Volleyball Vanquished in NCAAs

This was not your traditional season for Stanford women's volleyball. They experienced losses to lesser programs throughout the year and never had the setting or middle play needed to be a Final Four contender. The girls were gutty and played some big matches, but the team just did not have the gas to go deep in this post-season. Despite their #5 ranking, the 3-1 loss Friday night to Washington was not unexpected.

To start things off, credit definitely has to go to the Huskies. They played an awesome game and were there mentally throughout the whole match. Stanford seemed to waver with its concentration at times and it really penalized the Cardinal. Washington is a good club that will only get better. Their coach, Jim McLaughlin is building something special up in Seattle and they will be a major player in the Pac-10 next year. I believe they have most everyone returning, in addition to adding Christal Morrison, a top hitter from the Class of 2004. They are my pre-season pick for Pac-10 Champions. Courtney Thompson is a great setter. Though she is only 5'8", she's short and speedy, setting her hitters up really nicely. We were unable to contain Sanja Tomasevic and Brie Hagarty. In addition, they have great jump servers, making passes difficult for Stanford. Courtney Thompson went on a 7-0 run early in the 3rd game to seal up that game. We had trouble with Kaitlen Leck and Tomasevic's serves all night long. They also played great defense, in my opinion. They keyed on Ogonna Nnamani all night long and she didn't really seem to hit her stride until the 4th game, which at that point, was too late. The Huskies were just too powerful overall, as they had four players in double figures in kills.

On to Stanford... the Cardinal did not play their best match of the season. They came out looking flat, even though they did win Game 2. Their defense was horrendous, as no one but Kristin Richards seem to put any effort on making any digs. In Game 4, the defensive intensity was a lot better, but unfortunately, on this night, it wasn't good enough. Our blocking was also suspect. I know we got 15 blocks for the night, but it seemed like we weren't touching the ball as we normally do. I was really surprised actually at the high number of blocks we got. I know the girls really wanted this match, but for whatever reason, the intensity needed to reach a Final Four was just not there tonight. If it was, we could have pulled it off in 5.

Ogonna Nnamani wasn't at her best. Her balls were not going down with as much authority and you would have to say a lot of it has to do with the setting. She had some nice kills, but she must have been frustrated as she constantly faced double and triple blocks (with the exception when she hit from the right-side - she was automatic there). She had some nice blocks and got down and dirty on defense. However, this just wasn't one of her best games. Once again, credit the Husky defense.

Kristin Richards was pretty impressive. She got roofed a couple of times, but not as much as I had thought, given early reports on her tendency to hit into the block. She really does an excellent job at finding the seam and putting the ball down. In addition, her arm swing is so fast! You can't really appreciate it until you see it in person. I saw her at the Notre Dame game and even then, I wasn't really that impressed. She will be an excellent player. She is already a solid offensive and defensive player with court savvy. Add some spring and summer training and I think she will blossom next year. She also has a nice floater serve. To me, she was the only Cardinal that was playing any defense with intensity. It'll be fun watching her grow the next three years (barring any injury!).

Jen Hucke... I love this player, but she just did not have a good game. Aside from a few thundering kills, she either got roofed or hit out. Her serving was atrocious. When the ball was long, it was really long. There were moments when head coach John Dunning had to send Leahi Hall out to serve for her and then once that rotation was done, Hucke would go right back in. Why Dunning did not sub her out in the fourth game for serving is anyone's guess. The last point of the match was really defeating, as it just went into the back of the net. I know she must feel terrible, especially how the last point ended. I hope that this will motivate her to improve over the spring and the summer because I think she brings a lot of positives to the club. With more consistency, she can be a real asset on offensive. Her defense is suspect at times, but hopefully with hard work, that will be corrected.

Courtney Schultz. She had some miscues, but I thought she did a good job at the libero. Once again, remember that she was brought in as a middle blocker, not as a libero, so the job that she has done has really been admirable. She had some really nice passes and made some good digs. I hope Dunning rewards her next year by giving her a shot at middle blocker. True, she has no actual experience up there, but at least she'll be aware of the pressures on the court. There were some snide comments in the stands regarding her passing, like "Wow, she actually did something!" I really had to contain myself from smacking those cretins. She's done a great job playing out of position and I don't think people give her enough credit. She's not going to be a Chrissie Zartman by any means, but for a middle blocker, she passes pretty damn well.

Katie Goldhahn. I can honestly say the only thing I was impressed with her game was her serve. She has a really deceptive jump floater that we had some runs on. Other than that, Goldhahn really did not make smart decisions. She constantly set Nnamani up against a double and triple block when there were other hitters open. Late in the fourth game, Nnamani was finally getting kills left and right and Goldhahn set Hucke instead, who got roofed by two blockers. She also did not set the middles well. Harvey and Dukes did not hit with a lot of power because the sets were either way off or too low. She set Richards nice and low, just how she likes it, but Nnamani... it was all over the place. She just didn't make a lot of smart decisions. I remember watching Lisa Sharpley and people would say that she's a great setter because she always sets people who have the "hot" hand. I never got that, as it would seem obvious that you would set the player who is having a good night. However, with some setters, that just seems a little harder to do. Hopefully, Dunning will work really, really hard with Goldhahn to improve her setting consistency and choices.

The middles did a good job for what was given to them. Jenn Harvey got blocked a few times, but she also blocked a few balls so it evened out. Sara Dukes had some nice blocks as well, but she didn't hit with authority. The sets were too low or too much to the side and she really didn't get a good paw to pound the ball. We will lose a lot with these two, and with Sara McGee. If McGee was healthy the entire season, it would have made a difference, in my opinion. She wasn't having the greatest season, but she wasn't having a bad one either. While Dukes played well and generates some nice kills with her quick arm swing, McGee is a much more of a physical presence at the net, both on offense and defense. I think with McGee in the line-up, she could have made a difference. However, with the lack of intensity the team displayed, I don't even think Logan Tom would have made much of a difference.

It was a great season. The team played well in spurts despite tons of injuries; unfortunately, they just didn't have the oomph that Washington had.

This season, the team faced a lot of adversity. Switching setters to switching liberos, finding a leader that could replace Tom to finding people to step up because of injuries, this year's edition of the Stanford Cardinal has a lot to be proud. Next year will be exciting. The expectations will not be as high, as we are just losing too many valuable contributors to the club, but we will always be dangerous. With Ogonna Nnamani and Kristin Richards returning, along with the addition of a highly touted libero/setter in Bryn Kehoe, next year will be very interesting indeed.

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