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NCAA WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL CHAMPIONSHIP: STANFORD WINS NCAA TITLE STANFORD 3, MINNESOTA 0.

Byline: Joe Stevens Staff Writer

LONG BEACH - Ogonna Nnamani crashed to the floor in glee. Her teammates followed their leader and also dropped to the floor in happiness over having won the national championship.

Nnamani had just ended her college career fittingly - with a kill down the center of Minnesota's defense to give Stanford a 30-23, 30-27, 30-21 victory in the NCAA championship at Long Beach Arena.

As she dominated the title match, Nnamani finished her career the same way it started - by winning a national championship. But at least one difference existed between Stanford's championship in 2001 and the one Saturday.

One difference was how Nnamani celebrated.

When she fell to the ground, her sophomore sister, Njideka, ran to her and put her arms around her. The sisters embraced for about a minute as their teammates celebrated around them.

``It was crazy,'' Ogonna said. ``It means a lot to have my sister on this team. She adds so much to our team dynamic and works so hard in practice. I'm just real proud of her, and it's nice that our family could have something like this.''

Ogonna Nnamani had a match-high 29 kills, which were 16 more than any other player. She only made two hitting errors, and her mere presence opened many options for her teammates.

Stanford finished its season with a 15-match win streak. The Cardinal rode Nnamani, the 2004 Olympian and Co-Player of the Year with Ohio State's Stacey Gordon, throughout the streak.

Although Nnamani repeatedly gave credit to her teammates for the championship, it is difficult to overstate just how much of an impact she had.

``She's the most experienced player in the country,'' Stanford coach John Dunning said. ``She's a gifted player and very bright. All the values I would want my children to have, she has.''

With her Olympic experienced presence, Nnamani cut down on Stanford's nervousness, so much so that the Cardinal rarely made errors. Stanford made 10 attack errors, and Minnesota made 21. The Cardinal had four service errors, and the Golden Gophers had 10.

When Stanford hit its first major obstacle, the Cardinal players performed their best.

The Gophers led 27-25 in the second game, only to see Stanford demoralize them by winning the next five points to reclaim the match's momentum and take a 2-0 lead.

``I don't think it was a cave in by us,'' Minnesota coach Mike Hebert said. ``Stanford just played well at the end of Game 2.''

Minnesota (33-4) did make two attack errors in the five points to end Game 2, but Nnamani had two kills. It was more of Stanford's dominance, than the Gophers' miscues, that changed the momentum.

Stanford (30-6) won the championship with the most losses since UCLA's 33-6 squad in 1984. The Cardinal frequently found themselves down, but had the composure to battle back.

Joe Stevens, (562) 499-1338

joe.stevens(at)presstelegram.com
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 19, 2004
Words:483
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