Dec. 30, 2008
Stanford, Calif. - With the conclusion of the 2008 collegiate volleyball season, Stanford can look back on another year which bolstered its tradition as a national powerhouse. The Cardinal added another notch to the school's long tradition of wins, conference titles, Final Four appearances, national championship matches and record-breaking performances.
The Cardinal opened the year with another challenging non-conference season, continued by defending two Pac-10 titles in the toughest conference in the nation, finished with a tough battle through the NCAA Tournament, and, for the fourth time in the last five years, was one of two teams left standing on the final day of the season. The squad ended the year with a No. 2 national ranking, a 31-4 record, its 15th conference title and its 18th NCAA Final Four appearance, all collected while playing one of the toughest schedules in the nation.
The Cardinal began the year in Omaha, Neb. at the competitive AVCA Showcase, eager to pick up where it had ended 2007. With three returning All-Americans and a No. 2 national ranking, however, the Cardinal was upset by then-No. 7 Nebraska, falling in three sets in the opener.
From that very first day, the Cardinal knew it had a lot of work to do to meet its season-end goals, and quickly set its sights on a return trip to Omaha in December.
The Cardinal recovered just two days after the humbling loss, topping No. 3 Texas for its first win. The team continued the road trip with another trio of sweeps, but on Sept. 6, its 10th day on the road, Stanford was upset again by the unranked Saint Louis Billikens.
Stanford, now ranked seventh in the polls, was ready for a comeback.
The Cardinal returned home to post a clean sweep of the competition at the Stanford Invitational, then picked up two more solid wins in a tournament hosted by Cal Poly in late September. By Oct. 12, the Cardinal had won 33 of 34 sets since its season-opening road trip and swept its first six conference opponents for the first time in school history.
On Oct. 19, Stanford faced another hurdle, however, when the team was upset by rival California on its home court. The Cardinal refused to accept its second-place seat in the Pac-10, however, and prepared itself to bounce back again.
Stanford wouldn't lose again for more than two months, stepping up to post a 16-match run to the national title match.
Stanford's impressive rally started in Los Angeles, where it won a pair of tough road battles against USC and UCLA. The team continued the run with sweeps of No. 6 Washington and Washington State at home, a series which jetted Stanford back to the top of the conference standings and reestablished its No. 2 spot in the polls. The Cardinal never let down, sailing through a trip to Arizona before decisively avenging its only conference loss with a sweep of California in Berkeley.
On Nov. 28, the Cardinal sealed its unprecedented 12th Pac-10 title outright with a win at Oregon State. The conference championship was the Cardinal's third in a row, establishing the most dominant title streak in nearly a decade.
Stanford once again made its mark on the conference awards, with John Dunning repeating as coach of the year and senior middle blocker Foluke Akinradewo becoming just the fourth player in conference history to repeat as player of the year. Four players earned All-Pac-10 honors, with Akinradewo, sophomore Alix Klineman and senior Cynthia Barboza making the 14-player team and sophomore Cassidy Lichtman nabbing honorable mention.
Stanford entered the NCAA Tournament as the overall No. 2 seed and dominated its first and second round matches at Maples Pavilion. The team then headed to Fort Collins, Colo. to continue its hot streak, crushing No. 11 Florida in the regional semifinal. On the shoulders of Akinradewo, the Fort Collins Regional MVP, Stanford routed No. 6 Hawai'i to secure a spot in its 18th Final Four. The Cardinal had opened the postseason with four consecutive sweeps for the first time since 1994, and reached the Final Four without losing a set for the first time since 1997.
Stanford was back in Omaha, but was far from finished with its miraculous run.
In the national semifinal, the Cardinal fell into an 0-2 hole against third-seeded Texas and went to the break facing a seemingly insurmountable deficit. The 2008 Cardinal, however, was ready to highlight its season of comebacks with one of the best comeback shows in NCAA history.
Stanford emerged from the locker room and, for the first time ever, a team fought back from an 0-2 deficit to win an NCAA semifinal match. In front of more than 17,000 fans, the Cardinal made history by racing back to defeat the Longhorns, 20-25, 18-25, 25-15, 25-22, 15-13. Klineman paced the team with 20 kills, while Akinradewo slammed 17 on .452 hitting and provided six critical blocks. It was Barboza, however, who stole the show in the improbable comeback, recording 15 of her 19 kills in the final three sets.
Two days later, Stanford became the third program ever to appear in a third consecutive national championship match, and Dunning became the first coach ever to coach in one for a ninth time. Stanford gave the undefeated Penn State Nittany Lions a battle in each set, but fell just short to post its third consecutive runner-up finish.
Despite the loss, the Cardinal had much to be proud of in 2008. The squad posted its 15th 30-win season, won its 15th conference championship, advanced to its 28th NCAA Tournament, made its record 18th Final Four appearance and advanced to its unprecedented 14th national championship match.
Stanford bested 16 ranked opponents, outhit 30 of the 35 teams it faced and won 23 matches by 3-0 margins. The Cardinal finished the year ranked among the nation's top five in hitting percentage (.314), kills (14.67 kps) and assists (13.69 aps). Its hitting percentage was second-best in school history, just two points under its 2007 record of .316. Three players - Akinradewo, Klineman and Barboza - were named first-team All-Americans, marking the second time in school history (and the second time in two years) that the Cardinal boasted three members of the first team.
Akinradewo finished third nationally in hitting percentage (.457) and fourth nationally in blocking (1.47 bps), both marks which paced the Pac-10. The senior finished her career with the best hitting percentage ever recorded by an NCAA Division I player (.446), breaking the previous record (.423) set by Virag Domokos of George Mason in 1996 by more than 20 points. She also posted the second-best single-season hitting percentage in Pac-10 and school history, coming in only behind the record of .499 she set in 2007.
Akinradewo was also one of the conference's top players in points (4.17 pps), as were Barboza (3.93 pps) and Klineman (4.10 pps). Barboza (3.49 kps) and Klineman (3.61 kps) both ranked among the conference's kill leaders as well, and, in her first year as a starter, junior middle blocker Janet Okogbaa posted the fourth best hitting percentage in the Pac-10 (.378).
Barboza finished the year with a team-best 16 double-doubles, was named the program's first two-time Academic All-American since 2004 and was tabbed the Pac-10 Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Along with Akinradewo, she joined Stanford's elite 1,500-kill club, and, in October, became just the seventh Stanford player since 1986 to record both 1,000 career kills and 1,000 career digs.
Stanford's seniors wrapped up four of the most outstanding careers in school history, becoming the program's first class and the third in NCAA history to lead its team to three title matches in a row. Akinradewo finished eighth on the program's career kill list (1,682) and was third in blocking (579) and first in hitting percentage (.446). Barboza finished ninth in kills (1,639), sixth in digs (1,241) and ninth in service aces (115). Defensive specialist Jessica Fishburn accumulated a final tally of 820 digs, while opposite Erin Waller completed her career with 670 kills and 207 blocks.
Sophomore libero Gabi Ailes nabbed her 1,000th career dig in the national semifinal and finished with the third-best single-season dig total in school history (491). Lichtman transitioned into a new setter role and played a vital role in Stanford's season-ending run.
In the end, the 2008 Cardinal upheld the impressive tradition of a program that boasts more NCAA titles, more NCAA Tournament wins, more Final Four appearances, more national championship matches and more Pac-10 titles than any in the nation. In 2009, with 10 returning players, including a two-time All-American, the Cardinal is in position to pick up where it left off.