Hucke wins national title with Stanford
A small piece of Fallon made sports history Saturday afternoon in Long Beach, Calif.
The Stanford women’s volleyball team including Fallon’s Jennifer Hucke captured its second national NCAA title in three years by downing Minnesota in three sets.
The Cinderella career at Stanford culminated a six-year stretch for the 21-year-old Hucke in which the Lady ‘Wave volleyball team snared consecutive state Class 4A titles, and then Stanford won volleyball titles in 2001 and now 2004.
After the Cardinal defeated Pac 10 rival Washington in four sets last Thursday, Hucke and her teammates felt destiny belonged to them.
“We played well (against Washington), but we had a let down in the second set,” she said of the Huskies’ comeback.
Stanford, though, won the next two sets to advance to the finals, but the win was a battle.
“We were confident going into Washington,” said Jennifer’s mother Pam, referring to Stanford’s match with the Huskies. “Last time it was five games. It was battle.”
Facing Washington also gave Jennifer Hucke an opportunity to renew her ties with a former teammate from the Sierra Nevada Volleyball Club, Kaitlin Leck of Carson City.
Leck said she talked to the former Fallon player a day later and told her Stanford had to win the national title.
“We rooted for Stanford. It was supporting the Pac 10,” she said.
The former Senators’ player had an inkling the Cardinal were beginning to peak at the right time, especially when Washington, the then No. 1 team in the country, dropped a five-set match at Palo Alto in November.
“They were the first team we lost to and the last we lost to,” she said.
After Minnesota beat another Pac 10 foe, USC, Hucke and her teammates felt
confident and ready for the challenge. Pam and her husband Richard, a teacher at Churchill County High School, also felt that confident. Pam didn’t think Minnesota would give Stanford a battle.
“We had no doubt we were going to win it,” said Jennifer Hucke, who returned to her family’s ranch for the Christmas vacation. “We were glad we weren’t playing USC.”
The matchup with the Trojans would have been more like a chess game. Hucke said USC knew Stanford’s strengths and weaknesses from conference play.
Even more rewarding for the Fallon grad was the recognition she received after the championship match. She earned a spot on the all-tourney team.
“It was a nice honor,” she said.
For the match, Hucke recorded nine digs, second on the team to her best friend and teammate Ogonna Nnamani, Stanford’s only All-American.
Pam Hucke feels the second championship for her daughter was sweeter than the first in 2001.
“When you are a freshman, you are overwhelmed,” Pam said of Jennifer’s first year at Stanford. “As a senior you are more mature and you take it all in.”
Fallon mayor Ken Tedford, who along with the community welcomed the Stanford team to the Hucke ranch in early September, feels Nevada had a small part in Stanford’s win.
“It may be a tiny, tiny part to be connected with the NCAA champions,” said Tedford, who gave the key to the city to coach John Dunning.
Tedford said that night provided some great memories with the team and the coaching staff.
“It was a wonderful opportunity for us as a community to have had them come here. This is like the cherry on the top of the ice cream sundae,” Tedford said of Stanford’s banner season.
Stanford’s trip to the Final Four almost didn’t happen, however.
In late October, the team suffered two conference losses to Washington and cross-bay rivals California on Halloween.
After a team meeting with Dunning, a Sparks native, the Cardinal shook off the Halloween nightmare and won the rest of its league matches including a five-set win over Washington on Nov. 18.
Hucke said the mix of younger and experienced players took a long time to develop, but after that meeting, the chemistry began to work.
Given the No. 11 seed at the end of the season, the Cardinal traveled to Florida for the NCAA’s first round. Stanford defeated Jacksonville in three sets and then Florida, a Final Four team one year ago, in five sets.
“We were skeptical, but we matched up with Florida,” said Hucke.
After the Cardinal defeated Florida, Hucke said she and her teammates were physically and emotionally drained.
“The turning point for us was beating Florida in five,” she said.
With the fifth set on the line, Stanford defeated the Gators and moved on to the Central Region, defeating Texas and then Wisconsin, both in three sets.
Stanford played Wisconsin at Green Bay.
“They had a lot of fans there. We got some quick points and went ahead,” Hucke said.
Now, with her career behind her, Hucke will concentrate on her studies for the next two quarters and graduate in June with a degree in human biology.
She still has time to use the Millennium scholarship and would like to take some course at the University of Nevada next year and work with the trainers. From there, she is interested in attending graduate school.
Coaching volleyball, is definitely not in her plans.
“I don’t have any aspirations to be a coach,” said Hucke, adding she becomes easily frustrated.
Volleyball, though, will still be a major part of her life after graduation. She will continue to watch her former teammates next year and keep in contact with those who have moved on.
“I’m close to al of them, even those who have graduated,” said Hucke. “We’re a family.”