After winning the women’s soccer national championship, Stanford now boasts 114 NCAA titles, yet the football team has never contributed to that tally. Instead, the Cardinal dominate the “Olympic” sports, and the Farm has become the hot destination for the nation’s top athletes. With a combination of academics and athletics, Stanford is truly unlike any other school in the country, resulting in the best overall athletic program annually.
Last year, the Cardinal won their 23rd consecutive Learfield Director’s Cup, which is presented each year to the school with the most athletic success. Stanford led the nation with four NCAA titles in women’s volleyball, men’s soccer, women’s water polo, and women’s swimming and diving. Surely, Stanford achieves more in the “smaller” sports than any other other program in the country.
Head diving coach Patrick Jeffrey credits this litany of athletic accomplishments to the athletic department’s support of every sport, no matter the size.
“My team gets everything it needs,” he stated. “I just had a beautiful dry land facility built for me that cost quite a bit. We get all the equipment we need. I don’t see us taking any backseat to any other sport.”
Coach Jeffrey also pointed out the importance of Stanford’s strong alumni base: “A lot of our former athletics give back, and they give back at a high level because they graduate with an amazing degree and go into lucrative fields, so I don’t think there’s a lack of support financially for any sport.”
More than anything else, what really sets Stanford apart is the fact that it is, well, Stanford. The school ranks among the nation’s best in terms of academics and attracts the best minds and recruits.
Daria Lenz, one of Stanford’s two women’s diving signees, wants to pursue a degree in international relations, and the fact that Condoleezza Rice walks around campus astonishes her. Rice is even an academic advisor for a current diver on the team.
She mentioned, “One of the main reasons why I picked Stanford was because I want to be surrounded by brilliant minds and I want to be forced to think outside the box.”
Her future teammate, Carolina Sculti, also realized that Stanford was the only school with rigorous academics and an elite diving program, and during the recruiting process, Coach Jeffrey pitches the academic advantage to perspective recruits.
“I basically tell athletes how unique of an experience it is to be a Stanford student-athlete,” Jeffrey said. “You have so many opportunities available whether it be inside or outside of the classroom.”
However at the same time, Stanford’s high academic standards present a disadvantage for every sport. Coaches have a limited pool of athletes they can recruit, and Jeffrey assured to me that his divers have to reach the same qualifications as any other applicant.
Still, Stanford athletics manages to get past their limitations and find Olympians to compete for their team. In the Rio Olympics, 29 current or former Stanford athletes participated, and most notably, Katie Ledecky won five gold medals.
It’s clear that coaches at Stanford don’t settle for anything less than potential Olympians, and both Lenz and Sculti hope to make it to Tokyo in 2020.
Jeffrey said, “I don’t think you’re going to win the NCAA championships unless you’re an Olympic level kid. I’m a NCAA coach, my goal is to win the NCAA, but I know I’m not going to do that without kids who aren’t interested in getting to the next level.”
Luckily for Stanford, every Olympic sport team has talented players, plenty of support from their coaches, the athletic department, and the entire school as 2020 approaches - and that’s what sets the school apart from the competition.