Stanford women’s volleyball reached a pinnacle last season, capturing the NCAA championship against Texas in December, its first national title since 2004 and seventh in program history. A talented group of returning starters and a new coaching staff will begin the quest for another championship this weekend at the LBSU Invitational, where the Cardinal will play Long Beach State, Iowa and Wright State.
Picked to finish second in the Pac-12 in a vote among conference coaches (just behind Washington), Stanford will surely rely heavily on returners like fifth-year senior opposite Merete Lutz and reigning National Freshman of the Year Kathryn Plummer for leadership and continuity. With sophomores Audriana Fitzmorris, Jenna Gray and Morgan Hentz also coming back from the strong 2016 squad, one might expect a similar team dynamic and playing style, but with a new head coach and four incoming freshmen, the Cardinal are looking to start the season with a clean slate.
“When you win one championship, and the next year there’s lots of talk about repeating, obviously lots of people get stuck in the pattern of wanting to do the same thing,” Lutz told NCAA.com. “But what’s unique about our team is so much has changed, and so many people have been switched out. We lost three girls who played this past year. So I don’t think it’s the same team, and I don’t think we’ll fall into the trap of wanting to do the exact same thing because so much is different.”
One major change is head coach Kevin Hambly, who joins the program after spending eight seasons as the head coach at Illinois. Hambly was named Volleyball Magazine’s National Coach of the Year in 2011 after guiding Illinois to the NCAA title match for the first time in program history.
“Win or lose, you have to reinvent your team every year,” Hambly said. “It’s a different team. I think if I’d been here, I’d have the same approach, looking at it like a unique season with its unique problems and its unique dynamics. But the expectations don’t change.”
New to the team are four freshman players — defensive specialist Kate Formico and outside hitters Meghan McClure, Blake Sharp and Sidney Wilson. Hambly spoke confidently about the newcomers, who will join a talented roster in the team’s first match on Friday:
“We are excited to have this group join our program,” said Hambly. “They will add depth to our roster and bring an energy to practice each and every day. The thing that impresses me the most about the group is their serve receive and ability to play defense at a high level. I am looking forward to getting them in the mix with the returning players.”
Stanford’s first action will be Friday at noon against Long Beach State. The Cardinal will play a doubleheader on Saturday with matches against Iowa and Wright State at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., respectively.
Contact Laura Anderson at lauraand ‘at’ stanford.edu.