MiThe Minnesota volleyball team (33-5) fell to Stanford (30-6) in the National Championship in three games by scores of 30-23, 30-27, 30-21 at the Long Beach Convention Center at Long Beach, Calif. Minnesota finishes the 2004 season with its first national championship appearance and a school-record (for the NCAA era) 33 wins.
With the victory Stanford claimed its sixth women's volleyball national title.
"Stanford played almost flawlessly," said Minnesota Head Coach Mike Hebert. "It was a great performance by them tonight. "We just never got on track. Our serving was not as good as it usually is, and we just kept climbing the mountain and falling back down. Stanford played a terrific match, and Ogonna (Nnamani) was spectacular."
Erin Martin (Ames, Iowa) and Trisha Bratford (Reseda, Calif.) each had 13 kills in the match for Minnesota. Kelly Bowman (Maple Grove, Minn.) had nine kills and 19 assists.
Lindsey Taatjes (Prinsburg, Minn.) finished with five kills, five digs, five blocks and 31 assists. Paula Gentil (Forteleza Ceara', Brazil) had a match-high 15 digs for Minnesota. Meredith Nelson (St. Croix Falls, Wis.) had nine kills in the match, while Jessy Jones (Naperville, Ill.) finished with six kills, four blocks and hit .400 (6-2-10).
"I think coming into this match we had six seniors who had been to the Final Four," said Meredith Nelson. "Inexperience was never really a factor. I just think Stanford played great today, and Ogonna had a good match. It is always sad to lose the last match of the season, but our team had a great year and our seniors did a great job leading our team this year."
Martin and Gentil were named to the National Championship's All- Tournament team at the conclusion of the match.
Stanford's Ogonna Nnamani was named the tournament's MVP after hitting .562 (29-2-48) with 29 kills in the match. Setter Bryn Kehoe, outside hitter Kristin Richards and outside hitter Jennifer Hucke also received All-Tournament honors for Stanford.
"On behalf of our four terrific athletes sitting up here with me, I want to congratulate Minnesota for the great season they had," said Stanford head coach John Dunning. "I have known Mike (Hebert) for a long time and he is a great coach and a great guy. I want to congratulate him on that, as does everyone else here I am sure."
Minnesota jumped out to a 6-3 lead in game one, but Stanford came back with five straight points to move ahead 8-6. The Golden Gopher came back with three of the next four points to tie the game at nine. The two teams exchanged the next eight points to tie it at 13. Stanford edged ahead with two straight points to go up 15-13 before the media timeout.
Out of the timeout, the Cardinal scored the first three points to go up 18-13 to force a Minnesota timeout. Nelson broke up the Stanford run with a kill to make it 18-14. The Cardinal pushed the lead out to 20-15, but Bratford put down a kill to make it 20-16. Martin, Jones and Taatjes combined on a block to cut the lead to 20-17. The teams exchanged the next two points to make it 21-18, but Stanford rattled off three straight points to push the lead out to 24-18.
Nelson sandwiched a couple of kills around a Cardinal point to cut it to 25-20. Stanford came back with three of the next four points to move ahead 28-21. Minnesota scored consecutive points to cut the lead to 28-23, but Stanford ran off the next two points to close out the game at 30-23 to take a 1-0 lead in the match.
Stanford outhit Minnesota .395 to .133 in game one, and had 19 kills to 15 for the Golden Gophers. Nelson and Jones led the way with four kills apiece, while Gentil had eight digs. Stanford's Ogonna Nnamani hit .571 with eight kills in 14 swings.
The Cardinal jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in game two. Minnesota scored five of the next six points to take a 5-4 lead thanks in large part to a pair of kills from Martin and Nelson. The Golden Gophers moved ahead 8-7, but Stanford scored the next two points to move ahead 9-8. Minnesota tied it at nine, and the two teams exchanged the next four points to be tied at 11 apiece. The Cardinal scored four of the next six points to take a 15-13 lead going into the media timeout.
Out of the timeout Bowman and Bratford delivered consecutive kills to tie the game at 15. The Cardinal edged ahead 18-16 with three of the next four points. Bratford delivered a kill to make it 18-17, but Stanford moved ahead 19-17 with the next point. Martin followed with a kill to make it 19-18, but the Cardinal answered again with a point to make it 20-18. Minnesota scored the next two points to tie it at 20 to force a Stanford timeout.
Out of the timeout, Nnamani put a kill down to give Stanford a 21-20 lead. Martin came right back with a kill to tie the game at 21. Following a Cardinal hitting error, Bowman delivered a kill to put Minnesota ahead 23-21 to force a Stanford timeout. Out of the timeout, Nnamani put down a kill to cut the lead to 23-22. Bratford answered with a kill to make it 24-22. Stanford cut it back to 24-23, but Bratford delivered another kill to make it 25-23. The Cardinal cut it back to 25-24, but committed a service error to make it 26-24. Stanford cut it to 26-25, but Taatjes came back with a kill to make it 27-25.
Stanford answered with two straight points to tie the score at 27 to force a Minnesota timeout. Out of the timeout the, Stanford delivered a kill to go up 28-27. Nnamani followed with a solo block, and finished off the game with a kill to give the Cardinal a 30-27 game- two victory. The Cardinal finished game two with a 5-0 run to claim the game.
"I think Stanford just played better then us today," said Hebert. "At the end of the second game we had a good chance to even up the match, but Stanford just outplayed us and took the second game. Big plays determine close games and they made them today."
The Cardinal outhit Minnesota .486 to .429 in game two, while the Golden Gophers had 23 kills to 21 for Stanford. Martin and Bratford led the way with seven and six kills respectively. Nnamani had 12 kills for the Cardinal in the game.
Minnesota jumped out to a 9-6 lead over Stanford in the third game. However, the Cardinal answered with six of the next seven points 12- 10. Bowman halted the Stanford momentum with a kill to make it 12-11. The Cardinal scored the next point to make it 13-11, but Bratford delivered back-to-back kills to tie it at 13. Stanford moved ahead 14- 13, but Bratford came back with another kill to tie it at 14.
Stanford moved ahead 16-14, but Jones delivered a kill, and combined with Taatjes on a block to tie it at 16. The Cardinal scored to make it 17-16, but again Jones delivered a kill to tie the score at 17. The two teams exchanged points to tie it at 18, but that was the last time the score would be tied, as Stanford went on a 9-1 run to push it to 27-19. The Cardinal moved on to claim the third game 30-21 to win the match.
For the match, Stanford hit .436 to Minnesota's .270 hitting percentage. The .436 hitting percentage was the highest by Gopher opponent the entire season. The Cardinal held a narrow 58 to 55 edge in kills. Minnesota was outdug for only the third time all year, as Stanford had 45 digs to 36 for the Golden Gophers.
Martin finished her senior year fifth on the career kills-list with 1,818. She also had the second-highest single-season kill total in school history 695.
Taatjes finished her year fourth on the career digs-list with 1,284, and was fifth on the career assists-list with 4,719. She also finished tied for fourth on the single-season digs list 495, and had the highest dig total for a setter in school history.
Gentil finished the season with 924 digs, which is the highest single- season total in school history. She will enter her senior season third on the NCAA career digs list with 2,154.
"Many teams fall into the trap of defining their season by their last match," said Hebert. "However, only one team wins in the end of the season, and that is Stanford this year. I want to congratulate our team on a great season. We had a great run this year, and I am very proud of this group of players for accomplishing all that they did this season."