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 better."
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.