Morgan Hentz arrived at Stanford as a two-time high school All-American outside hitter, among many other honors. These days she's an All-American libero, taking the position to new heights.
Hentz, who leads the Pac-12 with 5.08 digs per set, was named the Pac-12 Womens' Volleyball Defensive Player of the Week for a second consecutive week and for the fourth time this season.
"She could win it every week," Cardinal coach Kevin Hambly said. "She's the best libero I've been around, no doubt, and that includes Olympic-caliber athletes, for passing, defense, toughness and leadership."
Hentz, who played libero in the U.S. national team program, and No. 2 Stanford (14-1, 6-0) will be in action this weekend when Washington State and Washington visit Maples Pavilion for a pair of Pac-12 Conference matches.
The Cougars (13-3, 4-2) come to town for an 8 p.m. contest Friday and the Huskies (12-4, 4-2) arrive for a 7:30 p.m. Saturday match in the first back-to-back conference matches of the season.
Washington State and Washington are involved in a five-way tie for second place in the Pac-12, typical of one of the top competitive conferences in the country. All 12 teams own overall winning records and their combined nonconference record is 101-27 (.789 winning percentage).
As good as Hentz is, Hambly thinks there's a lot more to come.
"She's a special talent with a special mentality," Hambly said. "She may have saved the game with 25 digs but afterward she's thinking about the five she didn't get. She still wants to get better."
That's a mantra heard among all Stanford players, who are motivated by losing in last year's national semifinal a year after winning a national title.
"It's hard to win those six games," Hambly said. "The motivation is to be good enough to win those six."
As freshmen, then coach John Dunning said they didn't know how good they could be and even with seven losses and the sixth seed, the Cardinal went on to capture the championship.
As juniors, "now they know how good they can be," Hambly said. "And they're not going rest. They want to be better. We're constantly working the same. It's a long process of trying to be great in December."
Hentz embodies that notion, as does reigning national Player of the Year Kathryn Plummer and fellow All-Americans Jenna Gray and Audriana Fitzmorris. No one takes a practice off because players like Michaela Keefe and Caitlin Keefe are working hard too and they want Stanford to reach the top as much as anyone.
Opposing teams work to serve away from Hentz, who has a knack not just for making amazing digs but also for putting the ball in the best spot for Gray, who ranks second in the nation with 12.66 assists per set, to handle.
"We've seen her so much that its become commonplace," Hambly said. "And then she still does things that surprise us. All we do is shake our heads and laugh. She makes plays that are hard for others look easy and she can still do the spectacular."
With 1,375 career digs entering play this weekend, Hentz already ranks fifth on Stanford's all-time list, 81 behind Kristin Klein, who is Michaela and Caitlin's mother.
Gabi Ailes, Stanford's first true libero, is the all-time leader with 2,147. Ailes showed the importance of a libero. Hentz is taking it to another level.
Stanford is 60-4 all-time against Washington State but those numbers mean nothing to Hambly. The Cardinal is 54-15 against the Huskies.
"Washington State has a difficult system to play against," Hambly said. "Taylor Mims is one of the top hitters. They're the second best blocking team in the Pac-12. Washington is young and they tend to be up and down a little bit. They're going to get better."
The Cougars, whose two conference losses were in five sets, are the only Pac-12 team with three players among the top 12 in blocks per set. Stanford senior Tami Alade leads the conference with 1.64 blocks. Freshman Holly Campbell is fourth (1.26). Fitzmorris (1.10) checks in at 17th.
Mims ranks fifth in kills per set (3.91) and Washington's Kara Bajema (3.87) ranks sixth. Plummer, who is second (4.84), currently ranks sixth all-time on Stanford's list, averaging 4.14 kills per set (Klein is fourth at 4.22).