The end of a sports season can be a sad and upsetting time. There are no games to watch, wins to celebrate or losses to mourn. It is an unsettlingly empty feeling. As a Stanford sports fan, what are we to do when no sports seasons are in progress? Are we supposed to reflect on the four national championships we won last year? Reflection only takes us so far before we crave the beginning of a new season. Are we supposed to watch professional sports? In the mid-summer months, we have nothing to watch but meaningless midseason baseball games and the NBA Summer League, the latter of which is an especially miserable way to spend a summer day.
But it just so happens that as I sat watching NBA rookies tear up the court in Las Vegas, I realized there was a more optimistic way for me to spend my summer. Why reflect on the past season when I could instead try to predict the upcoming season? Why wallow in the shame of watching the NBA summer league on a sunny Saturday afternoon when I could instead begin the process of forecasting next year’s top athletes. Surrounded by rankings and statistics, projections and schedules, I began to compile my list, eventually settling on six athletes that every Stanford sports fan has to pay attention to this year.
Football: Osiris St. Brown (WR), redshirt freshman
If you haven’t heard of Osiris St. Brown, it’s time to read up on the future Cardinal football star. The son of a two-time world champion bodybuilder and the brother of two other football stars (older brother Equanimeous is a rookie receiver for the Packers and younger brother Amon-Ra is entering his freshman year at USC), St. Brown is probably the most interesting man on the Cardinal roster — both on and off the field. A dynamic athlete and fluid route runner, St. Brown should prove to be a big play threat for quarterback K.J. Costello. For a Stanford team with College Football Playoff aspirations after the return of superstar running back Bryce Love, the emergence of St. Brown is going to be crucial in helping create a balanced offensive attack.
Women’s soccer: Sophia Smith (defender/midfielder), freshman
If the Cardinal want to repeat as national champions, they are going to need a boost from the new kids on the Farm. Thankfully for coach Paul Ratcliffe, Sophia Smith is ready to be the next face of Stanford soccer. Smith has been a U.S. national team star over the past few years. With 21 goals, she is the leading goal scorer for the U20 team and is currently on a hot streak, scoring in 10 of the team’s 15 games this season, including a nine-match scoring streak. Together with fellow freshman standout Naomi Girma, Smith should prove to be a critical piece of the Cardinal’s attack. It’s never easy to win back-to-back championships, but it seems like the Cardinal have enough firepower to go deep into the tournament.
Baseball: Tim Tawa (outfield), sophomore
Tawa had an impressive freshman campaign for a Cardinal team that was ranked second nationally heading into the postseason tournament before a second-straight disappointing regional exit at the hands of Cal State Fullerton. He’s an average defender, but his real impact is in the batter’s box, where he hit .296 with a .347 on-base percentage and seven home runs. With the departure of starting shortstop and team leader Nico Hoerner, Manager David Esquer is going to be looking for another starter to become the leader of the team. Tawa seems to have all the right pieces — a power bat and a driven mentality that should serve the Cardinal well next spring. If Tawa continues building on last year’s impressive debut, Esquer’s team should be right in the mix for a run to Omaha next June.
Women’s tennis: Michaela Gordon, sophomore
While we’re talking about impressive freshman seasons, it’s hard to forget the show that tennis star Michaela Gordon put on last season. First team Pac-12. Pac-12 Freshman of the Year. ITA Northwest Regional singles champion. ITA All-American. How will Gordon top one of the most impressive freshman tennis seasons in recent memory? You’ll have to watch her play to find out. Together with doubles partner and fellow All-American sophomore Emily Arbuthnott, Gordon should help the Cardinal women compete for a second-straight national title. Last season’s championship was somewhat unexpected, as the Cardinal overcame a low seed to make a run through the tournament and take down Vanderbilt on its way to a 20th national championship. A second-straight national title is not out of the question, as another year of experience should only make Gordon even more dominant.
Men’s water polo: Ben Hallock, redshirt sophomore
The Cardinal men enter the 2018 season only three wins shy of 1,000 in program history and Hallock seems to be the guy that will help them reach that mark and more this season. The first-team All-American had an impressive freshman campaign, leading the Cardinal in scoring, including at least one goal in each match he played. A first-team all conference player and a MSPF Newcomer of the Year, Hallock is only adding to what is already an impressive water polo career, as he was a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team that competed in Rio. After a strong season that ended rather quietly with an overtime loss to Cal in the MSPF third-place game, the Cardinal will be looking to ride Hallock’s 6’6”, 240-pound frame to a championship this fall.
Women’s volleyball: Kathryn Plummer (outside hitter), junior
Perhaps the easiest selection for this list of athletes to watch, Plummer is already a superstar, leading the Cardinal in practically every single statistical category last season and gathering a seemingly endless list of postseason awards and accolades. A year after being named Freshman of the Year in 2016, Plummer was named Division I Player of the Year, ESPN Player of the Year and Pac-12 Player of the Year in 2017. She averaged 4.66 kills per set and registered at least 20 kills in 11 matches last season. For a team coming off a heartbreaking five-set loss to Florida in the NCAA semifinals, get ready for Plummer to lead the charge as the Cardinal look to avenge last season’s disappointing finish. But regardless of whether the Cardinal make a return trip to the Final Four, all Stanford volleyball games will be fun to watch as Plummer’s constant barrage of missiles from above the net will make any opponent duck for cover.
Note: The term “redshirt” refers to an individual who didn’t play last year, so has an extra year of eligibility. For example, a “redshirt freshman” indicates a player’s first year on a team, but does not necessarily imply that he is in his first year of academic study.
Contact Gregory Block at gblock ‘at’ stanford.edu.