All it took was for the opponent to take a six-point lead in the first set to jolt the third-seeded Stanford women’s volleyball into action during its 25-22, 25-15, 25-17 victory over No. 11 Penn State in the Stanford regional final Saturday night.
Senior Kathryn Plummer recorded 24 kills on .512 hitting to lead Stanford into its fourth consecutive NCAA Final Four with a chance at its third national title over that span.
“The senior class has been incredible,” Stanford coach Kevin Hambly said. “What stands out to me is their preparation, leadership and competitiveness. It’s been fun to be part of it for three years.”
Only Stanford’s heralded senior class that included Kristin Folkl, Barbara Ifejika, Debbie Lambert, Paula McNamee and Lisa Sharpley (1994-97) has ever won three national titles and made four consecutive trips to the Final Four.
Stanford (28-4) earned a rematch with No. 7 Minnesota (27-5) in the national semifinal at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Pittsburgh. The Golden Gophers handed the Cardinal its first loss of the season.
No. 1 Baylor (29-1) and No. 4 Wisconsin (26-6) meet in the 4 p.m. semifinal. The championship is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Saturday.
From the moment Stanford found itself down 19-13 in the first set, the Cardinal began to dominate every phase of the contest. Stanford outscored the Nittany Lions 62-35.
“Our senior class talked before the game about how we wanted to go out with a bang,” Plummer said. “To have the last game at Maples be the Elite Eight going onto the national championships, is amazing. It’s really special because that’s the best unit we had, coming back, taking the lead and sustaining pressure. It was a great feeling to go out with that win.”
Plummer, named the Most Outstanding Player of the Regional, collected 53 kills in the two games, recording a hitting percentage of .443. She left no doubt about her legacy as a three-time national Player of the Year (Volleyball magazine once, AVCA twice).
She’s now played in over 68% of Stanford’s matches this season. Plummer was not eligible for postseason Pac-12 Conference or All-Region honors and it’s going to be pretty hard to keep her off the All-American team, especially if the Cardinal go on to win the title.
Madeleine Gates and Morgan Hentz were also named all-tournament along with Penn State's Serena Gray and Tori Gorrell, Utah's Dani Drew and Cincinnati's Jordan Thompson.
As insane as it sounds, Plummer’s .512 hitting percentage was below the team average of .525. Stanford was 57-5-99 in the attack and it came against one of the nation’s top defensive teams.
“Players had a remarkable night offensively,” Hambly said. “The way we all played and some of the numbers we put up were outstanding.”
Senior grad Madeleine Gates hit .733 (11-0-15), Holly Campbell hit .727 (8-0-11), Meghan McClure (.429) and senior Audriana Fitzmorris (.368) all hit well.
“It’s a testament to the passing,” Plummer said. “When you put the ball right at the head of Jenna (Gray), it’s really hard to know where to go when you have three outstanding attackers. That gave us just the slightest edge.”
Gates, who reached the Sweet 16 for the first time on her career after spending her first three years earning a degree from UCLA, was a pleasant surprise for the Cardinal. Middle blocker was going to be Stanford’s weakness this season. Gates helped turn it into a strength.
“It’s been an incredible journey just this one season,” Gates said. “It was just an electric energy on the court; such team cohesion throughout the match and a great crowd and atmosphere.”
And next weekend?
“It’s going to be great volleyball,” Hambly said.