Sports

Stanford women assert themselves against top volleyball teams

 
Kathryn Plummer had a season-best 25 kills in Stanford's four-set win over Minnesota on Sunday. Photo by Karen Ambrose Hickey.

Stanford outside hitter Kathryn Plummer consistently maintains a calm demeanor when she's on the volleyball court, though she has rebounded from minor setbacks with a little extra pop to her already potent swing.

There were a couple of moments during No. 4 Stanford's 25-23, 23-25, 25-17, 25-23 victory over top-ranked Minnesota as part of the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge on Sunday when Plummer responded to a bit of adversity with an authoritative kill that hit the floor so quickly the defender had no time to react.

Plummer recorded a season-high 25 kills, three off her career-high, in helping Stanford rally from late deficits in both the first and fourth sets.

"That's confidence," Stanford coach Kevin Hambly said. "It's the confidence she earned by working hard, trusting herself and believing she can make plays. She takes the same shots at 24-23 than she does at 0-0."

Plummer possesses other, intangible, qualities that make her a candidate to repeat as national Player of the Year. She's effective as a back row player and behind the service line. Even on a team full of All-American players, she stands out and not just because of her 6-foot-6 frame.

Minnesota led by as many as six points in the first set and seemed to have the game under control at 23-20. Plummer took her spot at the serving line and Stanford reeled off the final five points for the win.

Plummer recorded a pair of kills from the back row complemented by kills from Tami Alade and Meghan McClure and a Minnesota hitting error.

Alade recorded 11 kills on .409 hitting and had seven blocks. McClure had 16 kills and hit .361 in addition to 10 digs. Audriana Fitzmorris contributed 14 kills and Morgan Hentz had 22 digs, most of which could be added to any highlight reel.

"We did a good job of doing one thing and sticking to it," Plummer said. "We trust that what we want to do usually works."

Jenna Gray, perhaps the most athletic setter in the nation, stands in the middle it all and consistently makes the right decisions in keeping all her options open and involved. She had 60 assists against the Golden Gophers.

In the fourth set, Minnesota led 22-18 before Stanford began making its move. Alade again sparked a rally with a kill and then joined Fitzmorris for a pair of blocks. Plummer also added a kill and the Cardinal went ahead 23-22.

The Golden Gophers tied the score at 23 but kills from Plummer and Alade ended the match.

The way the season started will only make the rest of the year a source of fascination for college volleyball fans. Undefeated BYU is likely to become the third No. 1 ranked team in as many weeks, following Stanford and Minnesota.

The Cardinal is a likely bet for No. 2. The rest of the rankings are a potpourri of interesting combinations. One could easily put 25 names into a hat and draw them out.

"The top teams want to play each other and there are big battles," Plummer said. "Someone has to win eventually."

It's as though top teams want to experience a Final Four before the conference season begins. In Pac-12- and Big Ten-speak, that's darn near every weekend. "It's a tough warmup," said Plummer.

Stanford (6-1) continues its quest for an impressive RPI rating when it hosts No. 6 Texas on Tuesday at 7 p.m. before traveling to Texas for a rematch on Friday.

"It's a great opportunity," Hambly said. "I like playing Texas and then having to adjust four days later. It makes us better, with more flexibility. There's a good chance we're going to play these teams (Penn State, Minnesota, BYU) again and we'll have to adjust our game plans."

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