Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - January 7, 2011

Worst to first was the best

by Rick Eymer

Jeremy Lin did not attend Stanford but he played basketball in Maples Pavilion against the Cardinal, so the Palo Alto High grad gets a special mention in this year's review. A year ago he was Harvard's starting point guard. He's ending 2010 with the Reno Bighorns, an NBA Development League team.

In between has been anything but ordinary for the Lin family and friends. Jeremy led the Crimson to its best season in school history, played for the Dallas Mavericks' summer league team in Las Vegas and wound up signing with and playing for the Golden State Warriors, creating quite a stir among fans and media. He averaged 1.9 points in 8.5 minutes over the 17 games in which he appeared.

In honor of Lin's "Top 10 attitude," herewith another successful year in Stanford athletics, it is an honor to present our version of the Top 10. Please don't take us literally, though, as we slyly sneak in an extra subsection or two.

The overwhelming pick for No. 1 involves good times, poignant moments, rough going and finally, jubilation. The Stanford men's volleyball team set out on a mission four years ago and patiently worked toward its goal of "worst to first," coined by long-time Cardinal assistant coach Al Rodrigues, who ultimately lost his battle with cancer this past March but not before inspiring his boys to the achievement of the year.

Stanford got knocked around early in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation season and reaching the playoffs was in doubt for a few anxious days. The Cardinal rallied, always believing in its destiny.

Senior Kawika Shoji, later named National Player of the Year, led Stanford to the NCAA national championship at Maples Pavilion. The Cardinal beat Penn State, 30-25, 30-20, 30-18, and as the final point hit the court, emotions poured out from the hearts and souls of the players, fans and coaches alike.

"It's been a fairy tale," Stanford senior Evan Romero said. "We wanted to end this the right way."

It may have ended on one plane, but it was just the beginning on another plane. The journey will long be remembered in Stanford athletic lore as something so special it could not be spatially contained.

No less dramatic was the accomplishment of Stanford's women's tennis team, practically written off at the beginning of the season. This was supposed to be the year 'the streak' ended and yet, through sheer force of will and drive, the Cardinal remain one of the greatest tennis dynasties in the nation.

Four Pac-10 teams were ranked ahead of Stanford when the balls were first tossed out on the court. The Cardinal was the last team standing, winning the national title with a 4-3 victory over Florida on the courts of Georgia in Athens.

Stanford was invincible at home again, like it has been since 1999. The Cardinal takes a 164-match consecutive home winning streak into its next season.

The Cardinal, seeded eighth in the NCAA team tournament, upset top-seeded Baylor in the quarterfinals, got past No. 6 Notre Dame in the semifinals and then faced No. 3 Florida for the title.

"This was just an epic performance by our entire team," Stanford coach Lele Forood said at the time.

She won't get any argument here, which defines this as the No. 2 Stanford accomplishment of the year. The Cardinal, which captured its sixth national crown since 2001, won its last 19 consecutive matches, three by the slimmest of margins.

Hilary Barte and Lindsay Burdette combined to win the NCAA doubles title. Burdette's younger sister, Mallory, clinched the team title. By the way, they live in Georgia.

On the men's side, Bradley Klahn won the NCAA singles title, giving Stanford, which reached the Round of 16, another handful of tennis trophies.

If 2009 was the year of Toby, then this season belongs to Andrew Luck, who guided fifth-ranked Stanford to a record 12 regular-season wins this fall. The football success got knocked down to No. 3 in our polling because the Cardinal's season-ending 40-12 victory over Virginia Tech came on Jan. 3.

On a campus with such excellence though, third becomes the new No. 1B. After all, Stanford qualified for a BCS game and there's no precedent for that.

Luck threw for 3,051 yards and 28 touchdowns, finishing second to Cam Newton in Heisman Trophy balloting.

Two-way player Owen Marecic also deserves some accolades for his 10th-place finish in Heisman voting. Of course, any individual mention is also a nod to the entire team, which will long be remembered in Stanford football lore.

Jayne Appel was as tough as she was talented on the basketball court. An assortment of injuries kept her from playing at full speed much of the year and she still managed to help carry the Cardinal to a second straight appearance in the NCAA championship game last April.

The All-American and WNBA all-star ended her collegiate career as the Pac-10's all-time leader in rebounds, with 1,263. She also blocked a Stanford record 273 shots and was third all-time with 2,125 career points.

Appel made .565 of her shots, fourth all-time. She is one of only three Cardinal players to reach 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.

Roz Gold-Onwude also fought through injury and pain to produce her finest season. She was named the Pac-10 co-Defender of the Year and helped carry Stanford through the tournament.

Christen Press was soccer's answer to Appel and she produced a record-setting season of her own in helped the Cardinal reach its second consecutive NCAA title match.

Press had an outstanding season for Stanford (23-1-2) to earn Soccer America's Player of the Year honors. She led the nation in goals (26) and points (60), and broke every Stanford career scoring record.

For her career, she has scored 71 goals, had 41 assists and recorded 183 points, all Stanford records.

The women's swimming team added a second-place finish at the NCAA championships, recording four individual titles and a team relay title. Julia Smit won the 200 IM and 400 IM and finished her Stanford career with 26 All-American honors. Elaine Breeden won the 100 fly and 200 fly and holds five of the top-nine times in NCAA history in the 200 fly. She leaves with 24 All-American honors.

Stanford won the 400 free relay with a team of Kate Dwelley, Samantha Woodward, Betsey Webb and Smit.

The Stanford men's gymnastics team also produced a national runnerup finish, with Ryan Lieberman (parallel bars) and Eddie Penev (vault) earning individual NCAA titles.

Eugene Godsoe and Chad La Tourette each won individual national titles and the Cardinal men's swimming team finished fourth at the NCAA championships.

Godsoe won the 100 back and La Tourette became Stanford's first 1,650 national champion in 23 years.

The Stanford men's cross-country team also finished fourth in the NCAA championship, its best finish since running third in 2008. Chris Derrick and Jacob Riley placed fifth and sixth, respectively.

The women's gymnastics team also finished fourth at the NCAA championships, with Carly Janiga (uneven bars) winning a national title.

Nick Amuchastegui finished fourth at the NCAA wrestling championships at 165 pounds. He became Stanford's first All-America in two years and recorded Stanford's highest finish in six years.

Seniors Alix Klineman, Cassidy Lichtman and Gabi Ailes were each named to the women's volleyball All-American team. Stanford reached the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament.

Menlo School grad Kenny Diekroeger earned freshmen All-American honors for the baseball team, which reached the NCAA tournament.

Alissa Haber was named an All-American as the Stanford softball team qualified for the NCAA tournament.

Arantxa King, Jake Riley and Stephanie Marcy each received All-American status at the NCAA track and field championships. King was the runnerup in the women's long jump.

The fencing team recorded a ninth-place finish in the national meet and the women's squash finished seventh.

The men's golf team reached the national quarterfinals before falling. David Chung and Sihwan Kim earned All-American honors.

The Stanford field hockey team qualified for the NCAA tournament and senior Xanthe Travlos was named Stanford's first All-American in 12 years.

The women's crew finished fourth in the NCAA meet and the synchronized swimming team was the national runnerup.

We'd like to end the year in review by honoring three Stanford grads. Men's basketball Landry Fields actually belongs as he achieved All-American status before he was drafted by the New York Knicks and, ultimately, earning a starting spot.

Fields never buckled under the pressure he faced all year as Stanford's top returning player. It earned him a job in the NBA.

Lauren Fleshman nearly retired after suffering a front foot injury. The Cardinal grad chose to stay with her sport and won the 5,000 meter title at the USA Outdoor Track and Field championships.

And, certainly not least, Erica McLain won the triple jump at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

As 2010 ended, perhaps the next great story of 2011 begins. The Stanford women's basketball team shocked top-ranked Connecticut last week, 71-59, to end the Huskies' all-time NCAA Division I winning streak (for men and women) at 90.

Whether the Cardinal go on and become the top story of this new year remains to be seen. Stanford will host the NCAA men's and women's tennis championships this season and anything can happen at the Taube Family Tennis Center. The Stanford baseball team has the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, so good things could happen this spring for coach Mark Marquess.

Nonetheless, 2010 is in the books and what a great read it has been. One can only hope that 2011 will be just as enthralling.

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