Stanford 3, Minnesota 0

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LONG BEACH, Calif. - Stanford (30-6), behind 29 kills from senior Ogonna Nnamani, won its sixth NCAA Division-I Womens Volleyball Championship with a 30-23, 30-27 30-21 victory over Minnesota (33-5) in front of a crowd of 8,826 fans at the Long Beach Arena on Dec. 18.

Stanford entered the match as the 11th seed in the tournament, while Minnesota was the fourth seed.

Stanford used a 5-0 run to break a 13-all tie to take game one 30-23, despite trailing 6-3 in the early going. The Cardinal, behind three points by Nnamani, scored the final five points of game two to win 30-27. Stanford scored 12 of the last 15 points of the third game to wrap up the title with a 30-21 victory.

Stanford concluded the season on a 15-match win streak, something the Cardinal has not accomplished since the 2001 season. Stanford dropped only three games in its last 10 matches (total of 33 games).

Nnamani, the tournaments most outstanding player, hit .562 for the match on 48 swings to pace the Cardinal offense. Setter Bryn Kehoe handed out 48 assists as Stanford hit .436 as a team for the match. Jennifer Hucke produced nine kills with a .368 attack percentage, while Kristin Richards contributed eight kills and 11 digs. Franci Girard hit .556 with five kills, while Liz Suiter totaled six kills on a .417 attack percentage with a team-high five blocks. Courtney Shultz dug a team-high 14 balls for Stanford.

Erin Martin and Trisha Bratford each charted 13 kills for Minnesota in the loss. Kelly Bowman and Meredith Nelson were credited with nine kills in the match, including 19 assists from Bowman. Lindsey Taatjes knocked down five kills to go with five blocks and five digs. Jessy Jones produced six kills for the Gophers, while Paula Gentil had a team-high 15 digs.

Ogonna Nnamani set an NCAA Tournament record with 165 kills in all 2004 NCAA tournament matches over 21 games. She also tied the NCAA Tournament record with 15 block solos, and that mark is shared by Pacific's Jayne Gibson in 1981.

Named to the NCAA All-Tournament team were Nnamani, Hucke, Richards, Kehoe, Martin and Gentil.

Minnesota pulled out to a 6-3 game one advantage capped by a service aces from Marci Peniata. However, Stanford managed a 5-0 run including kills from Nnamani, Richards and Hucke to give the Cardinal an 8-6 lead. The Gophers tied the game back up at 10 as Bowman recorded a kill followed by a combined block from Taatjes and Byrnes. Stanford regained a two-point advantage at 15-13 as Nnamani provided a kill followed by a Bowman hitting error. Following the media timeout, the Cardinal rattled off three more points to stretch the run to five straight scores as Richards tallied a kill and block assist prompting the Gophers to call their first time out at 18-13. Stanford extended the lead to six points at 24-18 as Suiter combined with Kehoe for a block and followed with a kill through the middle. The Cardinal closed out game one at 30-23 as Franci Girard picked up a kill and block. Nnamani totaled eight kills with a .571 attack percentage to lead the Cardinal in game one. Stanford hit .395 as a team with five team blocks and held the Gophers to a .133 mark. Jones and Martin each charted four kills in the first game for Minnesota.

Minnesota recovered from an early 0-3 deficit in game two as the Gophers scored six of the next seven points. Stanford tied the game back up at seven as Richards and Hucke recorded back-to-back kills. The Cardinal earned a two-point lead at 13-11 after Suiter knocked down a kill. Bowman and Bratford scored successive kills to lead the Gophers back into a tie at 15-15 following the media timeout. Nnamani followed a Bowman service error with a kill to give the Cardinal an 18-16 lead. Minnesota pulled into a tie at 20-all as a Hucke attack went into the net. The Gophers gained the advantage at 23-21 with kills by Martin and Bowman sandwiched around a Cardinal attack error by Suiter. Stanford knotted the game at 27-27 after a kill by Nnamani and a Gopher attack that just missed line in the corner. Hucke ended a long rally with a kill on the right side to give the Cardinal a 28-27 lead. Nnamani followed with a block solo to provide the Cardinal with its first game point of game two at 29-27, and promptly ended it with a kill for a 30-27 victory. Nnamani scored 12 kills in the second game alone on 19 attacks, while the Cardinal hit .486 as a team. Bratford was credited with six kills in the second game for the Gophers.

The Gophers came out of the intermission break to take a 7-4 lead as Bowman hit a kill off the right side followed by a Richards attack error. After Richards hammered a kill, Minnesota suffered a blow on the back row as Gentil went down with an injury on a play that Bratford was credited with a kill off a touch at 8-5. Down 9-6, Stanford tied the game with three straight kills by Nnamani. The Cardinal took a 12-10 lead on a Gopher back-row attack error and Martin hitting error. Minnesota stormed back into the game with successive kills by Bratford for a 13-all score. Nnamani tipped a shot over the defense, which was followed by Kehoe ace and two more Nnamani kills to lift the Cardinal to a 22-18 lead. Minnesota stopped the four-point run with a Martin kill, only to see Stanford roll off five more unanswered points for a 27-19 lead. Stanford closed out the game at 30-21 on a Nnamanis 29th kill of the match.

MOST OUTSTANDING PLAYER
Ogonna Nnamani, Senior Outside Hitter, Stanford

ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
Bryn Kehoe, Freshman Setter, Stanford Kristin Richards, Sophomore Outside Hitter, Stanford Jennifer Hucke, Senior Outside Hitter/Opposite, Stanford Erin Martin, Senior Outside Hitter, Minnesota Paula Gentil, Junior Libero, Minnesota

NOTES:
Minnesota started the season ranked fifth in the USA Today/CSTV Top 25 Coaches Preseason Poll with one first-place vote, while Stanford was placed at sixth in the preseason with two first-place votes. Minnesota is the only team to remain in the top five in the poll all season.

Stanford was playing its 11th championship match, while Minnesota reached the championship match for the first time. Minnesota held the top spot for three weeks this season and became the 14th school to hold the number-one position.

Stanford senior Ogonna Nnamani not only was named AVCA Division I Co-National Player of the Year on Dec. 17, she was also selected as ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American of the Year by CoSIDA earlier in December.

Minnesota, which had never reached the national semifinal round until last year, has returned to the semifinals for the second straight year. Stanford is making its first appearance in the title match since 2002 when the Cardinal lost to Southern California.

Minnesota Head Coach Mike Hebert has led two different teams to the NCAA Division I Womens Volleyball Championship semifinal round. In addition to leading both the 2003 and 2004 Gophers into the semifinal round, he Illinois to the same round in 1987 and 1988. Only three other coaches have achieved the feat two different schools.

Minnesota junior libero Paula Gentil set the NCAA single-season dig record last week at the regional semifinal and final. She now has 924 on the season and is the first Division I player to reach 900 digs in single year. She is the first libero to earn AVCA All-America First-Team with her inclusion on the 2004 squad. Gentil has 176 digs in the NCAA Tournament, smashing the previous record of 95 held by Pacifics Dorothy Hert in 1986. She set a national semifinal match record with 33 digs against Southern California on Dec. 16. Gentil is currently third on the NCAA career dig list with 2,139.

The Gophers broke the school record for wins (33) in the NCAA era with their semifinal victory over Southern California on Dec. 16.

Minnesota is only the third Big Ten Team to reach the NCAA Tournament championship match. Wisconsin was the last to do so in 2000. Penn State reached the finals in 1993, 1997, 1998 and 1999. The Big Tens only national title came in 1999 with the Nittany Lions taking home the trophy.

Stanford is one of four schools to have participated in each of the 24 NCAA Division I Womens Volleyball Championship tournaments.

Stanford has three players on this years roster that has taken part in two national championships (2001 and 2004). Ogonna Nnamani, Jennifer Hucke and Leahi Hall all were freshmen as the Cardinal defeated Long Beach State to win its last NCAA title in 2001. The three Stanford players have now appeared in the three NCAA title matches, including the 2001, 2002 and 2004 events. Stanford has won five national womens volleyball championships (1992, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001).

Stanford has played in all four time zones in the last four weeks. The Cardinal played Arizona and Arizona State in the Mountain Time Zone, the NCAA Tournament first and second rounds in the Eastern Time Zone at Florida A&M, the region semifinal and region final in the Central Time Zone at Green Bay, Wis., and now the NCAA Division I Womens Volleyball Championship Tournament semifinals in the Pacific Time Zone in Long Beach.

Stanford entered the NCAA Division I Womens Volleyball Championship as the 11th seed. Only the 2003 Minnesota team has reached the national semifinals from a lower seed. The Gophers were seeded 13th in last years tournament.

The two-day attendance total was 17,165 for the NCAA Division I Womens Volleyball Championship (8,339 for the semifinals, 8,826 for the championship).

-- Courtesy Long Beach State