upcoming season is a great opportunity,' said Dunning. 'We have an experienced, talented and motivated team. If we work hard every day, compete for positions and develop into a team, we will have a memorable season.'

Between the nine veterans, the 2007 Cardinal boasts five All-America awards, seven conference awards, 12 years in the starting line-up and more than 2,500 kills. The veterans have contributed to 86 Cardinal wins and a National title. Eight of them have postseason court experience.

The strong base of seasoned players is just the start for the Cardinal this season, however. In addition, Dunning and his staff have landed the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, a class that includes the nation's No. 1 prep player, Alix Klineman. Additionally, Stanford secured the 2007 Nebraska State Player of the Year, a two-time MVP of the California Division IV State Championships and a 6-5 middle blocker who was listed among the nation's top-20 recruits.

This arsenal of talent will not go unchallenged this year, however. Dunning has lined up another one of the toughest preseason schedules in the nation, hoping to prepare the team to defend its conference title in a field of programs that have claimed five of the last six National Championships. Overall, Stanford is set to face 10 teams that finished last season ranked in the AVCA Top-25 and 13 teams that advanced to the 2006 NCAA Tournament.

The Cardinal kicks off the 2007 season on the road, heading to Long Beach State for the season-opener on Aug. 25. The team then travels to Minneapolis, Minn. to compete in a Labor Day weekend tournament hosted by No. 6 Minnesota. In addition to the Cardinal and the host Golden Gophers, No. 14 San Diego and No. 25 Ohio will compete in the three-day event.

Stanford opens the home season the following weekend, hosting the annual Stanford Invitational in Maples Pavilion, Sept. 6-8. This year's line-up includes Saint Mary's as well as No. 17 Cal Poly and No. 20 BYU.

On Sept. 12, the Cardinal meets Cincinnati on the road, before heading to a tournament hosted by Yale in New Haven, Conn. On Sept. 14 the Cardinal will begin tournament action against Delaware State, and square off with No. 5 Penn State the following evening.

The Cardinal begins its defense of the Pac-10 title on Sept. 21, battling Bay Area rival California in Berkeley. The Pac-10 will again provide a challenging agenda, as half of the conference finished 2006 in the top-25 and seven teams return from NCAA Tournament appearances. Three teams from the Pac-10, including the Cardinal, appeared in the 2006 Final Four.

Stanford's conference schedule is highlighted by home matches with the other Pac-10 powerhouses. Stanford opens up home Pac-10 action with No. 8 USC on Sept. 27. Fellow Final Four participants UCLA and Washington will visit the Farm on Sept. 28 and Oct. 12, respectively, while the team closes out regular-season action with No. 13 California on Nov. 23.

The NCAA Tournament begins Nov. 29, and Stanford will host Regionals Dec. 7-8. The 2007 Final Four will take place Dec. 13-15 at Arco Arena in Sacramento.

'Last year was a great year for collegiate women's volleyball- more good teams than ever, growing attendance, increased media coverage and of course an amazing Final Four,' said Dunning. 'I am sure that last year was just a stepping-stone for this year. There will be more good teams, more great players and a higher level of play than ever before.'

Following is a position-by-position look at the 2007 Cardinal:

Outside Hitter

Stanford has no shortage of outside hitters to choose from, as a number of Cardinal players have proved their ability to contribute on offense. Cynthia Barboza, one of the most prominent players in the country, highlights the Stanford line-up. As a sophomore last season, the US National Team veteran led the squad with 463 kills (4.21 per game) and 48 services aces. A First Team All-American and one of the most explosive outside hitters in the country, Barboza brings valuable international experience and the ability to step up in key situations for the Cardinal.

Entering the mix this season and looking to fill the shoes of three-time All-American Kristin Richards, will be redshirt sophomore Alex Fisher and freshman Alix Klineman. Fisher, one of the top outside hitters in her class two years ago has been injured for two years and is now ready for action. Klineman, one of the most eagerly awaited newcomers in collegiate volleyball, will look to make an immediate impact for Stanford. Touted by prep volleyball experts as one of the most talented young players to enter the collegiate volleyball world, the Manhattan Beach, Calif. native was named the Gatorade National Volleyball Player of the Year last year and has been a leader on the US Women's Junior National Team for two years. Sophomore Janet Okogbaa and freshman Cassidy Lichtman will also see action on the outside.

Okogbaa, Fisher and Lichtman will also compete with junior Erin Waller for the opposite spot. Waller earned the spot in the starting rotation last season, and proved to be a valuable asset for the Cardinal. The Ballwin, Mo. native showed steady improvement and, in the National Championship match led the team with a career-best 18 kills. Waller will look to pick up where she left off last season and continue her presence in the Stanford front row.

Middle Blocker

Foluke Akinradewo will be the primary force in the middle for the Cardinal. The Plantation, Fla. native made an immediate impact when she stepped onto the Farm in 2005, and has since earned two All-America honors and been one of the most dominant offensive players in the conference. Now, as she enters her years as an upperclassman, she promises to be an even stronger force with two years of experience under her belt. Last season, she led the team in blocks and turned in the best single-season hitting percentage in program history, a mark that also ranked third-best in the nation.

Stanford's experience at the middle blocker position does not end with its two-time All-American, however. Franci Girard, one of two seniors on the Cardinal roster, is the epitome of a veteran, having played 320 games in a Cardinal uniform. The Brooklyn, NY native earned All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention as a junior last season and brings consistency and leadership to the middle of the net.

Two younger players add depth to Stanford at the middle blocker position. Sophomore Janet Okogbaa gained valuable collegiate experience in 32 games as a rookie last season. The Tampa, Fla. spent most of her time training in the middle last spring, and her extraordinary ability to play above the net gave everyone a glimpse into why she was one of the top two recruits in her class. Newcomer Stephanie Browne, a 6-5 product of Danville, Calif., will look to see her first collegiate minutes at the net.

Setter

Running the offense for the Cardinal will be one of the most talented and experienced setters in the nation. Senior All-American Bryn Kehoe won a National Championship while setting for the Cardinal as a freshman, and now hopes to bookend her career with another one. Already fourth on the career chart with 4,214 assists, Kehoe is in position to finish her time at Stanford as one of the top two setters in program history. Last year, she averaged 13.39 assists per game and will continue to be a key asset to the Cardinal as a leader on and off the court.

Two more young setters add depth to the Cardinal at the position. Sophomore Joanna Evans saw time in 45 games during her first collegiate season, and newcomer Cassidy Lichtman, who also will contribute as an outside hitter, will bolster the Cardinal roster.

Libero/Defensive Specialist

Junior Jessica Fishburn will return for her second season as the Cardinal's starting libero. In her first year seeing significant time on the court, Fishburn wasted no time making a mark and collected 3.87 digs per game, the second highest single season mark in program history. As one of six upperclassmen on the roster this year, Fishburn will be looked upon to provide consistent defense.

In addition, the Cardinal adds a new face to the back row in freshman Gabi Ailes. Named the best player in the state of Nebraska last year, Ailes helped her team to four consecutive state titles and will look to be an immediate asset to the Stanford back row.

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