For anyone who always has wanted to watch the Stanford volleyball team play but never wanted to make the drive to Washington State for the Cardinal’s annual visit to Pullman - there are no more excuses.
Nothing is certain in sports, but if history is an accurate gauge, bet on the Cardinal to compete in the Arena Dec.
18-20 for the NCAA Volleyball Championship.
The odds are so great, Roxy Roxborough won’t touch ‘em. Consider that Stanford has been to the Final Four the last three years, winning last year and in ‘94, adding to a 1992 crown.
The school has qualified for every NCAA Tournament since it began in 1981. If it pulls out another title, it will be the first time in NCAA volleyball history the same senior class has won three titles.
This season’s results have been no different than the past. Stanford, ranked No. 1 by Volleyball Magazine and No. 3 in the USA Today/AVCA Top 25 poll, enters the final two weeks of the regular season with a 24-2 overall, 15-0 in the Pacific-10 Conference. Both losses were to current No. 2 Penn State, both matches played short-handed due to injuries to setter Lisa Sharpley and middle blocker Kerri Walsh.
“When you’re a team that has been in the playoffs every year since they started, the Final Foul is just a part of the season,” Stanford’s 14th-year coach, Don Shaw, said. “It’s the Pac-10, first and foremost, and that naturally prepares us for the tournament.”
Stanford clinched its fourth straight Pac-10 Conference title during the weekend by sweeping Arizona State and No. 10 Arizona. Remarkably, the Cardinal has only lost two conference matches since 1994. No. 10 Washington State, a team that beat them last year, travels to Palo Alto, Calif., Friday. No. 19 Washington is up next for Stanford on Saturday.
Stanford has defeated WSU and UW this season, both on their home floors, by scores of 3-0. Aside from its losses to Penn State, only Texas A&M;, Arizona and USC forced four-game matches.
Need more reasons why the Cardinal is off the board in Las Vegas?
Five of the six starters from last year’s 31-2 team are still there.
“We’re not a team that has a specific weakness. We’re pretty consistent and pretty good in every phase of the game,” Shaw said.
Although Sharpley, one of five seniors, has five talented hitters to set to, senior outside hitter Kristin Folkl is relied on the most.
“She’s having a national-player-of-the-year-type year,” Shaw said. Last week, the 6-foot-2 athlete from St. Louis was named AVCA national player of the week. Folkl is most deadly with her left-to-right cross-court shot. But according the Shaw, his star player offers much more.
“Some coaches think what she’s got is a cross-court shot. But she moves the ball around a lot more, and we’re setting her in different places.”
Entering the weekend, Folkl was averaging 5.59 kills per game (seventh in the country) and hitting .378 (16th). As a team, the Cardinal was third in the nation in blocks (3.65 per game) and fourth in kills (17.6) and hitting (.311).
Aside from Folkl, who will join the basketball team after the volleyball season ends, the Cardinal heavily counts on Walsh and senior outside hitter Barbara Ifejika.
Sharpley had knee surgery last May and still is not 100 percent. Walsh, last year’s national freshman player of the year, underwent shoulder surgery last April and has been coming along slowly. This year, the 6-2 feared hitter has relied on her dink. Shaw said, by tournament time, she should be taking more swings.
“Hopefully,” Shaw said. “That’s what we’ve been gearing her up for all year.”