Sept. 12, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. -
Thanks to the 5-1, Stanford is 6-0.
Despite graduating three All-Americans, including the finest hitter in collegiate women's volleyball, Stanford seems to have lost little of its firepower.
Heading into Tuesday night's No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown at top-ranked Cal, Stanford is undefeated thanks largely to its 5-1 offense and the setter who's leading it, junior Karissa Cook.
For the past three years, coach John Dunning has used a two-setter offense - the 6-2 - with Cook and Cassidy Lichtman shared the setting duties last season. The look enabled Lichtman to attack regularly rather than be confined to passing duties. But it also forced hitters to have to adjust to the tendencies of two different passers.
"Having two setters is like a football offense with two quarterbacks," Cook said. "It's a little bit unnatural."
With Lichtman, along with national Player of the Year Alix Klineman and libero Gabi Ailes gone, the Cardinal has remade itself, beating four-time defending NCAA champion Penn State in the process.
"No one expected us to come out the way we started," Cook said. "Losing three All-Americans, it's true we had some holes, but it's allowed people to step up and spread their wings, and step into leadership roles."
For example, sophomore Rachel Williams had 22 kills against Penn State and 23 the following night against Florida, winning the Most Valuable Player honors at the high-caliber Nike Volleyball Big Four Classic.
Cook hit -.143 against Florida, but her negative hitting percentage actually was indicative of her influence. As the sole setter, Cook now gets the opportunity to play in the front row where teams must respect her hitting ability. Florida was so concerned that it slid a double block to Cook, but left single coverage on her teammates, who took advantage.
Coach John Dunning may have proved prophetic before the season when he said, "I really like how we're playing defense. And we have the pieces to have a very effective offense. We just have to prove it."
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Lightning interrupted Stanford's women's soccer match with visiting Notre Dame on Friday night, just as it caused havoc with several college football games in the Midwest and East a week earlier.
For Stanford freshman distance runner Joe Rosa, lightning may bring back some unhappy memories.
On June 9, Rosa was running for Plainsboro North High in West Windsor, N.J., and on pace for a state record in the 3,200 meters with one lap to go at the New Jersey state championships when officials blocked his path and forced him to stop because lightning had been spotted in the area.
Rosa clocked a scorching 7:38 over seven laps and was just beginning to gear up into a kick when he faced a wall of officials, throwing his arms into the air in frustration. He later estimated that he would have run 8:38-8:42 at the distance, which is 19 meters short of two miles. His own state record of 8:44.06 was undoubtedly about to fall.
Rosa's family argued that the race should not have been started, and certainly should not have been called with only a lap remaining. The race eventually was re-run, but on a day Rosa had committed to another meet. Not only was there no new state record for Rosa, but no state title either.
However, there was some consolation, according to Rosa, who posted this on his blog: "2800-meter state record holder."
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Rosa and his twin, Jim Rosa, are among four freshmen to join the Stanford cross-country team, which again should contend for an NCAA championship. The Cardinal returns all but Elliott Heath from its top seven.
The women's team features eight freshmen, who make up Stanford's "best recruiting class" in fourth-year coach Jason Dunn's tenure, he said.
Leading the freshmen is Aisling Cuffe, the 2010 national high school cross-country champion and track national two-mile record holder (9:54.22), out of Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y.
The runners are in the midst of a two-week team camp at Lake Tahoe, where they will run the Tahoe Rim Trail, among others, and get indoctrinated into the Cardinal way.
The team's true debut comes Sept. 24 at the Stanford Invitational.
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Katie Riley '10, who graduated from Stanford with a double major of psychology and religious studies, is in graduate school at Florida State and playing soccer for the No. 3-ranked Seminoles.
Riley made 14 starts in 32 appearances for Stanford between 2007-09, but missed two full seasons and was granted a sixth year at Florida State, where she has started twice in eight appearances in defense.
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Home Event of the Week
Men's soccer: Stanford vs. USF, Saturday, 7 p.m. Both teams seek to turn their fortunes around - the Cardinal is 1-3 and USF is 1-4. -- at Cagan Stadium. But these teams are longtime foes in a sometimes contentious rivalry, which began in 1932, and the match figures to be a battle.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics