By James Hemker
Make it three years and three conference titles for women’s volleyball. Since head coach Kevin Hambly took the reins in 2017, the Cardinal have stayed on top of the Pac-12, going 56-3 in that span. After earning at least a share of the championship earlier this weekend, No. 3 Stanford claimed the title outright with a three-set sweep of No. 25 Washington State.
While the match lasted just three sets, the Cougars (22-9, 11-8 Pac-12) took Stanford (23-4, 17-2 Pac-12) to the bell in each of the 25-22, 25-22, 25-22 frames. Tough defense from both sides meant prolonged points, which has been a weak spot in the past for this Cardinal team. Ultimately, the offensive burden rested heavily on senior outside hitter Kathryn Plummer, who shouldered it with relative ease.
Plummer was the only player in the match with double-digit kills, recording 21 terminations on at an efficient .362 clip. Despite missing the middle chunk of league play with an injury, she has reintegrated to the team extremely smoothly. Since her return to the offense against Arizona six games ago, Plummer has put up 99 kills — which leads the team in that time frame — on .358 hitting.
Senior opposite Audriana Fitzmorris was able to take advantage of the star’s successes. With the Cougars’ defense perpetually cheating towards Plummer, the right pin was open for Fitzmorris. She concluded the match with nine kills and just a single error.
Fitzmorris and Plummer combined for over half of the team’s swings and 30 of 41 kills, emblematic of the fact that senior setter Jenna Gray struggled to find a hot hand elsewhere. Still, her 35 assists buoyed the team to a .280 hitting percentage, keeping the Cardinal above their magic .250 line.
Stanford is 21-0 when hitting above .250 and 0-4 when they fall below it.
Both teams did a good job of avoiding their opponents’ front lines. The Cardinal blocked four shots and the Cougars got just two stuffs as both teams recorded new season-lows. Instead, the defensive pressure rested in the back court.
Senior libero Morgan Hentz paced all players with 20 digs, and junior outside Meghan McClure chipped in 12 more. A symptom of their weaker front row, the Cougars edged out Stanford 52-50 in the digs department.
Despite such close defensive numbers, Washington State hit more than 100 points worse than Stanford. Their .157 clip was the Cougar’s sixth lowest total of the year. The difference came from the service line, where Stanford applied the pressure.
In what is now emerging as a common theme, the Cardinal simply bombarded the opposition. Plummer paced Stanford with two aces, including one to win the second frame. The team recorded just four total — down from 11 against Colorado on Sunday — but many of Washington State’s legal passes drew the setter off the net and forced the team out of system. The Cougars could not handle the chaos and committed 22 attacking errors to Stanford’s 11.
The match wraps up the final true road trip of the season for the team. For the third-straight year, the Cardinal end the regular season with a 13-1 road record.
Stanford will be back in action on Friday to host Cal at 3 p.m. PT. The second rendition of the 2019 Big Spike will also serve as Senior Night to honor Plummer, Gray, Fitzmorris, Hentz, Caitlin Keefe and graduate transfer Madeleine Gates.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.