Volleyball: 'Last Season Isn't Good Enough'
GOING FOR GOLD: Nnamani may play in the Summer Games.
Women’s volleyball coach John Dunning surmises that if you look at any blockbuster team, the couple of years before its breakthrough were letdowns—those hard seasons provide the motivation needed to make it to the top. At least, he hopes so.
The Cardinal finished its year with a 3-1 loss to Washington in the NCAA regional semifinal and a 25-7 record. It was a disappointing ending for a program that has been on top of its game for most of the last two decades.
Stanford began the season ranked fourth in the country. But from the start it seemed that nothing would be easy. Team members were already coping with the death last spring of their strength coach, Greg Johnson, in a car accident. Johnson, Dunning says, was well liked by players and had brought the team’s physical ability up a notch.
Next, injuries sidelined key players. Junior outside hitter Ogonna Nnamani pulled a muscle in her abdomen in early October and wasn’t completely up to speed until the beginning of November. Freshman outside hitter Kristin Richards missed 20 practices because of an Achilles tendon injury.
Add to those challenges the toughest schedule in the country—20 games against ranked teams and four games against top-three schools—and the squad stumbled where it had usually sailed. The Cardinal lost at Cal for the first time in 21 years. “It’s just one of those things that didn’t turn out the way we wanted it,” Dunning says.
There were highs, of course, especially the performance of Nnamani. She broke Stanford’s single-season kill record with 627, besting the previous mark of 621 held by Logan Tom, ’03. In January, she began practicing with the national team in hopes of making the Olympic squad.
Next fall, the team will return 10 players, “all of whom are saying to themselves that [last season] isn’t good enough,” Dunning says. The coach also expects big things from four incoming freshmen. Cincinnati native Bryn Kehoe, for example, was the national high school player of the year, and Candice Wiggins, from Poway, Calif., is said to be so talented that she could eventually play in the Olympics in either basketball or volleyball.
Next season also will come with a twist: playing in Burnham Pavilion while Maples is renovated. “Our opponents won’t like it,” Dunning predicts. “There are lots of people right on top of the court.” He hopes that brings his players the wins they are looking for.
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Data is from the past two weeks.