There’s a tendency when talking about top-seeded Stanford to focus first on the four juniors — outside Kathryn Plummer, setter Jenna Gray, right side Audriana Fitzmorris and libero Morgan Hentz — and then take notice of Tami Alade.
She’s Canadian, eh, by way of Nigeria and didn’t even start playing club volleyball until her junior year of high school.
The 6-foot-2 middle blocker from Edmonton, Alberta, said she never planned to play in college. And now her career will end in Minneapolis at the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship.
Pac-12 champion Stanford (32-1) gets a rematch with fourth-seeded BYU (31-1), which won the West Coast Conference, followed by a Big Ten battle between third-seeded Illinois 32-3) and sixth-seeded Nebraska (28-6). The winners play for the national title on Saturday.
Is the best yet to come for Alade? Consider what she’s done in Stanford’s four NCAA Tournament victories as the Cardinal winning streak increased to 30 matches:
Against Alabama State, she had seven kills in nine errorless attempts, hitting .778, to go with an ace.
In the sweep of Loyola Marymount, Alade had three kills and hit just .111, but had five blocks.
Then against Washington State, how about this line: 12 kills in 19 errorless attacks to hit .632 to go with two digs and nine blocks, two solo.
And Saturday against Penn State, Alade had eight kills in 14 swings with one error to hit .500 and had a dig and six blocks.
She had to wait her turn. When Stanford won it all two years ago, Alade watched from the sidelines, but last year led the Pac-12 with a .416 attack percentage, averaged 1.39 blocks and was a VolleyballMag.com honorable-mention All-American.
This year, Alade is tearing it up: She leads the nation in blocks per set, 1.80, and has 178 total, 11 solo. She’s fourth in the NCAA in hitting percentage at .419.
Which is a far cry from playing club in Canada.
Her club team went to a tournament in Calgary at which there was an evaluation camp. A coach told her to take part and her response was, “Why not?”
The director, she recalled, called her the next day and asked if she could go to any American college, which would it be?
“Coincidentally the other day I had been looking at the rankings for the top schools in America and I saw Stanford,” she said with a smile. “It was pretty high up there. And I didn’t realize that Stanford wasn’t in the Ivy League. And I saw that they had volleyball scholarships.
“It was pretty good academically, it was a pretty good (volleyball) program, so why not? I just threw it out there.”
“And the next day Denise emailed me.”
Denise, of course, is Stanford associate head coach Denise Corlett, who has been on staff with Don Shaw, John Dunning and now Kevin Hambly, who took over as head coach two years ago.
Alade said she had good grades at her school, Old Scona Academic, and that has continued at Stanford. This week she was named to the College Sports Information Directors of America All-Academic second team. She’s a human biology major with a 3.56 GPA.
This is from the Stanford news release:
Alade was the Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year for volleyball and has twice earned Pac-12 All-Academic honors. After volleyball, she intends to pursue a career in medicine working with children. She has worked with the Stanford Immersion in Medicine Series shadowing Dr. Ronald Cohen in the Neonatal ICU where she gained valuable clinical experience interacting with patients and their parents; engaging in diagnoses and adapting to a medical environment. Alade has also worked with Stanford’s Language and Cognition Lab, analyzing and presenting on the ways in which joint attention supports learning across different contexts and language modalities. She was awarded a grant to conduct a research study in the lab under a graduate student. In Stanford’s Language Learning Lab, Alade worked under Professor Anne Fernald as a research assistant doing experimental study on early language development. She acted directly in participant recruitment, running experiments with infants and children, and conducted data coding and analysis.
You need strong academics, of course, to get into and then thrive at Stanford.
But it wasn’t lost on Alade that “at the camp I touched 10-6.”
Which, of course, will get your attention on the recruiting trail.
Alade will have her hands full and then some against BYU, the only team to beat Stanford this season. That was back on August 31 in Provo, a 25-22, 25-20, 21-25, 20-25, 15-11 decision that left Stanford 2-1 at the time and BYU 4-0.
In that match, Alade had eight kills, hit .235, and had eight blocks. BYU has two big middles, 6-4 freshman Heather Gneiting and 6-5 Kennedy Eschenberg. Against Stanford, Gneiting had nine kills but hit .167 and had 10 blocks, while Eschenberg had seven kills, hit .385 and had three blocks.
Stanford never looked back, of course, beating Penn State, Minnesota and Texas twice before going 20-0 in the Pac-12.
Two weeks after that BYU defeat, a day before Stanford played Texas for the second time in a week, I asked Alade why the Cardinal would win the national championship. After all, Stanford won it all two years ago and lost in the national semifinals last season.
“I want to say because we’re the best team. I don’t think we’re there right now, but I think we’re going to be the best team when it matters the most,” she said.
“It’s funny, but I like to watch a lot of professional sports and they talk a lot about a playoff athlete and a regular-season athlete. And I didn’t every really understand that, but our team, because we’ve been to the final four and national championship so often I think we understand at this point what it takes to play well in those moments.”