Sports

Plenty of experience returns for Cardinal women's volleyball

 
Jenna Gray was the Pac-12 Setter of the Year last season. Photo by John P. Lozano/ISIPhotos.com.

All things being relative, Stanford women's volleyball coach Kevin Hambly must be pleased with the make-up of his roster this season. The defending national champions return nearly its full team and have added talented players who can (and will) make an immediate impact.

"What's good is we have a lot of experienced players who have played in important matches," Hambly said. "It's comforting to know how they will respond. They know what's in front of them, how hard it is. The challenge is to replicate last season while having to reinvent ourselves and become a new team."

Stanford can put a senior (or grad student) at every position on the court this year, including two-time AVCA Player of the Year Kathryn Plummer and All-Americans Jenna Gray, Morgan Hentz, Audriana Fitzmorris and Meghan McClure.

"The seniors have experienced the national title and this is a chance to pass that along," Hambly said. "We definitely think we can we can win and that's our goal."

The graduated Tami Alade, also an All-American (at middle blocker) last season, is Stanford's major loss. She may be difficult to replace, though the emergence of sophomore Holly Campbell last year makes it a little easier and the addition of grad student Madeline Gates is a bonus.

"I barely recognized Holly from last year," Hambly said. "She struggled early but she figured it out by the end."

Gates, who graduated in three years from UCLA, was an All-American in her sophomore season. She's working on an advanced degree in statistics at Stanford and joins her younger brother, Nathaniel, who is a freshman on the Cardinal men's volleyball team.

"She gives us a lot of experience," Hambly said. "We'll have great balance, better than last year. It's tough to lose Tami but we'll be more dynamic."

The Cardinal returns five of its top six scorers and its top defensive players in Hentz, the reigning Pac-12 Libero of the Year, junior Kate Formico, senior Caitlin Keefe and junior Sidney Wilson.

Plummer, who averaged 5.37 points a set a year ago, played with the U.S. national team over the summer, coming off the bench.

"That's a bigger jump than people think," Hambly said. "Those are pros who have been playing a long time. She's a great volleyball player and a hard worker. She knows the game and will do what she can to make it happen."

Fitzmorris (3.48 points a set), junior Meghan McClure (3.10), Gates and incoming freshman Kendall Kipp also played on various U.S. national teams over the summer.

Gray, the reigning Pac-12 Setter of the Year, competed with the U.S. national track and field team, placing second in the javelin at the NACAC U23 Championships in Queretaro, Mexico in July.

Redshirt junior Michaela Keefe also adds experience and leadership to the mix.

"She makes us better every day," Hambly said. "She's a great teammate. She works as hard or harder than anyone. For some who don't play as much, seeing her grind makes them think they can get better."

Sophomore opposite Mackenzie Fidelak is another who can contribute after limited playing time a year ago.

Kipp, a 6-foot-5 outside hitter, was rated No. 2 on VolleyballMag.com's Fab 50 list and No. 3 senior ace by PrepVolleyball. She's also a two-time prep All-American.

Menlo School grad Selina Xu, also a U.S. national team competitor, starts her collegiate career as the back-up to Gray.

"She's getting better all the time and learning a lot," Hambly said. "It's going to be her team next year."

McKenna Vicini, Natalie Berty and Caitie Baird complete a highly-regarded recruiting class.

"The influx of talent is making it competitive," Hambly said. "Practices have been awesome so far. It's new energy. I can't see how the seniors' roles will change but it's super competitive and fun."

Baird played with the USA junior national team in 2018, was a prep All-American and made the Fab 50 list (No. 3) and Senior Ace list (No. 2).

Berty accumulated several honors while leading Mater Dei to the California state Open Division championship last year. She was VolleyballMag.com's National Player of the Year and was named State Player of the Year by Gatorade, PrepVolleyball and Cal-Hi Sports.

Vicini is a two-time all-state selection out of Lexington Catholic High in Kentucky, earning All-American status.

The coaching staff also features plenty of experience. Hambly is in his third year at Stanford, following eight years at Illinois. He has a career mark of 242-91, 64-5 with the Cardinal.

Denise Corlett has spent 30 years on The Farm as an interim head coach, an associate head coach and an assistant coach. She begins her 24th year in the associate head coach role and 31st overall on staff. She is a two-time AVCA National Assistant Coach of the Year and a member of the Southern California Indoor Volleyball Hall of Fame.

Second-year assistant coach Alisha Glass Childress is an Olympic medalist and a two-time USA Volleyball Indoor Athlete of the Year.

Russell Corbelli is in his second year as a volunteer assistant. His volleyball DNA comes from former professional player and long time Texas A&M coach Laurie Corbelli.

Stanford (34-1 last year) hosts the Cardinal-White scrimmage at 11 a.m. Saturday.

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