Top-Rank Recruits Already Champs
Teamwork starts with some extracurricular fun and games.
They were winners before they played a match. And the competition had been intense. The drill sergeant among them had dragged everyone else out of bed to practice. But not for volleyball. That required some steely training as well, but something more urgent arose before their season even started: the freshman athletes dance-off.
Victory was sweet. The five freshman women on this year's Stanford squad out-choreographed and outperformed contenders from the women's field hockey, men's water polo and soccer teams. The judges—one non-dancing player from each team—voted for each freshman group on a 10-point scale. The volleyballers garnered the highest total.
The drill fanatic was "B-ritt," outside hitter Brittany Howard, the only member of the quintet with a two-syllable sobriquet. Madi Bugg, setter, is "Bun" or, surprise, "Bug." Middle blocker Inky Ajanaku—whose first name already is a downsized version of Oyinkansola—gets stuck with "Stink" when she's not "Ink." Outside hitter Jordan Burgess is "Bird" as well as "Jo," and middle blocker Megan McGehee is simply "Meg."
These are five incipient stars who reflect three powerful themes: togetherness, determination and an unusually deep combination of talent to arrive in a single class. There's a motto that's written on their locker room wall and touched by each of them when passing it: "The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender." That's the sentiment that provokes the same resolute gaze in all their eyes.
They arrived at Stanford as the No. 1 group of recruits in the country, according to PrepVolleyball.com. All were high school All-Americans, captured from Oklahoma (Ajanaku), North Carolina (Bugg), Florida (Burgess), Missouri (McGehee) and—nine miles away—Mountain View (Howard).
Fourteen matches into the season, winning was still a theme. Stanford was 12-2, ranked seventh in the nation, and the freshmen, led by Bugg's assists and Burgess's kills, were showing most of the signs of being the collective force they were touted to be.
Anybody who watched them play had to be thinking that Stanford was getting everything it possibly could wish for in any one troop of talent. Or maybe even more than that, if you count the dancing.
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Data is from the past two weeks.