By King Jemison
Stanford women’s volleyball has nowhere to go but down. The preseason favorites are coming off their eighth National Championship, the most in NCAA history. Everyone expects them to make it nine this season, and it’s easy to see why. The Cardinal return five All-Americans and all but one starter. As if they needed it, the team also welcomes in the top recruiting class in the country. It seems that all Stanford can do is merely meet expectations by winning their second-straight National Championship, but perhaps there is an even bigger prize on the table. The 2019 Stanford Women’s Volleyball team could go down as the greatest of all time.
For the third-straight season, Stanford head coach Kevin Hambly can reasonably claim to have the nation’s best outside hitter (and best player) in Kathryn Plummer, best setter in Jenna Gray, and best libero in Morgan Hentz. Those three along with fellow All-American opposite Audriana Fitzmorris and twins Caitlin and Michaela Keefe make up one of the finest senior classes in Stanford’s storied volleyball history. That group won a National Championship in 2016, followed it up with a Final Four appearance in 2017, before winning it all again last season. Plummer has been named National Player of the Year two straight seasons and is the heavy favorite to win again this year. Gray, Hentz, and Fitzmorris have garnered All-American honors the past two seasons as well. If they are to bring home another National Championship this season, there will be (almost) no question that their class is the best in Stanford women’s volleyball history.
That dominant senior class has plenty of help from their younger teammates as well. Junior outside hitter Meghan McClure is the fifth returning All-American on this year’s team. McClure, one of the most versatile players on the team, earned the game-winning point in last year’s NCAA Championship game with a fantastic kill from the back row. Junior defensive specialists Sidney Wilson and Kate Formico also make a big impact from the back row. Sophomore middle blocker Holly Campbell could become the sixth All-American for Stanford next season. She had a career-high 15 kills in the National Championship win over Nebraska and looks poised to take on a bigger role this season with All-American middle blocker Tami Alade graduating (and representing Stanford at the ESPYs, as it turns out). Campbell’s classmate, opposite Mackenzie Fidelak, could also see more playing time after a promising freshman campaign.
If those three classes made up the entirety of Stanford’s team, they would be just fine. But coach Hambly wasn’t taking any chances. His top-ranked recruiting class features three players ranked in the top five of their class by VolleyballMag.com, along with three other players who could play a significant role as early as next season. Outside hitters Kendall Kipp and Caitie Baird are the second and third-ranked players in their class, respectively. Setter Selina Xu, set to take the reigns from Jenna Gray after next season, comes in at No. 5 in her class. Middle blocker McKenna Vicini and outside hitter Natalie Berty are top-50 recruits as well. As if that stunning freshman class wasn’t enough, Hambly also added graduate student middle blocker Madeleine Gates, a former All-American herself at UCLA, as Stanford’s first ever incoming transfer. Hambly has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal. How he chooses to use his loaded roster will be one of the most interesting things to watch this season.
Stanford faces a challenging schedule that will quickly tell if this team is ready to repeat. The Cardinal will play Florida, Penn State, and Nebraska on the road during the preseason. They will also duel with Texas (Sept. 8) and BYU (Sept. 21) at home before turning towards Pac-12 play. Stanford has 12 total home games scattered throughout the fall (and likely more during the NCAA Tournament depending on the bracket).
Even with eight National Championships in program history, Stanford Women’s Volleyball may never have another team like this one. The Cardinal have at least nine players who could potentially earn All-American honors this season. Even with such a difficult schedule, an undefeated season is not out of the question. Of course, all Stanford really wants to do is meet expectations … by winning a second-straight National Championship.
Contact King Jemison at kingj ‘at’ stanford.edu.