As teammates sprawled on the floor near her, happy and exhausted, Stanford senior outside hitter Kristin Folkl sat in her chair in the Cardinal locker room at the Spokane Arena after the NCAA women's volleyball final and absently stuffed things into her gym bag: shoes, socks, the chicken hand puppet the Stanford Band had given her for her 22nd birthday, which she had celebrated the day before. "We wanted to get you a basketball," a band member had explained, "but this was the best we could do in Spokane late at night."
Not that the 6'2" Folkl (right) was in a hurry to leave. She had just scored the final point of her final match on the final day of her final autumn as a Cardinal volleyball player, and she had six whole days before she would begin her third season as a forward on the Stanford basketball team. She wanted to savor yet another moment of triumph in an amazing athletic career that has included four state titles each in volleyball and basketball at St. Joseph's Academy in St. Louis and three volleyball national championships with the Cardinal. Besides, she was so tired she could barely move. "It was a battle," said the two-time All-America, who had 18 digs and a team-leading 22 kills in the defending champion Cardinal's exhausting 15-10, 15-6, 2-15, 15-17, 15-9 title-match win over top-seeded Penn State. "I was so tired I couldn't even jump around afterward. Penn State was amazing. They could just as easily have won this thing."
Folkl and her senior teammates ended each of their seasons at volleyball's final four, winning an unprecedented three titles in four years. But their previous runs didn't make this season's any easier. "My roommate and I have been taking turns counting sheep," said a stressed-out senior middle blocker" Paula McNamee last Saturday.
The Nittany Lions, who had accounted for both of the Cardinal's losses this season, had been sleeping just fine—until they woke up on Saturday trailing Stanford two games to none. That was when Penn State senior All-America Terri Zemaitis, employing what the public address announcer called "Zemaitis touch," sparked a heroic comeback, contributing 12 of her 25 kills in Game 4 to force the Cardinal to its first fifth game of the season.
But Folkl, the Pac-10 Player of the Year and the GTE women's volleyball Academic All-America of the Year—she's an economics major with a 3.46 average—has a unique touch, too. Applying the strength and leaping ability that Stanford's women's basketball team (2-4 through Sunday) will be welcoming back, Folkl hammers a spike notorious for sounding more terminal than anyone else's. Fittingly, that was the weapon that determined the championship. On a match-point set from senior Lisa Sharpley, Folkl slammed home a missile that the Nittany Lions simply couldn't handle.
Then, contrary to her postgame account, Folkl did jump around. "This was by far the best championship match I've been in," she said later. "Being seniors, you want to finish your career with a win. Finally, we're the ones who get to pick out the rings."
Folkl already has two championship rings—the styles were selected by previous senior classes—but as she mingled with the crowd in the arena lobby after the match, the most eye-catching thing on her hand was her new chicken, which she showed off for camera-wielding fans before jamming it back in her bag and heading for the exit. As she emerged into the twilight, a light snow was falling. A new season had already begun.