Sophomore Madi Bugg first watched Bryn Kehoe play volleyball in 2005, when Stanford participated in the Boston College tournament.
"She was a setter, I was a setter," Bugg said. "I watched her because she was on the winning team. I just loved her."
The instant attraction helped Bugg choose Stanford, where the walls of the locker room are lined with portraits of the school's former All-Americans.
Eight years later, Bugg finally met her icon. Alabama was assigned to the Stanford regional, which was just as big for Kehoe as it was for Bugg, though for different reasons.
"She came in and showed us her national championship ring, which was really cool," Bugg said. "I made sure I was at the front of the line. Then I talked to her afterward."
The championship ring is something Bugg would love to share in common with Kehoe, who won hers as a freshman in 2004.
Bugg, the Pac-12's Setter of the Year, has her chance this year as third-ranked Stanford (26-5) meets No. 10 Minnesota (29-6) in an NCAA regional semifinal Friday at 4 p.m. (PT) in Lexington, Ky.
Nationally No. 2 Penn State (30-2) and No. 20 Michigan State (23-11) meet in the other semifinal, with the winners going at it on Saturday at 1 p.m. for the right to advance to the Final Four in Seattle, Wash.
Stanford beat the Golden Gophers for the national title in 2004, something that had to grab Bugg's attention.
Minnesota, winner of six straight matches, advanced with a five-set victory over Colorado last weekend and is led by a trio of seniors.
The Cardinal has won all four of its previous matches with the Golden Gophers and is 2-0 against the Spartans. Penn State and Stanford, the only schools to have competed in every NCAA tournament since its inception in 1981, are even at 7-7.
The Nittany Lions, with five, and Stanford, with six, own a combined 11 NCAA titles. Penn State won four straight titles between 2007-10, beating Stanford in five sets in 2007, Kehoe's final game at Stanford.
The Cardinal brings a season-best 11-match winning streak into regional play after pounding through a rough conference schedule.
"The Pac-12 is an awesome conference," Stanford's Inky Ajanaku said. "We're happy to have been tested like that, having to push through mentally and physically. It gives us confidence going forward."
Stanford's team blocks per set mark of 3.02 leads the Pac-12 and ranks third in the nation. Senior Carly Wopat leads the conference and ranks 13th nationally with 1.44 blocks per set, while Ajanaku is averaging 1.38 blocks per set.
Bugg leads the Pac-12 with 11.83 assists per set, upping that mark to 12.10 in conference matches. Her assists per set average ranks seventh in the nation and she's had two of the Pac-12's seven 60-plus assist matches on the season.
Bugg this week was joined by Wopat, Ajanaku and Kyle Gilbert on the 14-player All-Pacific North Region team by the AVCA, while sophomore Jordan Burgess received honorable-mention accolades.
Bugg, meanwhile, would like nothing better than to be able to call Kehoe ("Oh My God! I was so excited! She gave me her cell phone number!") with good news about a championship.
Nationally No. 6 Stanford (7-1) returns to the court Saturday for its first game in 16 days. The Cardinal won three games in Mexico over the Thanksgiving weekend; including coach Tara VanDerveer's 900th career contest.
Stanford will host No. 23 Gonzaga (8-1) in Maples Pavilion at 1 p.m. The Bulldogs upped their winning streak to six games after beating Wisconsin on Tuesday night.
Stanford is also on a six-game winning streak, thanks in large part to senior Chiney Ogwumike, who averages 25.8 points on a .634 shooting percentage) and 11.5 rebounds a game. She has also blocked 13 shots and recorded 16 steals.
Junior point guard Amber Orrange is next with 12.6 points and a team-high 18 steals. Senior Mickaela Ruef averages 10 boards a contest.
Stanford hosts UC Davis in a nonconference game on Saturday at 5 p.m., ending a 13-day hiatus.
The Cardinal (6-2) has won five of its past six games, including a 92-60 win over South Dakota State in its latest appearance.
Senior Aaron Bright missed that game, and will miss the remainder of the season, with a shoulder injury.
Stanford has four players averaging double-digits in scoring, led by Chasson Randle with an 18.5 average. Anthony Brown averages 16.5, followed by Dwight Powell (15.1) and Josh Huestis (11.4).
Huestis is Stanford's top rebounder (8.0), with Powell (7.0) and Brown (6.8) right behind. Huestis has blocked 21 shots, exactly half the team's total.
Midfielder JJ Koval was one of 50 U.S. Division I seniors invited to the 2014 adidas Major League Soccer Player Combine, MLS announced. The combine will take place from Jan. 10-14 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
The 2014 MLS SuperDraft is scheduled for Jan. 16 in Philadelphia.
The 50 seniors were selected by a committee consisting of NCAA Division I coaches and MLS representatives. They will be joined at the adidas MLS Player Combine by other seniors, including from lower NCAA divisions, underclassmen who sign Generation adidas contracts and other international invitees.
Koval, the Cardinal captain in 2013, was named to the All-Pac-12 First Team after leading the Cardinal to a 10-7-4 overall record and the program's first NCAA Tournament since 2009. Stanford advanced all the way to the Round of 16 before falling at No. 2 Washington on Dec. 1.
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