Stanford's former No. 1 class has earned that volleyball spot


When Stanford junior outside hitter Jordan Burgess takes the time to look around the locker room, she's amazed at the collection of all-stars surrounding her.

Burgess was part of a recruiting class in 2012 that was considered the top recruiting class in the nation by a wide margin at the time and four of the five newcomers started as freshmen.

"The way we thought about it was we were coming in to join a great group already," Burgess said. "It was 'What can we add to the team?' It was more excitement knowing we could do a lot of great stuff."

Burgess, setter Madi Bugg, middle blocker Inky Ajanaku and outside hitter Brittany Howard now are all third-year starters, each with an impressive resume of her own.

The fifth player from that class, Megan McGehee, may not be as well known but she's a valued member of the top-ranked Cardinal (18-0, 8-0 in the Pac-12), which hosts No. 17 UCLA (14-5, 5-3) at 6 p.m. Friday in a conference match. USC, ranked No. 19, visits Sunday at 5 p.m..

"Sometimes I wish people could see our practices," Burgess said. "They'd see how Megan is so competitive and that Sydney (Brown) hits the crap out of the ball. Sarah (Benjamin) is like another libero. We practice against a great team every day."

Stanford, off to its best start since the 1994 NCAA championship team won its first 20 matches, also starts two seniors in Morgan Boukather and libero Kyle Gilbert and redshirt freshman Merete Lutz.

"The team is crazy with so many stars in the program," Burgess said. "I think we've bought into being a team. We all find ways to contribute. We may not get 15 kills every match and that's because different people step up. We're still realizing our potential as a class."

Cardinal coach John Dunning avoids using the "P" (potential) word. Instead he points to how successful the class has been despite not yet reaching a Final Four.

"They had a huge impact on the team and had an amazing freshmen season," Dunning said. "We just didn't finish the year. They are very aware they are measured by getting to a Final Four and winning a national championship. My No. 1 goal is to improve every week."

That awareness takes on even more significance this weekend as the 1984, 1994 and 2004 teams will be honored at the intermission of the UCLA contest.

The 1984 team was the first Stanford team to play for a national title and both the 1994 and 2004 teams won NCAA titles. Kim Oden, Bobbie Broer, Deidra Dvorak and Wendi Rush were all named All-Americans in 1984.

In 1994, senior All-American Marnie Triefenbach and junior Cary Wendell the National Player of the Year led the Cardinal. Kristin Folkl, a four-year All-American who later played in the WNBA, was a freshman along with three-time All-American setter Lisa Sharpley.

Sharpley, and her young daughter, has met Bugg for a series of coffee dates. Her and many of her 1994 teammates are expected to be at Maples Pavilion on Friday.

Maureen McLaren, who was also a five-time All-American swimmer at Stanford, was part of six national championship teams: the 1992 and 1994 volleyball title and all four years with the women's swimming team.

Folkl, Sharpley, Paula McNamee, Barbara Ifejika and Debbie Lambert became the first senior class to win three NCAA titles in four teams.

Ogonna Nnamani and Kristin Richards earned All-American honors in 2004. Bryn Kehoe, a freshman at the time, was the team's setter.

"I can't wait," Burgess said. "It's homecoming, we'll have a lot of alums on campus and some recruits are coming. We'll get to see the football game too. We're proud of who came before us. They are some of our biggest supporters. It's less about being expected to uphold the tradition and more about joining a legacy. It's up to us to add to what came before. John keeps telling us to build our own legacy."

As freshmen, they helped Stanford win 22 in a row before losing to Michigan. Last year the Cardinal reached the regional final, only to lose to eventual national champion Penn State in five sets.

"It's about the smallest details," Burgess said. "We were up 9-6 and couldn't get out of the rotation. We've learned a lot from experience. As freshmen we just managed to win and we wouldn't know how. It was like magic. We had no sense at all of how to make adjustments. When we had to change something we had no clue.

"Last year, we had an idea of what to change," Burgess said. "We battled with Penn State, we fought hard with the Pac-12. This year, we trust each other, we understand each other and we know if a change is needed, it will happen. We feel each others' moods and are better at getting out of funks. Madi is good at loosening me up with just a few words when she senses I'm in a funk. Things feel strong on the court, like we have confidence in each other."

Burgess, Bugg and Howard remain on the court through all six rotations, Ajanaku is limited to the front row, for now.

"They made a statement as freshmen," Dunning said. "The sum of what all five could do is really good. At the end of last year, Penn State won the national title and we gave them everything they could handle. We didn't get to the Final Four but sometimes it's just about who you play when."

There are seven Pac-12 teams ranked among the top 19 and 10 with winning overall records. Stanford and Washington are tied atop the conference standings, with the next seven teams within two games of each other. Every weekend is brutal, something Stanford learned after host Colorado took the Cardinal to five sets last weekend.

"They are opportunities to learn every week," Dunning said. "What they think they can challenge. Teams have plans to stop Inky and Merete. When they get stopped, we better have plans for that. Morgan took advantage of that."

Lutz leads the nation in hitting percentage at .481. Ajanaku is third at .472. Boukather recorded a career best 18 kills in Stanford's four-set win over Utah on Sunday.

The Cardinal has five players averaging at least 2.16 kills per set and the team has an overall hitting percentage of .333. Seven different players have reached double figures in kills.

The next challenge comes Friday.

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