Stanford senior setter Bryn Kehoe was a little late for her post-match press conference Saturday night. Cardinal coach John Dunning was surprised she even showed up at all.
Kehoe took Stanford's 30-25, 30-26, 23-30, 19-30, 15-8 defeat to top-ranked Penn State in the national championship game at ARCO Arena pretty hard. While her teammates were also crushed by the heart-breaking setback, for Kehoe, it was her final game in a Cardinal uniform.
She took her spot at the table -- her eyes narrowed from the tears -- and put on her best face. But that's what makes Kehoe special; she stuck in there through good times and bad times. She refused to take the easy way out.
"I'm grateful I had the opportunity to represent Stanford for four years," Kehoe said. "I'm grateful that my family was able to support me my entire four years. I'm grateful for my great coaching staff that has supported me throughout my four years and I'm grateful for my wonderful teammates, who have not only been great teammates, but great friends."
Kehoe's legacy at Stanford defies description. She leaves as the Cardinal's all-time assist leader with 5,956 during her distinguished career, and as the all-time leader with 13.32 assists per game.
She owns the top two single-season assist marks in school history, recording a then- school record 1,637 as a freshman, and topping that with 1,742 this year. Her 14.40 assists per game this season is also a school record.
She's also among the top 10 in Cardinal history with 1,220 digs (7th) and 130 service aces (5th).
Statistics can tell only a small part of Kehoe's importance to her teammates and to the program. The All-American will be training with the U.S. national team in hopes of representing the United States in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
She won't be the only one from this year's Stanford team. Fellow All-Americans Foluke Akinradewo and Cynthia Barboza join her at the national camp.
"She's such a good athlete, so competitive," Barboza said of Kehoe. "You can tell she's giving her best on every play. It's awesome to have a player like that on the court with you."
Akinradewo was named the National Player of the Year on Friday after another record-setting year. She's one of four finalists for the Honda Sports Award in Women's Volleyball.
Freshman Alix Klineman was also named to the All-American team.
Senior middle blocker Franci Girard (841 career kills) also gave her final performance as a Cardinal.
"I think I can look back to Bryn's freshman year and remember after a loss how inconsolable and responsible she felt and I know that's exactly the way that Bryn and Franci feel right now," Dunning said. "They're leaders on our team, they're captains on our team, and they've been to three Finals matches in their careers. They are just great people. They have meant a lot to our program and always will, and I am sure they will go on to great things after this. But I don't know if they can even talk right now. It's very difficult to step in and sit in front of you and talk to you after the feelings they have."
Akinradewo, flirting with a national hitting record, earned her Player of the Year honors after successfully smacking the ball at a rate of .499. The NCAA mark is .504.
"It's all worth it," Akinradewo said. "This is why we come to the court every day, and why we practice hard and work so hard. Sometimes you just make mistakes."
Akinradewo has three of Stanford's top five single-season bests for hitting percentage as she became the first player in school history to record a hitting percentage over .400 more than once. As a freshman, she "only" hit .397.
Stanford (32-3) loses Kehoe and Girard, and both will be missed. But the Cardinal returns five starters in Barboza, Akinradewo, Klineman, Erin Waller and libero Gabi Ailes, who set a pair of school records with her 533 digs and 4.26 digs per game (former middle blocker Tara Conrad is mistakenly listed at 4.69 instead of 1.69 in 2000).
Their mission, after losing for the second consecutive year in the national championship, was clearly stated.
"I think the goal going into next season is to win the national championship as opposed to losing for the third straight year," Barboza said. "It's just kind of a double whammy, two back-to-back, just that much more drive for next season."
Klineman's 499 kills led a diversified Stanford attack this season. That offense returns 85 percent of its production (1,845 of the team's 2,182 kills) next year. Kehoe just won't get the chance to set for them. That job likely falls to Joanna Evans, who has spent the past two years as Kehoe's protégé.
Cassidy Lichtman, who saw increased playing time in the back row, also returns with setting experience.
Menlo School grad Alex Fisher, who saw action in both the national semifinal and championship matches, also comes back. After losing two years to injuries, Fisher is ready to assume a bigger role. She ended the year hitting .301 while appearing in 34 games.
Penn State (34-2) kept the Cardinal off balance with its effective serving, which caused passing problems and an inconsistent Stanford attack.
"Penn State started the match aggressively and got the advantage on us," Dunning said. "At this point I'm not exactly clear on what happened. I am proud of what we accomplished after the second game."
Stanford, after dropping the first two games, came out fired up in game three, led by Barboza and Kehoe. Barboza recorded four straight kills and Kehoe had four service aces to lead the Cardinal.
Stanford took charge early in the fourth game as Girard and Akinradewo each buried their kills.
In the deciding game, Penn State recorded seven straight points to turn a deficit into a victory and send Stanford to its seventh loss in 13 championship matches.
Barboza recorded the game winning kill in Stanford's 23-30, 30-20, 30-25, 20-30, 16-14 victory over USC in the semifinals on Thursday.
Also returning are hitter/blocker Janet Okogbaa, and Jessica Fishburn, a defensive specialist who was the starting libero last year and was the previous digs per game (3.87) single-season record holder.
Stephanie Browne, the 6-foot-5 middle blocker from Danville, will likely slip into Girard's role. She used her redshirt season after missing her senior year in high school with a thumb injury. Jessica Walker, a middle blocker from Texas, signed a letter-of-intent in November.
Yeah, Barboza and Akinradewo are right. The Cardinal has built a successful program around good athletes, hard work, determination and the ability to overcome adversity. Stanford will be favored to make the trip to Omaha for next year's Final Four, a goal worth working toward.