The Cardinal had an amazing year in the 2018-19 calendar. Trying to describe all the incredible moments would take too long to do, so The Daily Sports staff give their favorite moments of the past year.
Daniel Martinez-Krams: Alanna Smith’s career-game for Tara VanDerveer’s 900th win at Stanford
Heading into the season, the game was a formality. Stanford women’s basketball had never lost to Washington State in 63, now 65, all-time matchups. The Cougars were picked to finish 11th in the conference and wound up in tenth. Maybe that is why Jan. 20, 2019, was so special — it was so much more than basketball.
The story begins in fall quarter, when Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year and second-team All-American Alanna Smith ‘19, who now plays for the Phoenix Mercury, took a class on human trafficking. Betty Ann Hagenau, the founder of the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition and voice of Stanford women’s basketball, delivered a guest lecture on the need to bring more awareness to the issue. Smith then planned a Human Trafficking Awareness game, scheduled for the fateful Sunday when the Cardinal took on the Cougars.
Except maybe the story began well before that — before Smith even entered Maples Pavilion four years ago as the program’s first international recruit. That story began 33 years ago when Hall of Fame head coach Tara VanDerveer stepped onto the Farm. In the years since, VanDerveer has led Stanford to two national championships, 13 Final Four appearances, 31 NCAA Tournament berths and with a win on Friday over Washington, 899 wins.
Calling the game for KZSU, there was a feeling in the air of something special, even more so than the 85-64 final score would indicate. Although there were no heroics, no miraculous comeback, no buzzer beater — though Smith’s 15 rebounds, two blocks and a career-high 34 points certainly appeared heroic — the game was my favorite because of the videos that played on the Maples big screen, the informative tables and the dance performed by human trafficking survivors during halftime. The game was special because a special player staged a career game the day of the event she planned while helping her coach become just the fifth Division I coach to reach 900 wins at one school.
Of all the moments in Stanford sports this past season, this one stands out because of how “Stanford” it really is. But you didn’t hear it from me.
“That’s kind of Alanna as a quintessential Stanford student,” VanDerveer said. “She’s not just about basketball, she’s not just about academics, she’s into her studies and I think it’s a great statement that she cares about more than just dribbling and shooting.”
Thank you, Stanford athletes, for refusing to shut up and dribble.
King Jemison: Women’s volleyball wins Stanford’s first National Championship of 2018-19 and their eighth as a program
Stanford women’s volleyball entered the 2018 season ranked first in the country. They finished there as well. Boring, right? Not even a little bit. Their eighth National Championship, the most of all time, came in one of the greatest college volleyball matches ever played.
By the time Stanford took the court against sixth-ranked Nebraska, they hadn’t lost in over three months. They’d just avenged their lone loss of the season, a five-set defeat on the road against BYU, in the semifinals, stomping the Cougars in a decisive 3-0 sweep. Nebraska came into the game as the defending national champions, but Stanford was the prohibitive favorite.
Except nobody told that to Nebraska. The Cornhuskers, fueled by an 18,000-person Minneapolis crowd that was 90 percent Nebraska fans, came out firing from the first point. Stanford ended up pulling out a tight 28-26 victory in the first set thanks to multiple service aces. But when Nebraska won a tight second set, both teams could see this was going to be a battle.
Stanford rebounded to dominate set three. National Player of the Year Kathryn Plummer got rolling, and first-team All-American Libero Morgan Hentz was literally flying around the court, letting nothing touch the ground.
But then came the dark times. Set four was painful. I was sitting there courtside calling the game for KZSU alongside Jimmy Garcia. For the first time, it occurred to me that Stanford might not win. The Cardinal were so dominant all season, and yet Nebraska was pushing them around in the fourth set to the tune of a 25-15 victory that wasn’t even that close. The 16,000 Huskers fans in the building were exploding with every Nebraska point.
The fifth set was an emotional roller coaster. Both teams made errors, and both teams had some incredible kills as well. Nebraska took an early 3-1 lead behind their fantastic outside hitter, Mikaela Foecke, but Stanford stormed back with a 4-0 run to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. From there, it went back and forth. Freshman middle blocker Holly Campbell made three huge kills that kept Stanford in front by the slimmest of margins.
A 3-0 Stanford run made it 14-10 Cardinal. But Stanford couldn’t convert their first two match points. Things were getting very nervous before first team All-American setter Jenna Gray found fellow All-American, outside hitter Meghan McClure, for a surprise attack from the back row that hit the floor for a Stanford victory and brought one of the most dramatic games of all time to a fittingly dramatic conclusion.
McClure’s final swing is on display in the Home of Champions (but not for long, thanks to all of the subsequent Stanford National Championships). Go check it out to see a team that was so cool and collected all season go absolutely crazy. They deserved it. Winning as a favorite is incredibly difficult, but Stanford did it. They might just do it again next season. Whatever happens next year, it won’t top 2018. That game is my favorite sports memory of all time.
James Hemker: No. 8 men’s volleyball upsets No. 4 UCLA in Maples on Senior Night in five sets.
At a school where Olympic medalists are just teammates and winning NCAA championships is commonplace, it can be hard to find an underdog story. Still, I managed to get a front row seat to one of the best upsets I have seen on the Farm.
This year, Stanford men’s volleyball and UCLA first met in Los Angeles. The Cardinal claimed frames one and three and sat two points from victory in set four before squandering the lead. The momentum shift allowed UCLA to close out the match in the fifth set without trouble.
The table was set for a potential revenge match of grand proportion, as UCLA was slated to come into Maples Pavilion in six weeks for Senior Night, the final regular season home game of the year.
When the No. 4 Bruins finally arrived, no one was quite sure how the No. 8 Cardinal, who were 1-6 against teams ranked higher than them, would look. Two days before, Stanford had played their worst game of the year in a 0-3 loss to No. 6 Pepperdine.
I could look back at my recap, and I could tell you who recorded whichever kill for a specific point, but that’s not what I remember from the game.
I recall the uneasiness in the arena as UCLA took the first set without much trouble. Would this be another Pepperdine match? Could Stanford simply not punch above their weight class?
But quickly those thoughts were quelled as the Cardinal claimed the second set, and the best of five became a best of three. The two schools were back on even ground, neither with an apparent advantage.
In front of a wild Maples crowd, Stanford then dominated the third set to take the 2-1 lead. What better way to rectify the blown fourth set in LA than to win in four sets at home?
Neither team gained a significant edge throughout that whole fourth frame until Stanford finally made a small run to 23. Just like in LA, only two points to claim the win that the team had been searching for all season. It seemed poetic that this is how Stanford would win, a chance to atone for past sins.
However the gods of sports make up the cruelest pantheon, and it was UCLA who was fated to string together three straight points to steal the set. Again. And it would seem that Stanford, like any protagonist of a Greek tragedy, would fulfill its true destiny of giving away set four to UCLA and then losing in five, no matter how hard the team tried to avoid it.
But just as quickly as the despair set in, hope replaced it. For what might have been the first real time this season, all six Stanford athletes played the entire set in perfect synchronization with each other.
Taking one point at a time, their lead grew from 1-0 to 14-10. And then … bang, bang, bang. The Bruins set a hit into a waiting block which drove the ball to the floor. 15-10. Game over. Stanford beat a volleyball powerhouse. It’s almost ironic that this six-week revenge arc ended in the blink of an eye, with a play that took fewer than six seconds.
Beyond the fact that Stanford finally broke its six-game losing streak to higher-ranked teams, it also had large implications for the MPSF playoff picture, which maybe could lead to NCAA Tournament dreams.
But of course in that moment, they were victors on their homecourt, surrounded by friends and family, and nothing else mattered.
Cybele Zhang: Football comes back to defeat Oregon in overtime
I grew up watching Stanford football, and every Saturday I would clear my calendar to watch the Cardinal game on TV. Arriving on the Farm as a freshman, football season was naturally one of the things I was most excited for — especially after attending an all-girls school for seven years without a team.
The first weekend of freshman year, the Stanford team was away at Oregon — but many of the players, including my friend, Trey LaBounty, who lived in my freshman dorm, did not travel. So, I had the unique experience of watching the game with Trey in our dorm lounge, and he would walk me and other friends in my dorm through the plays and players. As a defensive end, he would break down defensive strategy and helped me to see the game in a new, more tactically nuanced light. It was unique insight into the game, and sitting with my new group of friends was one of the first communities that I found at Stanford.
At the time, Stanford was ranked seventh in the nation and was undefeated, having not seen any truly close games, but facing the No. 20 Ducks on the road was the biggest challenge yet. And the game lived up to the rivalry; it was thrilling in the worst way.
Oregon came out strong in front of a packed Eugene crowd. The Ducks scored in every offensive drive of the first half, while Stanford narrowly squeaked in only a single touchdown. At the half, the score was 24-7 and our initial excitement in our dorm was beginning to wear off. It seemed as if Stanford had no chance. Most people trickled back to their rooms, but Trey and I were two of the few to stick around.
And I’m glad we did. Momentum began to swing in favor of the Cardinal halfway through the third half as senior linebacker Joey Alfieri recovered a fumble, taking the ball 80 yards and adding another touchdown to the scoreboard. The defense on the field — and my friend Trey back in Wilbur Hall — was fired up, and the Cardinal forced a three-and-out on the subsequent drive. With improved morale and field position, the offense, led by senior running back Bryce Love, scored after only a three-play drive. And just like that, the Cardinal were back in the game. Once junior kicker Jet Toner successfully tacked on the extra point, the score narrowed to 24-21 — but the Ducks were still up.
Forcing another Oregon fumble, junior quarterback KJ Costello guided the team downfield, and Jet knocked in a 32-yard field goal in the final seconds to send the game into overtime. Every second was a nail-biter.
In the end, sophomore tight end Colby Parkinson pulled in the game-winner to put the Cardinal ahead, and the few of us left in the dorm lounge exploded in cheers. Ultimately, the victory was key in improving Stanford’s record and maintaining the Cardinal’s ranking in the Pac-12 North, but the game stuck with me because of the people I watched it with. The community that came together to cheer on the team, even from 562 miles away, reminded me why I loved Stanford and reminded why I spent so many weekends watching the Cardinal play.
Alejandro Salinas: Grant Fisher breaks 3,000-meter American collegiate record
For cross country and track and field fanatics, like myself, the rivalry between Stanford senior Grant Fisher and Wisconsin redshirt senior Morgan McDonald was nothing short captivating this year.
McDonald, a native of Australia who entered the 2018-19 academic year without a single NCAA title to his name, claimed four national championships in his final year of collegiate eligibility with the Badgers. Three of those four victories came against Fisher, the 2017 NCAA 5,000-meter champion and one of Stanford’s most decorated distance athletes.
Fisher and McDonald met a total of four times this academic year, beginning with a showdown at the 2018 NCAA cross country championships on Nov. 17. In freezing conditions on the snow-covered Thomas Zimmer Championship Course in Verona, Wisconsin, the in-state favorite held a slight advantage over the Stanford senior as the duo stormed into the final uphill stretch on the 10-kilometer (6.21-mile) course.
The highly anticipated matchup between these two collegiate foes came down to a kick — as it would in every meeting throughout the year. But the chilly November race sided in McDonald’s favor, as he claimed his first NCAA title of his career. Fisher, who would finish a stride behind for second, matched the highest placing by any Stanford runner in the history of the championships.
Three months passed before the two met again, this time at the prestigious 112th New York Road Runners (NYRR) Millrose Games on Feb. 19. Held at The Armory, Fisher made his first appearance at the historic track since setting a meet record in the men’s mile (4:03.54) as a high school senior at the 2015 New Balance Nationals.
Fifteen laps around the 200-meter indoor track would crown the 2019 Dr. Sander men’s 3,000-meter champion. With eyes set on Fisher and McDonald, the race lived up to the hype and made the three-month wait to see these two duel again worth it. For much of the race, the lead pack consisted of McDonald, Fisher and Campbell’s All-American Amon Kemboi.
With 300 meters left, Fisher made a strategic surge to the lead, with McDonald and Kemboi immediately following in hot pursuit. As the leaders entered the bell lap, McDonald challenged Fisher for the inside lane advantage, but the Stanford All-American fended him off as they flew around the penultimate turn on the banked track.
With the crowd on its feet to witness one of the most highly anticipated matchups in collegiate track and field, Fisher and McDonald battled for positioning down the back straight. Again, the Stanford senior maintained his lane one advantage, sending McDonald wide as they rounded the final curve. Now in a full sprint down the final 50-meter home straightaway, Fisher powered to the tape, out-kicking McDonald in stellar, heart-throbbing fashion. Only 0.14 seconds separated the two at the line, but it was Fisher’s strategy and late-race strength that earned him his first victory against McDonald.
While much of the hype surrounded Fisher’s outstanding, victory-claiming kick, a much greater feat was accomplished on that day in February. For the first time in a decade, the American collegiate 3,000-meter record belonged to a new stakeholder. Shattering his personal best by six seconds, Fisher (7:42.62) broke Galen Rupp’s American collegiate record (7:44.69) set in 2009 as a senior at Oregon.
Having covered Grant Fisher and his successes on the Farm over the past two years, it was a joyous moment to see him win a much-deserved race and etch his name into the U.S. Track and Field collegiate record books.
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk’at’stanford.edu. King Jemison at kingj’at’stanford.edu, James Hemker at jahemker’at’stanford.edu, Cybele Zhang at cybelez’at’ stanford.edu and Alejandro Salinas at asalinas’at’stanford.edu.