By James Hemker
Senior setter Jenna Gray broke 5,000 career assists on Saturday evening when No. 5 Stanford (18-4, 12-2 Pac-12) downed Arizona (12-14, 2-12 Pac-12) 25-16, 25-17, 25-16. Gray is the active career assists leader (5,008) in Division I women’s volleyball, and she is just seven away from holding the No. 2 spot in the school’s record books (Madi Bugg, 2012-15; 5,014 assists).
The Cardinal’s field general led the offense on another successful campaign with 38 assists, marking her sixth sweep this year with at least 35 assists. Because of her efforts, Stanford has a highly balanced attack that many teams find difficult, if not impossible to defend against. Arizona looked simply overwhelmed as the Cardinal hit .368, their fifth-best percentage of the year. Five players (including Gray herself) hit over .310.
“Jenna is amazing because she sets a different ball for every player,” said junior outside hitter Meghan McClure. “So rather than us, the hitters, conforming to a certain system, Jenna works with us to find where we’re best. Not a lot of setters can do that, and it’s because she works so hard.”
While Gray can set as pretty a ball as anyone, a sizeable amount of credit also lays on the arms of her attackers who must terminate it in order to give her the assist. Luckily, Gray has had the good fortune of playing alongside some of the best offensive players in the country.
Her favorite weapon, senior outside hitter Kathryn Plummer, made a triumphant return to the court against the Wildcats, recording her first kills since Sept. 29. Playing only through the front row, Plummer paced the Cardinal with 15 kills on just 22 swings.
Though she looked a little slow on the defensive side of the net, recording just a single dig, Plummer’s attacks went through Arizona like a hot knife through butter. Her .636 hitting percentage meant Saturday’s match was the most efficient she’s had since her freshman year in 2016.
Just behind Plummer, the always-steady McClure tallied 13 kills and was just one dig shy of a double-double. Despite taking the majority of Stanford’s out-of-system balls, McClure still hit .324, finding gaps the Wildcats didn’t even realize were there.
Middle blocker Holly Campbell added six kills to the team’s total of 52. After hitting a rough patch through the middle of the year, the 6-3 sophomore has returned to form over the past two weekends. Through the last four games, Campbell has accumulated 21 kills on 35 swings and just one error.
Graduate middle Madeleine Gates came away with seven kills, while also leading the team with four blocks. Though Arizona hit .156 on the night, the Cardinal front-line defense did not have a huge impact on the game. They recorded just 6.5 total blocks, which ranks as the third lowest total of the season.
All of the Wildcat’s troubles stemmed from the fact that they kept hitting at senior libero Morgan Hentz. Honored with back-to-back Pac-12 Libero of the Year awards, Hentz is the one person on the court every opponent needs to avoid. She came away with 24 digs, setting a new career-best for herself in a three-set match.
“[Teams] shouldn’t attack Morgan,” said head coach Kevin Hambly. “They should do everything they can to avoid Morgan; that would be really, really smart.”
The Cardinal return to action next weekend against USC and UCLA for its final two-match homestand. Senior Night against Cal will then be held the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.