HR 5: Romero, soul of "Worst to 1st" squad

During the summer months, we are releasing the 10 winners of this prestigious award, one by one. Gymnast Carly Janinga, soccer's Kelley O'Hara, football's Toby Gerhart and tennis' Hilary Barte were the first three members of The Bootleg's 2009-2010 Honor Roll. Next is volleyball's Evan Romero, another 2010 national champion.

In a June 15 article, we released the 31 finalists for The Bootleg Honor Roll for the 2009-2010 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."

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If you are an avid Stanford sports fan, you have probably already heard the story, but it is deserving of a retelling. Stanford men's volleyball's five-man class of 2010 went 3-25 as freshmen. Volunteer assistant coach Al Roderigues, who was never paid for his work for Stanford volleyball, had died 11 days before of stomach cancer. With "AL" patches on their sleeves -- a reminder that the adversity they fought was not just historical, but also deeply personal -- Stanford capped a 27-8 season with a 3-0 sweep of Penn State at on-campus Burnham Pavilion for their first NCAA Championship in 13 years. The Class of 2010 went down as the "Worst to First" class and one of the year's great stories in college athletics.

Evan Romero was not the best player on the team. That was Kawika Shoji. Evan Romero was not even the best player in the championship match. That was easily sophomore outside hitter Brad Lawson, who hit .821 with an insane 24 kills on 28 swings.

Yet it is Romero who we honor today.

Writes Stanford volleyball great Canyon Ceman, "Evan Romero (E Ro), over 4 long years, evolved from a physically talented but inconsistent opposite, to the heart and soul of a National Championship team. He was unquestionably the emotional leader of the team and a key to the passionate way they played and their soulful connection to their fans and friends."

Make no mistake, Romero was not merely some feel-good story. He was a Second Team All-American and had 26 kills on .365 hitting, 10 digs, five blocks and three aces in the Final Four, when those stats mattered the most. He was the MPSF Tournament's MVP to help Stanford clinch the No. 1 seed in the four-team NCAA Final, and his 37 kills against Pepperdine this April are a likely single-match school record. The management science and engineering major graduates second in school history with 406 career sets and 4.39 career kills per game.

But if the "famed Spirit of Stanford" this award attempts to honor lives in any of this year's student-athletes, surely it must reside in Romero. He won the Jake Gimbel award for the senior male with the best competitive attitude at the Stanford Athletics banquet, paralleling softball's Alissa Haber, a four-time All-American, who won the award on the women's side. Perhaps most impressively, Romero is one of just four graduating Stanford student-athletes to earn a Pac-10 post-graduate scholarship, joining women's volleyball's Janet Okogbaa, swimming's Carmen Stellar and tennis' Richard Wire.

Men's volleyball isn't exactly a major-revenue sport in this country, and as "just" a Second Team All-American, Romero might not have had a Karch Kiraly-like career ahead of him anyway, so the post-graduate scholarship likely just formalizes the inevitable. Like most of our Honor Roll winners, and the vast majority of Stanford student-athletes, Romero's playing days are all but over now that he's left the Farm. Obviously no dummy, Romero surely knew that throughout the majority his Stanford career, yet he gave it his all and labored for a love of the game, his teammates and his school. As a result of his efforts, he graduates Stanford a national champion, and earns himself a well-deserved spot on our Honor Roll.

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