Dec. 19, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. - The 2012 women's volleyball season was a special one for the Cardinal. Despite not reaching its ultimate goal of winning a national championship, the team has much to be proud of when looking back on the year. Stanford (30-4, 19-1 Pac-12) registered the 15th 30-plus win season in school history, and the seventh under 12th-year head coach John Dunning.
Along the way, Stanford captured its 15th Pac-12 title, and 18th conference championship overall, with a near perfect record of 19-1. The team made its 32nd consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, one of only two schools in the nation to qualify for the postseason all 32 years, reached the Regional Finals for the seventh time in the past 12 years and finished with a No. 4 national ranking.
The team held a strong bond from the beginning of the preseason, coming together with the loss of teammate Sam Wopat, who passed away in March. The group of 10 veteran's welcomed the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation, comprised of five high school All-Americans - Inky Ajanaku, Jordan Burgess, Madi Bugg, Brittany Howard and Megan McGehee.
The Cardinal opened the season with a 10-day road trip that spanned from Honolulu, Hawai'i to State College, Pa. A young team, Stanford was still finiding its identity as it posted a 3-2 mark over the first two weekends of the season.
However, from that point, Stanford would reel off 22 straight wins and would not suffer another loss until mid-way through November. The Cardinal's 22 match winning streak lasted from Sept. 1 to Nov. 8. It marked the longest winning streak since the 2001-2002 seasons. This year's 22-in-a-row was the longest in a single season under Dunning. The Cardinal defeated seven ranked opponenets during that streak and posted 10 sweeps.
During the winning streak, Stanford captured five-set wins over No. 2 and previously undefeated Oregon and No. 7 UCLA at home, and at No. 5 Washington and Washington State. The Cardinal finally secured the No. 1 national ranking on Oct. 29 and held on to the top spot until Nov. 19. Stanford has now been ranked No. 1 for 54 weeks in program history.
Stanford's only hiccup of the conference season would come at No. 8 USC on Nov. 15. The Cardinal fell in four sets to the Trojans at the Galen Center. However, the weekend would not be lost as Stanford defeated No. 5 UCLA in the new Pauley Pavilion to capture the Pac-12 title outright with two more regular season matches left to play. Stanford, which spent the entire season ranked No. 1 in the RPI, earned the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and played host to Jackson State, No. 17 Western Kentucky and Loyola Marymount. The Cardinal made quick work of Jackson State and Western Kentucky in the first and second rounds to become the first Division I pgrogram to reach 100 NCAA Tournament matches.
The Cardinal advanced to regional play for the 10th time under Coach Dunning, heading to Berkeley, Calif., to face No. 15-seed Iowa State and Michigan. Burgess led the Cardinal to a sweep over the Cyclones in the Regional Semifinal with 16 kills and 14 digs. Unfortunately, Stanford ran into a Michigan squad which has knocked the Cardinal out of the tournament in three of the last four seasons, including a four-set loss in 2012.
Stanford, ranked preseason No. 6, remained in the top 10 of the AVCA poll the entire year, and has now been ranked in the top 10 for 409 weeks in school history. The Cardinal was the only team to earn the unanimous No. 1 ranking in the country during the season until Texas, the eventual national champions, was the unanimous No. 1 in the final AVCA poll of the year.
Stanford was a perfect 16-0 at Maples Pavilion in 2012, and is 66-8 at home over the last five seasons. In 2012, the Cardinal was 25-1 when hitting .250 or better in matches, and 27-1 when it posted a higher hitting percentage than its opponents.
As a team, the Cardinal ended the year among the top 50 in the nation in several statistical categories, including ranking fourth in match W-L percentage (0.882). Stanford was 11th in blocks per set (2.95), 15th in hitting percentage (.275), 29th in kills per set (14.25), 33rd in assists per set (13.18) and 40th in digs per set (17.27).
Stanford paced the Pac-12 as a team in digs and opponent hitting percentage (.168), while ranking third in blocks and hitting percentage. Individually, junior middle blocker Kyle Gilbert finished fourth in digs per set (4.46).
Wopat and Ajanaku secured AVCA All-America accolades, earning first team and honorable mention honors, respectively. Joining the pair on the All-Pac-12 Conference team were Burgess and Howard. Junior Rachel Williams was an All-Pac-12 Conference honorable mention pick. Ajanaku, Burgess, Bugg and Howard were selected to the All-Pac-12 Freshman Team.
During the course of the season, Stanford racked up 12 Pac-12 Player of the Week honors, spread across six individuals. Academically, Stanford had five players earn Pac-12 All-Academic honors, including junior Mary Ellen Luck (second team).
Dunning, a 2011 AVCA Hall of Fame inductee, concluded his 28th season as a head coach with another Pac-12 Coach of Year award. He boasts a 778-163 (.827) overall record and a 341-61 (.848) mark in his 12 seasons on The Farm. A four-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year, he's won four NCAA titles (two at Stanford) and captured 12 conference championships, including seven with the Cardinal.
Associate head coach Denise Corlett, who just concluded her 24th season as a part of the Cardinal staff, captured the AVCA Division I Assistant Coach of the Year honor. It is her second time in three seasons earning the award, which began in 2010. In Corlett's time with the program, the Cardinal holds a 671-115 (.854) record and has captured 14 conference titles and six national championships.
The team now bids adieu to its four seniors, Hannah Benjamin, Karissa Cook, Hayley Spelman and Jessica Walker. The group was a part of 102 victories, three conference titles and four straight NCAA Tournament appearances since 2009. Stanford returns 11 players for the 2013 season, including six upperclassmen.
When it is all said and done, the 2012 Stanford team upheld the traditions of the program that has won more NCAA titles, holds more NCAA Tournament wins, more Final Four appearances, more appearances in nation championship matches and more conference titles than any other team in the country.