In a May 29 article, we released the 30 finalists for The Bootleg Honor Roll award for the 2008/2009 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 as their school pride, the famed "Spirit of Stanford."
During the months of June and July, we are releasing the 10 winners of this prestigious award, one by one. Swimmer Julia Smit was our first 2008/09 Honor Roll winner. Our second announced member of The Bootleg's 2008-09 Honor Roll is volleyball's Cynthia Barboza.
Though us weekend warriors can only dream of being half the athlete Cynthia Barboza is, her career trajectory is one we can all identify with.
Too many athletes make it look too easy for fans to fall in love with them. That's certainly not to say they don't work incredibly hard, but a basketball leaving Michael Jordan's arms, Wayne Gretzky firing a slap shot – it simply looks so natural. From the moment we first learnt of these stars' existence, they have dominated their respective sports without seeming to break a sweat.
It was once that way for Cynthia Barboza. She was a consensus No. 1 recruit upon her arrival at Stanford, and the Cardinal's best signee since Kerry Walsh, many observers said. (Until, in a reminder of how ephemeral these things are, Alix Klineman showed up the very next season as the top recruit in the last ten years of women's volleyball, if not ever.) And Barboza, to her credit, stuck to the superhero script for quite some time, hitting over .300 her freshman season (her .306 mark remains her best single-season hitting percentage), playing stronger yet on the defense, and showing the rest of the Pac-10 that the hype was legitimate.
But then our superhero protagonist faced unexpected adversity. They make Disney movies' narrative arcs this way for a reason, and Barboza's Team Iceland moment came in the form of an ACL tear, which sidelined her the final 11 games of her freshman season and continued to plague her for months after. Though it was but a brief blip on the radar, when considered in the context of Barboza's now-completed Stanford career, the experience humanized her to my eyes. I vividly remember her on the Maples sideline, crying as she watched her teammates played without her, embarrassed like any 18 year-old would be when a fan came down with a "Get Better" cake. Maybe the on-court dominance and the off-court stardom didn't come as easily as it looked to Barboza. Watching her struggle made her the Taj Finger of women's volleyball to me, someone who gave the game their every last atom of effort, someone you couldn't help but root for in return.
Toward the end of her career, Barboza has also had to deal with an issue many superheroes face (both in Hollywood and in real-life) – how to gracefully relinquish the limelight. In today's 24/7 culture, the All-Universe recruit Klineman soon became the team's face in Barboza's absence, and then, rightfully, it was Foluke Akinradewo's turn to carry the torch, when the fellow graduating senior started playing like she was from another universe.
Through it all though, Barboza has been a model of consistency. She never had a statistical anomaly of a season like Akinradewo just concluded, her shots were never the flashiest, her looks never seemed to garner the drool that Klineman's would. But it was Barboza who was a first-team All-American in each of her three remaining years at Stanford, and it was Barboza who saved some of her best games, statistically and in terms of on-court impact, for the high-profile, high-pressure later rounds of the NCAA Tournament. If you believe that stars are judged by their performance when it matters most, Barboza is your volleyballer, and if you also believe stars are ultimately judged by their team's success, Barboza doesn't fare too badly either. Stanford was upset early in the NCAA Tournament in Barboza's injury-shortened freshman year, but rallied to make three straight Final Fours and two straight national title games in her final years on the Farm.
Don't get the wrong impression from the sap – we genuinely believe Cynthia Barboza had one of the ten best seasons of any Stanford student-athlete, otherwise she wouldn't be the subject of this article. But that Barboza, a three-time All-Academic Pac-10 Honorable Mention and two-time Olympic alternate, suffered through some speed bumps along the way makes her eventual success that much sweeter – not just for Barboza, but for us mere mortals too.
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