Let the record show that for at least one moment last Saturday,
Stanford junior Logan Tom lost her laser-sharp focus. After
leading the Cardinal to its fifth NCAA women's volleyball title
with 25 kills and 12 digs in a three-game sweep of previously
unbeaten Long Beach State at San Diego State's Cox Arena, the
newly minted national Player of the Year put on her white
championship T and walked to center court to join her teammates,
unaware that her shirt was on backward.
Tom can be forgiven for that sartorial gaffe. After all, she was
at the end of what had to have been one of the longest
volleyball seasons ever. When school finished last June, she
joined the U.S. national team as its starting outside hitter on
several tours abroad, including a 23-day stint in China for a
Grand Prix tournament, which ended as the Cardinal's season was
about to begin in late August. To make Stanford's first game,
Tom, the only collegian on the U.S. team, jetted from China to
Los Angeles to spend a day with her mom, Kris, and then flew to
Charlottesville, Va., for an hour-and-a-half practice with the
Cardinal and its new coach, John Dunning.
The next morning Stanford opened its season with a Jefferson Cup
tournament win over Minnesota, the first of six consecutive road
games. "Since then it's been go, go, go," says Tom, who last
summer led the national team in service aces and was second in
kills before leading the Cardinal in aces, digs and kills this
fall. "Fortunately, I really like playing volleyball."
It can be argued that she plays it better than any other woman in
the country. "There's no doubt she's the best all-around player
in college, and she might be the best all-around player in the
United States," says Chris Marlowe, a two-time U.S. Olympian
who's now ESPN's volleyball analyst. "She can do everything well.
She's a great hitter, a sensational blocker; she passes half the
court, she digs and she pounds the jump serve. She could probably
set if she wanted to. On the college level she dominates.
Internationally, when she plays a little more, she'll be one of
the best players the United States has ever had."
That has been the forecast for Tom since she was the nation's
top recruit coming out of Salt Lake City's Highland High three
years ago. When she chose Stanford over a long list of
suitors--including the national team, which would have been
happy if she had skipped college--some observers expected the
perennially strong Cardinal to become a dynasty. That
possibility was hurt by two coaching changes at Stanford (after
longtime coach Don Shaw guided the Cardinal to the 1999 finals,
in which it lost to Penn State, he took a year off and became
the men's coach at Stanford; then Denise Cortlett, the interim
coach last season, was replaced by Dunning) and the fact that
Tom has played for the U.S. in each of the past three summers
and come to the Cardinal's preseason practices late or not at
all. After helping the Americans to a surprisingly good
fourth-place finish at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Tom joined
Stanford halfway through its season. Though she played in only
56 of the Cardinal's 112 games, Tom led it in digs and kills and
earned All-America honors for the second year in a row. Stanford
never jelled, however, and finished 19-12.
This year Tom had more time to make the adjustment to the
different rules, ball, lifestyle and intensity of the college
game. "I sometimes get frustrated with my college teammates after
playing on the national team, but you can't get mad at them,"
says Tom. "I try to see how I can help them."
"Logan has so much experience and knowledge, you can't help but
learn from her," says 6'1" freshman Ogonna Nnamani, an outside
hitter whose 30-inch vertical leap and sledgehammer arm swing
helped her to 3.89 kills per game and Pac-10 Freshman of the Year
honors. "She has seen so much, she doesn't panic. If I get
frantic for half a second, I look to my right and see her calm
and confident, and everything is fine. She makes us all a lot
The challenge for Dunning, the national coach of the year, has
been to make Tom better while keeping her interested in the
college schedule. "Because she is used to playing the Chinese and
the Cubans, there are some college teams that have been hard for
her to get ready for," he says.
Top-seeded Long Beach, with one of the best records (33-0) in
collegiate history and two national Player of the Year candidates
(6'1" middle blocker Cheryl Weaver and 6'7" outside hitter
Tayyiba Haneef), wasn't one of them. Feeling unnerved by an
unusual lack of nerves before the first game of the finals, Tom
quaffed an energy drink and then set the tone of the match by
nailing its first kill. "What we did out there hasn't really hit
me yet," she said after the final. "I'm going to have to think
about this for a while."
For the first time in six months, she'll have time to do that.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Good hands Besides leading the Cardinal in kills, Tom (15) also showed her defensive ability in the NCAA final against Long Beach.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK No. 1 Tom is not only the top player in college but also perhaps in the U.S.