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. The Bootleg has announced swimmer Julia Smit and volleyball's Cynthia Barboza as 2008/09 Honor Roll winners. Our third announced member of The Bootleg's 2008-09 Honor Roll is volleyball's Foluke Akinradewo.
They say some numbers lie, but there are some stats so salient that they convey a unmistakable truth. We know baseball's figures well -- a .300 hitter is an unquestioned offensive threat, a 300-game winner is a pitcher unflappable through the decades of wear, tear and pressure, and, of course, a 57-game hitting streak and a 61-homer season do battle as the game's most hallowed records. (We can pretend the steroid era was just a nightmare, right?) In other sports too, running for 100 yards in a game or 1,000 in a season, scoring 50 in the NBA, notching the hat trick in soccer or hockey – these numbers are universal, transcending any difference in game plan or team quality or opponent strength or any other factor, and conferring automatic respect to the man behind the name printed next to that key stat in the next morning's box score.
All of that is a lengthy way of saying that while women's volleyball, and thus its figures, aren't as central to American culture as football or basketball's numeric footprints, Foluke Akinradewo finished a season that capped a legendary career, one with resultant numbers of the same magnitude of infeasibility as DiMaggio's 57 or Chamberlan's 100.
Foluke Akinradewo finished her Stanford career with a .446 hitting percentage. For the baseball fans out there, that number is every bit as insane as it sounds. Hitting percentage is volleyball's most important statistic, and simply keeping the ball in play isn't enough to register on its scale. Kills minus errors, all divided by the number of attempts is the formula, so the stat factors in not just offensive explosiveness, but also accuracy and consistency (by penalizing for errors), while controlling for the number of times one sees the ball. .446 shatters the old NCAA record by 20 basis points, and whoever set the old record probably wasn't playing in the nation's toughest conference and against some of the best women's volleyball teams ever assembled (2008 Penn State, for starters). (Then again, she probably wasn't surrounded by fellow All-American caliber players either.) .446 truly is a groundbreaking stat worthy of mention alongside the great numbers of other sports – and as with Maris' 61, it's likely to be a long time before anyone challenges Akinradewo's benchmark.
Akinradewo also had some unreal moments en route to .446. Her senior season of .457 is obviously remarkable, given the extraordinary nature of .446, but it pales in comparison to her junior season of .499. Factor in the error penalty, and more often than not, when Foluke Akinradewo touched the ball, Stanford was a split-second away from winning the point.
Akinradewo, like any great athlete, also became more versatile as she matured on the Farm. Her raw power was enough for phenomenal freshman (.397) and sophomore (.431) years, but as teams began double and triple-teaming her, Akinradewo had no choice but to improve her form and her ability to deceive a defense with her shot placement. Her junior and senior years stand as testament to the success of those efforts. Akinradewo's 1.47 blocks per game her senior year were a career high and fourth best nationally, her dig totals her junior and senior years the best of her career, and her service errors her senior year a career-low, and half of the previous year's total.
Akinradewo was the unanimous National Player of the Year her junior year, and earned Co-National Player of the Year honors from Volleyball Magazine this past season. She graduates the seventh four-time All-American in school history, and with some absurd games along the way, posting single-game highs of 26 kills, a .923 hitting percentage and 12 blocks. Akinradewo was no slouch academically either, majoring in human biology, the most popular major for Stanford pre-meds. But here at The Bootleg, Akinradewo rising in her trademark sunglasses, her 6'3" body coiling up awaiting the ball, and then absolutely hammering the Kehoe set over two or three hapless defenders, that's how we'll remember Foluke Akinradewo.
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