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Saturday, December 20, 1997 · Page D1 ©1997 San Francisco Chronicle

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Stanford Faces Penn State For NCAA Title in Rematch

Jonathan Curiel, Chronicle Staff Writer

Motivated by revenge and the chance to make history, Stanford has all the incentive it needs to beat Penn State in today's title match of the NCAA women's volleyball championships.

Stanford has only lost twice this season -- both times to Penn State.

``We're going to play a lot better than we did the last time,'' Cardinal coach Don Shaw said. ``We weren't ready for them in August and the first week of September.''

In August, Stanford was swept 15-8, 15-13, 15-9. In September, Stanford was beaten 14-16, 15-6, 15-12, 15-7.

``I'd be lying if I said we weren't thinking about (those losses),'' said Stanford star Kristin Folkl.

The Stanford team that goes for its second straight NCAA volleyball title is different from the one that earlier faced Penn State.

In those games, two key Cardinal starters played sparingly: Kerri Walsh was suffering through a shoulder injury, and Lisa Sharpley was hampered by knee surgery. In Thursday night's semifinal win against Long Beach State, Walsh led all players with 22 kills and added 12 digs. Sharpley had 55 assists and a match-high 20 digs.

If Stanford wins today, it will be the first team in NCAA women's volleyball history to win four titles. It would also be Stanford's third title in four years -- a testament to Shaw's coaching ability. In 14 years as head coach at Stanford, Shaw has the best winning percentage (.858) in NCAA Division I history.

Shaw's overall record: 381-63.

This season's mark: 32-2.

``He's a great strategist,'' said Folkl. ``He knows the other team's ins and outs. He knows exactly how to attack them, how to attack their defense.''

Still, it will be Stanford's defense that will be the key in today's championship match. In Thursday night's win, the Cardinal outblocked Long Beach State 11-6.

``The strategy (today) will be pretty much the same: putting up a decent block,'' said Folkl. ``If they can't get the ball over the net, they can't score.''

Penn State and Stanford have practically identical records and rankings. Penn State is seeded No. 1 in the Volleyball Final Four, Stanford No. 3. Penn State is 34-1 to Stanford's 32-2. Penn State is ranked No. 2 in the country by USA Today and No. 3 by Volleyball Magazine. Stanford is ranked No. 3 by USA Today and No. 1 by Volleyball Magazine.

After today, the rankings and records won't matter. Whoever wins the match in Spokane, Wash., will take home the title both teams have thought about since preseason. Though Stanford has all the incentive it needs, Penn State does, too -- the Nittany Lions would like to win their first title in three Final Four appearances.

``We'd be stupid,'' said Folkl, ``if we didn't expect Penn State to be fired up and ready to win.''

NOTES: If Stanford wins, it would be its first back-to-back titles in women's volleyball, and the first for a school since UCLA won in 1990 and 1991. . . . As she did last season, Folkl would go right from volleyball to playing for the Stanford basketball team. . . . In Thursday's opening semifinal, Penn State eliminated fourth-seeded Florida 15-11, 15-12, 15-13.


TODAY'S MATCH

--WHAT: Title match in NCAA Women's Volleyball Championships

--WHO: Stanford vs. Penn State

--WHERE: Spokane, Wash.

--WHEN: Noon

-- TV: ESPN2


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