Stanford Volleyball will be playing in our 20th Final Four this week. That’s a lot of years of great players coming through this program and you’ll hear all about some of them if you turn on ESPN Thursday night. You’ll hear about the four freshmen we put out in our starting lineup who all carry significant loads for us. You’ll hear about our 6’8 opposite who is the bane of every opposing outside hitter’s existence. You’ll definitely hear about our redshirt senior, Inky Ajanaku, who’s led this young team here. But I don’t want to tell you about them right now. I want to tell you about the Machine Team.
That’s the name we’ve given our “B team”—the players who play on the other side of the net in practice and who stand on the sideline in games. They’re the ones who our starters have to go up against every day and if they ever let up we stop getting better. They have to be a machine. I’ve always felt like you get the true measure of a person when you watch how they act when they step onto the other side of the court. “Strong leaders” can get quiet; “hard workers” can stop going for balls. But the reality is, if you can only be a good teammate on one side of the net then you aren’t actually a good teammate.
These kids we have are the BEST teammates. They come into practice every single day ready to get better. They’re mindful of what they’re working on and what they’re teammates are working on. They bring a genuine joy and excitement for learning and competing. They bring their A-game every time we play six-on-six and it forces our starters to do the same. We’ve improved dramatically over the course of this season and it has as much to do with them as anyone. The moment those players on the B-side lose motivation is the moment a team’s progress starts to stall. Practices start to drag and the joy goes out of the process. But they never lost the motivation and we never lost the joy.
Then, of course, there are the matches. The Machine Team is always ready for game day. They have chants and dances for every person and situation and they are 100% in it from the first whistle. In our regional final last weekend there were 6000 Wisconsin fans yelling for their team and I could still hear our bench cheering on their teammates.
There will be little kids all over the country watching this weekend, dreaming about their own future. They’ll want to grow up and hit like Inky or fly around the court like Morgan. And I hope they do. But I hope they also see the eight kids on our bench at any given time that are throwing a dance party on the sideline and I hope they want to be like them too—good teammates above all else. They don’t give out trophies for that, but if they did, I’d give every last one to the Machine Team.