No. 6 seed Stanford women’s volleyball made short work of the Longhorns Saturday night as it bested fourth-seeded Texas 3-1 to reign victorious in the NCAA Championship.
In a streaky match, the Cardinal (27-7, 15-5 Pac-12) crawled out of an early deficit to win the first set, took the second set after a late unanswered stretch, lost the third following a lengthy Texas run and played off a strong start in the fourth to finish off the Longhorns (27-5) in front of a full crowd in Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio to give a final score line of 25-21, 25-19, 18-25, 25-21.
The best blocking team in the country stuffed the Longhorns 12 times on its way to Stanford’s seventh national championship. Penn State is the only other school with as many national titles in the 36 years of the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship.
Stepping up from a subpar .188 hit percentage in Thursday’s Final Four match, the Cardinal hit .277 on the match while allowing only a .217 hit percentage from Texas.
American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Freshman of the Year Kathryn Plummer recorded 18 kills to lead the Cardinal, complemented by 16 kills from middle blocker Inky Ajanaku, who notched a team-high eight blocks. The win capped a championship run that saw the fifth-year senior directing a freshman-heavy team, one that becomes the youngest ever to be named national champions.
“They [the freshmen] taught me so much,” Ajanaku said in a postgame interview with ESPN’s Holly Rowe. “And just to be able to get this win, I knew we could do it. Just from the beginning of the season and now that everyone believes in themselves, it’s something remarkable.”
Texas broke out to an early lead in the first set, but despite trailing 18-15, Stanford went on a 10-3 run to clinch the set 25-21.
The second set also began with a Longhorn advantage before Stanford went on a 4-1 run to take the lead. Texas followed up with a 7-1 streak of its own to take a 15-14 edge. After two points were changed by the referees and head coach John Dunning lost a challenge for a net touch, the Longhorns stood on top, 17-15. A crucial block from freshman middle blocker Audriana Fitzmorris shifted the momentum to the Cardinal, though, igniting the first of seven unanswered points culminating in an impressive dig by freshman libero Morgan Hentz that saved the point for Stanford, which did not look back, winning the set 25-19.
The teams tied nine times in the first 18 points of the third before an 8-1 Texas run made the score 16-10. Two straight blocks by Plummer and Ajanaku put Stanford within five, but the Longhorns capitalized on a flustered Cardinal squad to clock in the last three points and secure the set 25-18.
The Cardinal jumped out to a 6-0 start in the fourth, and an Ajanaku kill later extended their lead to 12-4. Fitzmorris quelled an attempted comeback with a strong hit after a long rally in the middle of the set. Although Texas pulled within three, making it 24-21, Plummer earned her 18th and final kill of the night as she put one away off the edge of the block and sent her teammates into winter break with a national title.
It was the first for the program since 2004 and the fifth for AVCA National Coach of the Year John Dunning. The win marks his 888th career victory.
The Cardinal finished the season on a 10-match winning streak that included seven sweeps and impressive wins over No. 3-seeded Wisconsin and Minnesota, which was seeded second in the tournament but ranked No. 1 overall in the country.
Stanford has now brought home two NCAA titles in one week, as men’s soccer won the national championship on Sunday.
Contact Tristan Vanech at tvanech ‘at’ stanford.edu.