Sept. 16, 2010
STANFORD, Calif. -
Even the general fan must have realized that Stanford's women's volleyball victory over Penn State was a big deal after watching it was given lead-story treatment on ESPN's "SportsCenter" Saturday night.
Stanford's 28-26, 25-12, 25-18 sweep in the Nike Big Four Invitational final in Gainesville, Fla., broke Penn State's 109-match winning streak and enabled the Cardinal to gain a measure of revenge on a team that it lost to in two consecutive national championship matches.
Perhaps the biggest question facing the now-No. 1 and 7-0 Cardinal is this: Where does it go from here? In other words, how does the team maintain that effort and focus after earning perhaps the biggest non-NCAA victory in school history?
"We know we built up to this and we know there's a letdown," Stanford coach John Dunning said. "We used so much adrenaline to get there. Now, you go back to basics and you build from where you are."
As for the victory itself, as well as a Friday sweep of No. 5 Texas, "It was so good for our team, because how could you not gain confidence from playing in that setting with those teams?"
By exposing his team to the best in the country, Dunning learned much from those matches - that Stanford must improve its serving and alter its offense, and that the team, including the freshmen, can stand up and perform in matches of magnitude.
Dunning also learned: "We are capable of playing great defense, and that scares opponents. It makes them feel pressure when they attack."
The Cardinal's season continues Friday (7 p.m.) at Saint Mary's. Later on come the myriad of Pac-10 tests, and later, perhaps, a rematch with the Nittany Lions in the NCAA Tournament.
"We've had a long history with Penn State," Dunning said. "It's a step our seniors have been working toward. They wanted to write a different ending."
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WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Who hits hardest?
Asked last week to name his team's hardest hitter, Stanford coach John Dunning thought for a moment. The suspicion was that he would name freshman Rachel Williams or senior Cassidy Lichtman.
Instead, he named his libero, Gabi Ailes, a player not allowed by rule to attack.
"Gabi rips it," Dunning said. "People don't get to see that."
However, All-America outside hitter Alix Klineman is back in the conversation after her hitting was hampered by a shoulder injury last season.
"Alix actually is really hitting the ball hard," Dunning said. "Compared to what she's done before, she's much stronger and much healthier."
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FOOTBALL: Fangio's influence
Just days after Stanford's 35-0 victory over UCLA marked the Cardinal's first road shutout in 36 years, head coach Jim Harbaugh praised the influence of new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
"This is a miracle," Harbaugh said, "for our guys to get to play for Coach Fangio. It's a real blessing for Stanford football."
Fangio is something of a coaching legend in NFL circles, having been in the league for the past 24 years, including 11 as a defensive coordinator for three different teams. He mentored Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson while coaching the New Orleans Saints' famed "Dome Patrol" linebacking unit of the 1980s.
Harbaugh said he'd considered bringing Fangio to his staff since meeting him two years ago. Fangio most recently had been coaching linebackers under John Harbaugh, Jim's brother, with the NFL's Baltimore Ravens.
"I didn't know if he'd be able to do it," Jim Harbaugh said. "I remember it was January, and I was on the road recruiting, driving over the bridge from Philadelphia to New Jersey. That's when I talked to him, and it seemed like a very good possibility."
Fangio's aggressive 3-4 scheme emphasizes swarming to the ball and creating turnovers, while also discouraging the big play.
Free safety Michael Thomas, who forced two fumbles and returned one for a touchdown against the Bruins, credited Fangio's influence for the turnovers.
"If you're going to secure the tackle, you pull with all your might," Thomas said. "That's what Coach Fangio is preaching - every chance you get, try to get the ball out. He wants to be an aggressive team, more aggressive and tighter on receivers.
"He gives us the tools, we're taking it and running with it."
Harbaugh said, "the really good teachers can make the very complex look simple, and a bad one can make the simple things look complex.
"It was apparent early in spring ball that our defensive players got answers, that whatever they saw the offense do, they had an answer for it."
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FOOTBALL: Former quarterback embarks on political career
Former Cardinal quarterback T.C. Ostrander has found a home on Capitol Hill. In August, Ostrander was hired as a senior assistant on economic issues for U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein.
Ostrander played for Stanford from 2004-07, starting most of his senior season under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the New Orleans Saints, but was cut before the 2008 season.
Ostrander had been playing with discomfort in his leg and, upon examination, discovered that his hamstring had been partially detached for a couple of years, requiring major surgery.
During six months of rehabilitation, Ostrander considered career options and found a Washington, D.C., internship on California representative Anna Eshoo's staff. About a year ago, Ostrander was contacted by another NFL team, but chose to remain in Washington. The decision paid off with his new position, making him one of the youngest at his position on The Hill.
Ostrander consults with the Treasury, meets other senators and their staffs to review legislation, and takes meetings with California constituents. He also works on his own projects such as providing incentives to smaller banks to begin lending to small businesses, which then hire back employees and reduce unemployment.
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FOOTBALL: Coaching edge
Harbaugh's staff includes five with NFL coaching experience, including the additions of Fangio and defensive backs coach Derek Mason. That's no coincidence.
"I really want pro-type coaches," Harbaugh said. "There is an edge a pro coach has, there's an advantage they have over college coaches.
"They're going to work on football year round. There are no 20-hour weeks in the pros. They have 16 games, they don't have to worry about recruiting. They're really on the cutting edge of football. To have that infusion to our program is a gift."
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FOOTBALL: Thomas and Luck
Michael Thomas, the reigning Pac-10 Player of the Week, confirmed his decision to attend Stanford was heavily influenced by Andrew Luck.
Both were standouts at Houston high schools - Thomas at Nimitz and Luck at Stratford - and regularly played against each other in football and basketball. They got to know each other while at a summer football camp at University of Texas. And Thomas, Luck's receiver during the camp, came away even more impressed with his rival.
Luck already had made his commitment to Stanford when Thomas was deciding between Stanford and Northwestern.
"His decision influenced me a lot," Thomas said. "He was my quarterback and I got to see the leadership and qualities that made him so special. I told myself, `I'd love to play with somebody like that in college.' If I got to pick between those two schools, I figured if Andrew Luck is going to Stanford, I want to go to a winner."
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FOOTBALL: Stanford lands 12 on NFL rosters
Stanford is well represented in the NFL this season, with 12 former Cardinal players on NFL rosters.
Seven played in Week One: Minnesota receiver Greg Camarillo, Arizona tight end Jim Dray, Buffalo quarterback Trent Edwards, Cleveland tight end Evan Moore, St. Louis free safety Oshiomoghe Atogwe, Atlanta left tackle Will Svitek, and Atlanta outside linebacker Coy Wire.
Of those, two were starters: Edwards and Atogwe.
Stanford has two rookies in the league: Dray and Minnesota running back Toby Gerhart. Dray made his debut in a 17-13 victory over St. Louis. Gerhart did not play in the Vikings' opening loss in New Orleans because of a knee injury, but did participate in a full practice Wednesday and is listed as "probable" for the game against Miami on Sunday.
Other ex-Stanford players in the NFL are: Cleveland tight end Alex Smith, New Orleans defensive back Leigh Torrence (who was signed Tuesday), San Francisco center Eric Heitmann (out for another 6-8 weeks), and Tampa Bay linebacker Jon Alston, who is on injured reserve.
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STANFORD SHOWDOWN GAME OF THE WEEK:
Field hockey: Cal at Stanford, Sunday, 1 p.m.
The bright green grounds of Varsity Turf will be the site of Stanford's NorPac showdown against California in a pivotal West Division matchup that will act as new Stanford coach Tara Danielson's introduction to the rivalry.
The Cardinal (2-0 in the NorPac West, 5-1 overall) has only three home games remaining, but none bigger than this. Since California won 18 consecutive games in the series from 2001-2007, Stanford has won five of the past seven - with three coming in NorPac Tournament championship games.
Results against Cal (1-0, 2-4) are vital for earning a high seed in the conference tournament.
-- David Kiefer
Ideas for future notebook items are welcomed. Please contact David Kiefer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Past editions of the weekly Cardinal Insider can be found on gostanford.com by clicking on "General Releases" from the "Inside Athletics" pull-down menu.