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Mather: Thanks for bolstering Stanford’s home field advantage

This week is one of the coolest times to be at Stanford, when more than 1,700 students join the Cardinal family. I’ve experienced this week as a freshman, as an Orientation Volunteer and as an RA, and while I’m contributing my words remotely this time, my heart is with you all as you embark on what surely will become one of the biggest adventures of your life.

Part of arriving on the Farm — and, indeed, what may have attracted many of you in the first place ­– is entering the home base of one of the country’s most successful collegiate athletics programs. During your time at Stanford, it’s a near guarantee that some record will be broken or some athletic title will be captured no more than a few miles away from you (if you aren’t doing it yourself!)

Even the individuals and teams that fall short of these lofty accolades will likely do something special on or off the field in the next few years. Stanford student-athletes, simply speaking, frequently achieve the spectacular here.

Stanford football, for example, rarely falters when playing at home, and until last season had the most consecutive home wins of any team in the nation.

Maples Pavilion has witnessed some record-breaking streaks of its own ­­– just last year the eventual women’s basketball and women’s volleyball national champions, plus the 2014 men’s basketball tournament victor, counted trips to Maples amongst their only losses.

This near invincibility at home stretches far beyond the “big name” sports, however. Stanford women’s water polo won a championship of its own at the Avery Aquatic Center last May. Stanford sailing routinely demolishes anybody who dares challenge it in its home waters. And Stanford beach volleyball has literally only lost twice — ever — in its gorgeous new stadium which, come spring, is a must-visit for every Cardinal fan.

Part of this sensation is undoubtedly attributable to our school’s general athletic excellence. Stanford now holds seven more NCAA women’s titles than any other school in the country, and is just five — and closing — behind UCLA for the most overall.

The achievements of the many different Cardinal teams have earned the school the Director’s Cup, the award for the most successful collegiate athletic program, 21 years in a row and counting (twenty-two years ago, the trophy’s inaugural year, Stanford “only” came in second).

Yet even this unmatched success can hardly explain why the absurdly talented Connecticut women’s basketball should rue a trip to the Farm even in a comparatively off year for the home team, or how Stanford’s men’s and women’s golfers can continually break and re-break the Stanford course record, displacing huge names like Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie. There’s something about playing at Stanford that makes the best play better and leaves even the most elite visiting teams with unexpected losses.

It certainly helps that a visit to Stanford usually entails having hundreds or thousands Cardinal faithful screaming in your ear. But, as many keys as we rattle before a football kickoff or names we shout out after a made free throw, this seems only part of this greater phenomenon (aside from our band, after all, Stanford fans unfortunately make the news much more from our lack of commitment to the school’s programs than for our moments of dedication).

Indeed, it seems that Stanford’s reputation simply precedes itself for every game played on this campus. It cannot be an easy task to run into an institution with Stanford’s pedigree, steal a game and run right out.

While I’ve never experienced fully the sensation of having to stare down a Cardinal team on the Farm, I do know a little bit about what it’s like to be a visitor at Stanford from my days as a high school sailor. Even though we were little more than tourists in an athletic venue that was built for those a class above us, there was something about our annual regatta in Palo Alto that seemed different from our other events at other schools.

It was the only school where we actually toured the campus itself, for one, but it also seemed extra special to get to compete in the area where Andrew Luck was leading his team back to national relevance and where Hewlett and Packard had helped build Silicon Valley. The one race I won a stone’s throw away from Stanford’s sailing center is probably the most treasured moment of my 13-year sailing career.

Naturally, a sensation like this is quite subjective and would affect each competitor differently. The school’s collective reputation does much more than just instill respect in anyone who competes here, however. Stanford has one of the best national recruiting pipelines in many different sports because of the school’s near-universal name recognition, built through the notoriety of its affiliates’ achievements across all disciplines.

I don’t mean to imply that anyone other than these Stanford athletes and coaches is ultimately responsible for any one win, season or dynasty. Their commitment should not be disrespected or diminished — it often comes at considerable sacrifice, and perhaps with less compensation than it should.

But it’s not just some coincidence that a piece of land which was no more than a railway baron’s farmhouse just 130 years ago is now amongst the top places to study and play anywhere on this planet. Stanford athletics and academics have complemented each other, and the extraordinary things each has accomplished would have been difficult if not impossible for one without the other.

It’s no marketing gimmick that our signature football catchphrases, like “Nerd Nation” and “Intellectual Brutality,” recognize how this success on many fronts has helped lead this program higher, and it shouldn’t be a question whether pure academics have reaped the benefits of athletic triumph as well.

Don’t miss your chance to see U.S. National Team soccer player Jordan Morris or U.S. Olympic gymnast Elizabeth Price in action just because it isn’t the only way to do your part. But the task of making the Farm a difficult place to play truly can be aided through a number of means.

Whether you break the record for fastest marathon run or most Red Zone points won, whether you spend your time developing some innovative research or technology or just doing what you love really darn well, or whether you somehow manage to do all of the above, you’re doing a little to help elevate the Cardinal athletic programs and, in truth, to make this school better as a whole.

That’s what builds up Stanford’s home field advantage. Thanks for choosing to become a part of it.

Despite growing up on the water, sailing has unfortunately not been part of Andrew Mather’s life since coming to Stanford. Give him tips on how to turn on the fountains so he can relive his sailing glory days at amather ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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