Ogonna Nnamani, an American Volleyball Coaches Association co-player of the year, was at her best when Stanford needed her most as the Cardinal swept Minnesota in the finals of the NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship December 18 in Long Beach, California.
Nnamani's 29 kills led Stanford to a 30-23, 30-27, 30-21 victory and gave the Cardinal its sixth national title in the sport. Minnesota was making its first appearance in the finals.
Nnamani, Stanford's senior outside hitter who also started for the U.S. National Indoor Team in the 2004 Summer Olympics, was named the tournament's most outstanding player after posting a .562 hitting percentage against the Gophers. She also set an NCAA tournament record with 145 kills.
"I would have to say that we pretty much fired on all cylinders,'' said Stanford coach John Dunning. "I think (setter) Bryn Kehoe really did a great job, especially in her decision-making. She made some excellent choices to get Ogonna going in the back row.''
The Cardinal, 30-6, ended its season on a 15-match win streak. Minnesota, which defeated two-time defending champion Southern California in the semifinals, finished 33-5.
"Stanford played almost flawlessly,'' said Gophers coach Mike Hebert. "We just never got on track. Our serving wasn't what we were accustomed to. We just kept climbing the mountain and then falling back down.''
For Nnamani, Jennifer Hucke and Leahi Hall, it marked the second national title of their collegiate careers. The Cardinal also captured the NCAA tournament when they were freshmen in 2001. They also finished second to Southern California in 2002.
"The feeling you have at game point and then the next point and then when you finally win, it's one of the greatest feelings you can have,'' said Nnamani, who also tied the tournament record of 15 solo blocks.
Minnesota tried to rally in the third game of the match, but suffered a huge loss when all-America libero Paula Gentil collided with teammate Marci Peniata. Gentil suffered a bruised neck and had to be helped to the bench with her team leading, 8-5. Stanford outscored Minnesota, 25-13, the rest of the way to wrap up the national championship.
The Cardinal had a .436 hitting percentage as a team in the final match.
"Our hitters really had a great day,'' Dunning said. "It was the first time all year, with the exception of one match when we played USC at home. That was kind of a shock at the time, and we wondered if we could do it again. We're thankful that we did it again.''
Kehoe had 48 assists for the Cardinal. Hucke and Kristin Richards balanced Stanford's offense with nine and eight kills, respectively.
All three joined Nnamani on the all-tournament team. Minnesota's Erin Martin and Gentil were also were selected.
Martin registered 13 kills in the finals, and Gentil ended with a NCAA single-season record 924 digs, including a NCAA tournament-record 176. She is the first Division I player to surpass 900 digs in a season.
Stanford, which also won national championships in 1992, 1994, 1996, 1997 and 2001, defeated Washington, 30-25, 23-30, 30-27, 30-24, to advance to the final.
Minnesota downed Southern California, 30-25, 29-31, 30-26, 30-20, in its semifnal match.
Stanford def. Washington, 30-25, 23-30, 30-27, 30-24; Minnesota def. Southern California, 30-25, 29-31, 30-26, 30-20.