Honor Roll No. 6: Nicole Gibbs

Whatever the case, what is indisputable is that Stanford would not be NCAA champions without Nicole Gibbs. For her grit in leading the Cardinal to the promised land, The Bootleg awards Gibbs a spot on our Honor Roll.

In an April 25 article, we released the 30 finalists for The Bootleg Honor Roll award for the 2012-‘13 school-year.

The criteria are as follows:

Each academic year, The Bootleg's Honor Roll will recognize the top ten Stanford student-athletes who have performed at an exceptional level, with athletic accomplishments that are both extraordinary and inspirational. While achieving athletic success, these athletes should also have displayed uncommon leadership, sportsmanship and respect towards their fellow teammates and opponents. Finally, these honorees' performances and actions should also demonstrate their love for their particular sport as well.

We are now releasing the 10 winners of this award, one by one. Our previously announced members of the Honor Roll are baseball's Mark Appel, field hockey's Becky Dru, swimmer David Nolan, distance runner Kathy Kroeger and diver Kristian Ipsen. Our sixth announced member of The Bootleg's 2012-2013 Honor Roll is tennis' Nicole Gibbs.

Last year, Mallory Burdette won the NCAA doubles championship alongside Nicole Gibbs. Burdette then went on a run to reach the third round of the U.S. Open before running into Maria Sharapova, and emboldened by this success, unexpectedly turned pro. Burdette would have been a senior this year, and was 19-1 at No. 2 singles in 2012. There was no way Stanford could recover in time from a loss like that, right?

Then, Gibbs, the Card's No. 1 player, missed all but one fall match with injuries, and then had to play her way back into shape when she did return. Plus, Kristie Ahn, Burdette's replacement at No. 2 singles, had slogged through injuries much of last year.

Stanford women's tennis, which has won 17 of the sport's 32 national titles since the NCAA took over in 1982, looked suddenly mortal. They lost to St. Mary's, not exactly a national powerhouse, in February. Then, in March, the Card lost to USC, which was understandable as USC was a national powerhouse, but baffling as the final margin was a lopsided 6-1. Stanford still compiled a 16-4 record to qualify for the NCAA Championships as a No. 12 seed, but it got dicey enough that senior Natalie Dillon, a former walk-on with just eight dual victories to her name, found herself inserted the lineup at No. 6 singles.

Maybe that and Lele Forood's other moves worked. Maybe it was as simple as Stanford finally getting healthy, allowing its superior talent to win out. Maybe the Cardinal got lucky, with three 4-3 victories (in tennis' best-of-seven format) in their NCAA tournament run. Whatever the case, what is indisputable is that Stanford would not be NCAA champions without Nicole Gibbs. For her grit in leading the Cardinal to the promised land, The Bootleg awards Gibbs a spot on our Honor Roll.

Statistically, while still remarkable, it did not look like Nicole Gibbs' best year early. She lost four times in dual play this season and was knocked out of the doubles draw in the first round with Ahn. By the time the season had concluded on Memorial Day, however, Gibbs had lost only one set in her last 14 matches. That run included a blitz through the NCAA team tournament and then a repeat run to the NCAA singles championship, an effort which earned her the Honda Award, her sport's Heisman Trophy, for the second straight year.

Try as they might, the stats don't capture the entire story, however. For when the spotlight shone brightest, Gibbs delivered the most. The junior already had a doubles title and a singles title to her name, so the team crown was the hardware she wanted most in 2013. Gibbs said as much, and it would show in her play.

"I'm so happy to have won both the team and singles title," Gibbs told Go Stanford. "But it was so sweet to win with the team. No memory can replace that."

Perhaps Gibbs' most impressive showing was the one three-setter in the closing stretch. She faced Texas A&M's Christina Sanchez-Quintanar in the team finals, in a match which would prove a microcosm of her season. Gibbs had just lost her doubles match, and then fell behind 0-6, 0-2 versus Sanchez-Quintanar, the nation's No. 4 player, at the NCAA Championships.

But then came one of those moments that explains why we so love sports, all while transcending explanation. Maybe Gibbs adjusted her strategy. Maybe she managed to win a game or two, then got into her opponents' head, and then never let her back into the match. Maybe she was just saving her energy for when she needed it most. Whatever the case, Gibbs won 12 straight games after losing her first eight, rallying for a 0-6, 6-2, 6-0 victory every bit as improbable as it reads. It would prove the difference in the 4-3 final as Stanford won a national championship for the 37th straight year.

Without Nicole Gibbs, The Streak would not be alive. The Bootleg congratulates her and women's tennis for an electrifying, odds-defying, 12th-to-first run to capture a national title, and awards Gibbs spot No. 6 on our 2012-2013 Honor Roll.

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