2008 Women's Volleyball Outlook: Cardinal Looks To Build On A Championship Tradition

Aug. 15, 2008

Stanford, Calif. - With a core of veterans coming off back-to-back appearances in the NCAA title match and consecutive crowns in the nation's toughest conference, the 2008 Stanford women's volleyball team has lofty expectations for its upcoming season. Once again playing one of the nation's toughest schedules, the Cardinal will look to defend its Pac-10 title, maintain its place in the upper echelons of the AVCA poll and battle for its seventh NCAA Championship.

Over the years, Stanford has accumulated more NCAA titles, won more NCAA Tournament matches, made more Final Four appearances, and been in the national championship match more times than any other program in the nation. The Cardinal has produced some of the most elite players in the sport, including nine Olympians, and played in the NCAA title match five of the last seven years. This season, with one of its most talented squads yet, the Cardinal is more than capable of building on its championship tradition.

The keys to the team's success begin with its returning arsenal of All-American hitters - Foluke Akinradewo, Cynthia Barboza and Alix Klineman. Together, the trio boasts six career All-America honors, including four first-team selections, along with a National Player of the Year award and a National Freshman of the Year award. The threesome brings back a combined 12.22 kills per game while hitting at a clip well above .300. All three have spent the offseason training with some of the best players in the world as part of the U.S. National Training Team. All told, the trio's accomplishments amount to more returning firepower than the Cardinal program has ever seen.

The Cardinal boasts 11 players who have been to a national championship match, including seven who have taken the team to the coveted match twice. Six members of the starting rotation return, including all four primary passers. Between the 11 veterans, the 2008 Cardinal boasts 12 years in the starting lineup and more than 3,500 kills. The veterans have already contributed to 88 Cardinal wins, two conference titles and a pair of Final Four appearances. Ten members of the Stanford roster have postseason court experience. To top it all off, that stock of talent is under the guidance of reigning Pac-10 Coach of the Year John Dunning, one of the winningest coaches in NCAA history. The combination is more than promising.

'Coming off of a very successful year in 2007, I think our team is eager to start at the level we finished at last December,' says Dunning. 'We have a solid base of returning players who are hungry to get back on the court, as well as some newcomers who are eager to make an impact at the collegiate level. We have three players who have spent the last few months with the national team, and I think the experience they bring back from playing at the highest level of volleyball will raise the bar for our entire team. With this group's strong team chemistry and valuable experience playing in competitive situations, I am confident that we have the potential to be very successful this season.'

Once again, Dunning has challenged the Cardinal with another high-caliber series of opponents. Stanford will play 12 regular-season matches against teams that finished 2007 in the AVCA top-10, 14 against those who finished in the top-25 and 15 against teams coming off NCAA trips. The Cardinal will also take on four of the five teams it ousted from last year's NCAA Tournament, and look to defend two titles in a league that has claimed five of the past seven national championships.

Stanford opens the season in late August at the prestigious AVCA Showcase in Omaha, Neb., which historically features four of the top national title contenders. This year, the tournament (Aug. 29-31) will be held in a conference challenge format, with the Pac-10's Stanford and USC taking on Big 12 representatives Nebraska and Texas. The Cardinal will take on the Huskers in the season opener for both teams at the Qwest Center on Aug. 29, then battles the talented Longhorns on Aug. 31.

'We are thrilled to be opening our season in Omaha, the home of the 2008 national championship, playing Nebraska and Texas, two of the top teams in the country,' says Dunning. 'From that point on we make three more stops on the road, playing several very good teams and play in a very solid tournament on our own court. This will be another very challenging preseason for us in preparation for what might be the best Pac-10 schedule we have ever played.'

Stanford continues its season-opening road trip in Orlando, Fla. with a midweek contest against Central Florida on Sept. 2. The team finishes the trip at the Saint Louis Invitational in St. Louis, Mo., Sept. 5-6.

On Sept. 11, the squad will open the home season against New Mexico State as part of the annual Stanford Invitational. The team will meet UC Santa Barbara on the second day of the event (Sept. 12) and will wrap it up against Santa Clara in a rematch of the 2007 NCAA First Round (Sept. 13).

Stanford closes out the preseason Sept. 19-20 at the Cal Poly Invitational. The weekend will be highlighted by a Sept. 20 showdown with the No. 11 Mustangs, a team that the Cardinal eliminated in an NCAA Regional Semifinal last December.

The Pac-10 season begins on Friday, Sept. 26, when Stanford takes on Oregon State in Maples Pavilion. The Cardinal will be defending its back-to-back conference championships in the nation's toughest conference. Last year, the Pac-10 sent six teams to the NCAA Tournament, had all six finish the year in the top-10 and sent three squads to the Final Four. Stanford will play key match ups against national semifinalists California and USC in Maples Pavilion on Oct. 19 and Nov. 21, respectively. Regional finalist UCLA will visit The Farm on Saturday, Nov. 22, while 2007 conference runner-up Washington will play at Stanford on Halloween night, Oct. 31.

The NCAA Tournament begins with opening rounds, Dec. 4-7. The Final Four is set for Dec. 18-20 at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb.

Here's a look at the 2008 Cardinal by position:

Outside Hitters

Stanford returns two of its strongest weapons in outside hitters Cynthia Barboza and Alix Klineman, who both earned All-America honors last season. Barboza and Klineman have spent the offseason training with the U.S. National Team, and return as two of the most well-respected players in the collegiate game.

Barboza has been a first-team All-American the past two seasons, and is coming off of a season in which she recorded 20 double-doubles and averaged 3.99 kills per game. A dangerous server, consistent passer and powerful hitter, Barboza's versatility, combined with her experience competing against the best players in the world, make her one of the most complete players at the collegiate level.

Klineman had a tremendous freshman season, in which she garnered Volleyball Magazine National Freshman of the Year accolades. The team leader in kills with 4.12 per game as a rookie, Klineman will be looked upon to reach even greater heights with a year of collegiate experience and a spring spent training at the highest level under her belt.

Stanford also returns its starter at the opposite position - senior Erin Waller. Waller has seen significant time on the court over the last three years, gaining valuable experience in competitive situations. She brings a proven ability to hit and block consistently, and has time and again stepped up for the Cardinal in key matches. This season, Waller will be looked upon to provide veteran leadership and a reliable attack.

Another senior, Alex Fisher continues to build her game after battling back from injuries that sidelined her at the start of her career. Fisher has been working hard in the offseason, and will battle for playing time as a hitter on both the right and left side.

Sophomore Cassidy Lichtman, a likely candidate to set and play defense this year, will be another hitter in the Cardinal's arsenal with a proven ability to swing from the outside.

Setters

With the departure of three-time All-American setter Bryn Kehoe, Stanford will undeniably have a hole to fill in one of the most crucial positions on the court. Junior Joanna Evans and sophomore Cassidy Lichtman will vie for the starting role.

Evans brings the most setting experience of anyone on the squad, contributing valuable understanding of the game and familiarity with the Stanford hitters. Her dedication in the offseason and leadership as an upperclassman make her a prime candidate to fill the role as Stanford's setter this season.

Lichtman has also worked extremely hard in the offseason to develop her skills as a setter, and will battle for the starting job. Lichtman gained key championship court experience as a defensive specialist last fall, and offers versatility as a strong hitter, a consistent server and a reliable passer.

Additionally, freshman Katherine Sebastian, a standout from Harvard-Westlake School in Southern California, will compete for time at the setter position.

Middle Blockers

As the primary force in the middle, Stanford returns the nation's best collegiate player from 2007 - AVCA National Player of the Year Foluke Akinradewo. The Plantation, Fla. native led the nation in hitting percentage last season with a .499 clip that ranked second-best in NCAA history. Akinradewo spent the offseason training with the U.S. National Team, building her game in competition against some of the best players in the world. In her much-anticipated return to the collegiate game, Akinradewo will look to continue to dominate with her powerful swing and commanding blocking ability.

Opposite Akinradewo, Stanford will look to fill a vacancy left by four-year starter Franci Girard. Head Coach John Dunning has no shortage of options, however, with three talented players battling for the starting spot.

Junior Janet Okogbaa, one of the most highly-touted recruits in her class, is eager to step in and take on a larger role for the Cardinal as an upperclassman this year. An especially capable blocker, Okogbaa has worked hard in the offseason to take her game to the next level both offensively and defensively.

Redshirt freshman Stephanie Browne comes back from a year spent gaining valuable practice experience and is ready to make an immediate impact on the court. Browne, one of the top 20 recruits in her class, brings a strong swing and notable blocking ability that will be an asset at the net for the Cardinal.

In addition, freshman Jessica Walker, the nation's No. 10 recruit by PrepVolleyball, will be joining the squad this year. The 6-1 middle blocker from Houston, Texas brings a great deal of athleticism and will look to earn a spot in the lineup early on.

Liberos/Defensive Specialists

Stanford returns all of its passing from the 2007 squad that recorded more digs than any team in school history. Anchoring that group of talented defensive players are veterans Gabi Ailes and Jessica Fishburn, two players who have independently made their marks in the Stanford record books over the past two years.

As a freshman last season, Ailes stepped into the collegiate game and immediately established herself as one of the most consistent defensive players in the Pac-10. She won the starting libero spot early in the year, and proceeded to shatter two school dig records before the season was complete. Back on the court for her second year, Ailes will look to top the program-best 533 digs she accumulated last season and use her energy and enthusiasm be a defensive leader for the Cardinal.

Over the course of the last three seasons, Fishburn has seen significant time on the court and proven her ability to be a dependable passer for Stanford. The senior's court experience in competitive situations, as well as her intensity and work ethic, will make her a valuable asset to the Cardinal in 2008.

Sophomore Cassidy Lichtman, a versatile player who earned a spot in the starting rotation as a defensive specialist last season, brings further depth to the Cardinal defensive options. Her steady passing and reliable serve will undoubtedly prove important this season.

Newcomers Katherine Knox and Katherine Sebastian will further bolster the Cardinal defense this year, both coming to The Farm as capable defensive players with an eagerness to make an impact at the collegiate level.

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