By King Jemison
Trailing 17-13 in the second set after dropping the first, No. 4 Stanford women’s volleyball (21-4, 15-2 Pac-12) seemed bound for a crushing upset on the road at No. 16 Utah (19-9, 11-6). But as they have done so many times over the past four seasons, the Cardinal turned to senior outside hitter Kathryn Plummer to lead the comeback.
The two-time National Player of the Year put down six huge kills on a 12-4 Stanford run to close out the second set. The Cardinal went on to win three sets to one, their eighth Top-25 victory this season. With 20 spectacular digs in the Stanford win, Morgan Hentz became the program’s all-time leader in digs with 2,155 in her storied career.
Senior setter Jenna Gray flirted with a triple-double in the Stanford victory. The two-time Pac-12 Setter of the Year led a dominant Stanford attack with 49 assists while adding 10 digs and eight kills at a .727 clip. The deadly combo of Plummer’s offense, Hentz’s defense, and Gray’s versatility was too much for the Utes on Friday night. Plummer finished with 24 kills on .312 hitting, and she was especially strong in the third and fourth sets as Stanford took control of the match. She added 15 digs for the first double-double of her 2019 season.
Hentz came into the match needing 13 digs to pass Gabi Ailes ‘11 for the most in program history. She reached that mark late in the third set and tacked on seven more stabs in the final frame. The two-time First Team All-American has averaged a remarkable 4.69 digs per set over her college career, also on pace for a program record.
Stanford needed everyone of those ups to get past Utah and All-American outside hitter Dani Drews, who led the match with 26 kills on 66 swings in a losing effort. The Utes controlled the match for most of the first two sets before the Cardinal service pressure and passing proficiency wore down their upset attempt.
Stanford finished the match with five aces, including two from junior serving specialist Sidney Wilson, and consistently kept Utah out of system. Although the first three sets were highly competitive, the Stanford boa constrictor squeezed the life out of the Utes in a dominant 25-14 fourth set victory to finish the match.
Senior opposite Audriana Fitzmorris contributed 16 big kills on .326 hitting, and her efficiency was especially important in the first two sets as Stanford struggled to find an offensive rhythm. Fitzmorris also sent back five stuff blocks, tied for the team-high with graduate student middle blocker Madeline Gates. The Cardinal block crushed Utah in the lopsided fourth with four stuffs in that set alone.
Stanford matched the scrappy, defensive-minded Utes at their own game, as the two teams finished tied with nine blocks and 70 digs apiece. Junior outside hitter Meghan McClure had 16 digs, and sophomore middle blocker Holly Campbell added four blocks to round out an all-around defensive performance for the Cardinal. In a largely defensive match, Stanford’s dominance in serve-and-pass and myriad of offensive weapons proved to be the difference.
Stanford’s Big Three of Plummer, Hentz, and Gray had one of their finest combined performances in the Cardinal victory. The defending National Champions appear to be playing their best volleyball at the end of the season, captained by Plummer’s return after missing ten games with an undisclosed injury.
Stanford will remain on the road for the next two games, starting with Colorado on Sunday then Washington State on Tuesday. With a win over Colorado, Stanford would secure at least a share of a third-straight Pac-12 Championship.
Hentz’s record-breaking night is yet another reminder of the brilliance of this Stanford senior class. If the Cardinal can survive this vicious road swing and a senior night finale with Cal, Stanford would likely earn a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament and move that much closer to a fourth-straight Final Four run.
Contact King Jemison at kingj ‘at’ stanford.edu.