Stanford’s Kristin Folkl and the rest of the All-Americans will find out who wins the national volleyball player of the year award this morning.
Thursday night, the spectators at the NCAA Volleyball Championships were introduced to the player of the night.
After the defending champion and third-seeded Cardinal (32-2) lost the first game in the semifinal nightcap, Stanford stormed back to beat second-seeded Long Beach State 9-15, 15-10, 15-4, 17-15 to advance to the championship game against Penn State (34-1) Saturday at noon.
It will be the third meeting between the two this year, with the Nittany Lions having won twice. Thursday night’s all-West Coast showdown was indeed that long rallies, big kills, incredible digs and unthinkable net recoveries.
But down the stretch, it was four-time All-American, two-sport athlete Folkl who took over. With Long Beach facing game point, which would have knotted the match at 2-2, Folkl forced a sideout with a kill.
The senior outside hitter knotted the game at 15-15 on another kill. Stanford, aiming for its third national title in four years, went ahead 16-15 when Long Beach’s Benishe Dillard committed an attack error. After two sideouts one forced by another Folkl kill Stanford closed out the match when Jennifer Detmer and Kerri Walsh blocked Jessica Alvara do.
“The game doesn’t hinge on one player, it hinges on six,” said Folkl, who celebrates her 22nd birthday today. “I’m definitely proud of the way I played in the end.”
Folkl overcame a slow start where she hit .-154 in the opening game. The Cardinal combined for .048 hitting in the opener, its worst on the season. But as the match warmed up, so did Folkl and Stanford. She pulled herself out of negative numbers in the second game and finished with a timely 15 kills on .151 hitting.
Sophomore teammate Kerri Walsh, missing from the first Penn State match and limited in the second, led all hitters with 22 kills on .313 hitting. Her most dramatic moments occurred in the final game when she connected on 10 kills.
One of her points - a tip over two defenders - gave the Cardinal a 6-0 lead and prompted one spectator to yell out, “Kerri, you’re an animal.”
In the first game, the teams played close until Long Beach (32-2) scored five straight points to take a 14-8 lead. It closed out the game on an attack error by Folkl.
“Stanford’s a good team, they put a lot of pressure on us,” said Long Beach coach Brian Gimmillaro, whose team entered the tournament as the top-ranked team in the nation. “But we didn’t play very well. We did things out there that I hadn’t seen us do all season and it wasn’t from a lack of hussle or trying.”
Long Beach hit a paltry .155 and Stanford finished at .209. Dillard and Veronica Walls’ 14 kills paced the 49ers. Stanford’s Lisa Sharpley accounted for 20 of 75 digs. She had 55 assist to Misty May’s 48 sets, 19 digs. , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 color photos
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