Women’s volleyball heads to Final Four after defeating Wisconsin, Texas

Dec. 10, 2017, 12:45 a.m.

Stanford women’s volleyball (30-3, 19-1 Pac-12) is headed to the NCAA Final Four for the second consecutive year after dispatching Wisconsin (22-10) on Friday and then taking down the No. 6-seeded Texas Longhorns (27-3) in a rematch of last year’s NCAA finals on Saturday.

There is a distinct advantage to playing playoff games in a home stadium, and Maples Pavilion exemplified that this weekend. The stands were packed with students and fans alike, cheering on every kill, dig and service ace that the Cardinal dished out. The Stanford Band showed up to both games, adding to the spirited atmosphere that helped propel the Cardinal to victory.

The team took the court against Wisconsin to roaring applause, which was quickly cut short as the Badgers shocked the crowd by coming out swinging and swiping the first set from the Cardinal. Wisconsin was relentless in its early attacks, hitting .593 in the first set, with only five spikes being dug up by the Cardinal. A pair of Badger freshman, six-foot-one wing Grace Loberg and six-foot-eight middle blocker Dana Rettke, combined for 33 kills on the night, with 20 and 13, respectively.

The Cardinal didn’t let this last for long, however, and began retaliating in spectacular fashion. The reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year, sophomore ace Kathryn Plummer, came firing with a vengeance, putting down 22 total kills and adding two service aces, five blocks and nine digs on the night.

After the first set, the Cardinal hitting percentage continued to increase, rising from .400 in the first set to a high of .524 in the fourth set. They hit .436 overall in the match, a huge total. Wisconsin, on the other hand, began to struggle as the Cardinal defense came alive in the following three sets. The Badgers never broke a .300 hitting percentage again, hitting .270, .229, and .200 the rest of the match.

This was in part due to an inspired defensive effort from the Cardinal. Sophomore libero Morgan Hentz was spectacular, making incredible diving digs on almost every play, refusing to allow the ball to hit the ground. During the fourth set, Hentz dove and made a fingertip dig of a ball that nobody in the entire building expected to be saved, including her teammates. The Cardinal lost the point, but Hentz’s 14 total digs changed the momentum of the game.

Also contributing to the defensive effort was freshman wing Meghan McClure, who has truly grown into a presence in the back rotation. She tallied 13 digs on the match, just one fewer than Hentz, the defensive specialist. McClure added six kills to the Cardinal attack as well.

The Cardinal closed out the match with relative ease, ending the game in four total sets, 3-1. They were resolute in their goals after the match, however, remaining focused on the next day’s challenge.

The Cardinal defeated the Texas Longhorns 3-1 last year at the 2016 NCAA women’s volleyball championship. This year, they did themselves one better and took the 3-0 victory in consecutive sets.

Crucial to the success of the Cardinal was persistence. The Longhorns were digging up an enormous amount of the Cardinal spikes, extending points throughout the match. Hentz and McClure did their parts in that respect as well, adding 19 and 14 digs, respectively. With so much time during the rallies, the team had to stay focused.

Texas jumped out to a few early leads and kept every single set close but could not manage to pull away from the dominant Cardinal. Sophomore setter Jenna Gray kept a cool head during every single point, setting up 39 total assists and setting the pace of the game. Her serve was also on fire as she hit two consecutive service aces in the third set to give the Cardinal a much needed lead.

Plummer led the team with 19 total kills, dominant at the net. The thunderous spikes that came off of her attacks left moments of silence in Maples after they slammed into the ground. She was set to a total of 46 times for a .304 kill percentage as the Cardinal utilized their most effective weapon.

In her last official game in Maples Pavilion, fifth-year senior opposite Merete Lutz put down seven total kills, including the final one, which sealed the third set for the Cardinal 25-21. Upon the conclusion of the match, the team rushed to the center of the court, jumping up and down as they enjoyed the feeling of being in the Final Four.

The Cardinal will now take on the No. 2-seeded Florida Gators, who won their quarterfinal match versus USC, an opponent Stanford was undefeated against this year. The Final Four begins on Thursday, Dec. 14 at 6 p.m. and will also feature No. 1 Penn State taking on No. 5 Nebraska.


Contact Bobby Pragada at bpragada ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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