Second and Standing Tall

David Gonzales/Stanford Athletics

Tickets to the 2006 championship volleyball match had sold out two weeks after the close of the 2005 tournament. Going into the NCAA finals in December, head coach John Dunning was excited for the Cardinal, who would play before a record 17,209 fans at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb.

“It was the biggest hoopla ever surrounding a volleyball Final Four,” he says. “In terms of the focus on our sport, we’ve never experienced anything like that.”

Although the second-seeded Cardinal lost to Nebraska in four games on December 16, Dunning was more than pleased with the team’s showing. “We have a remarkable group of players who showed a lot of courage, and when you do that, you have to be very proud.”

In the NCAA regionals in Austin, the Cardinal beat No. 8 Texas in four games (30-28, 34-32, 31-33, 30-24) to advance to the semifinals. All-American sophomore outside hitter Cynthia Barboza was voted the regional’s most outstanding player.

Stanford then routed conference foe Washington (30-12, 30-25, 30-15) in Omaha on December 14, moving into a final showdown against top-ranked Nebraska. On December 16, playing before a thundering Red Wave, the Cornhuskers won the title that had eluded them for two years by beating Stanford (27-30, 30-26, 30-28, 30-27).

In reaching the Final Four for the 16th time in 26 years, and advancing to the final match for the 12th time, Stanford set new NCAA records. The Cardinal last won the tournament in 2004.

Four players graduate in June: Kristin Richards, Nji Nnamani, Lizzie Suiter and Michelle Mellard.