Stanford beats Badgers, repeat volleyball title
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The NCAA women’s volleyball world had no answer for Stanford outside hitter Kathryn Plummer. Now, it won’t need one.
Plummer finished off her Cardinal career Saturday night, hammering 22 kills to lead Stanford past Wisconsin, 25-16, 25-17, 25-20 in the NCAA women’s championship match.
The championship was the second straight for Plummer and Stanford and third over the last four years. Stanford (30-4) won its ninth title, going back-to-back for the second time in program history. Wisconsin (27-7) has never won a title, falling to 0-3 in NCAA finals.
Plummer, the two-time player of the year, had a .459 hitting percentage, 10 digs and three blocks. After missing 10 games earlier in the season with an injury and being snubbed for All-America selection, she was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
“She’s just an incredible attacker,” Wisconsin middle blocker Dana Rettke said. “She could see things that we couldn’t see at times.”
Plummer was especially lethal when the Cardinal were forced to scramble, coming up with out-of-nowhere attacks that left the Badgers reeling and even her teammates impressed with her ability to raise her game on the biggest stage.
“My jaw will drop,” Stanford setter Jenna Gray said. “There was a couple times where I couldn’t even celebrate because I was so caught off guard. It’s just like, ëShe really just did that?’
“She continues to grow and become a better player and surprise us with how much better she can get. You think she hits her ceiling and then she just proves you wrong.”
Stanford never trailed in the first two sets. In the third set, the Badgers had three leads and were tied at 19 before Plummer and Madeleine Gates scored five straight points for Stanford. Gates hit the match winner for her 10th kill.
But Plummer’s dominance was only half the story for Stanford. Many of her kills came after her back-line teammates were able to make a dig and set up a play. Libero Morgan Hentz had 17 digs and Meghan McClure had 13 to go along with Plummer’s 10 as Stanford held Wisconsin to a .152 hitting percentage.
“There hasn’t been anybody that’s done that to us all year,” Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield. “We’re really a good team and they just plowed right through us.”
The Cardinal completed the tournament by winning all but two sets over six matches. Under third-year coach Kevin Hambly, Stanford has gone 16-1 in NCAA Tournament matches.
“They’ll go down as one of the great classes of all time,” Sheffield said. “It’s an unbelievable team.” Plummer said finishing her career covered in confetti and cutting down the nets with her teammates made the senior’s third title the most special.
“This is kind of the cherry on top,” she said. “We set out for this to be our goal this season. To be able to do it, our last time on the court, to finish in this way, playing with our best friends one more time, this one is a little bit sweeter.”
Molly Haggerty had 10 kills and Dana Rettke had seven to pace the Badgers. Wisconsin will return both top attackers and five of seven starters from their runner-up squad in 2020. Unlike the experienced Cardinal, Wisconsin had not been to the NCAA finals or semifinals since 2013.
“It’s going to drive us every day,” Sydney Hilley said. “We’re not going to forget this feeling for a long time.”