By King Jemison
The Stanford women’s volleyball class of 2020 has won 115 games, three Pac-12 Championships and two NCAA National Championships. The six departing seniors have combined for 10 AVCA All-American honors, including seven total First Team selections. They are the greatest class in the storied history of Stanford women’s volleyball, the most dominant NCAA program of all time.
On Friday night, that legendary senior class got the ovation it deserved with a 3-1 Senior Night win over Cal (20-10, 10-10 Pac-12) in front of 4,880 fans in Maples Pavilion. The win all but ensured that Stanford (24-4, 18-2) will receive a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament and home-court advantage until the Final Four.
Senior opposite Audrianna Fitzmorris led the charge into the postseason with 16 kills at a .333 clip, including a rocket on match point that sent Maples into a frenzy. Senior libero Morgan Hentz controlled the back row with 21 digs, as Stanford held Cal to a .118 hitting efficiency for the match thanks to dominant defense and relentless service pressure. Along with Fitzmorris and Hentz, senior outside hitter Kathryn Plummer, senior setter Jenna Gray, senior defensive specialist Caitlin Keefe and graduate student middle blocker Madeleine Gates were all honored after the game for their illustrious careers on the Farm.
“It was bittersweet,” said junior outside hitter Meghan McClure of the Senior Night festivities for her six teammates. “It was great to see them recognized for all the incredible things that they do, but also really sad to have to come to terms with the fact that they’re leaving soon.”
McClure honored the Class of 2020 with her own fantastic all-around performance. Standing at just 6’0”, McClure more than held her own against the Cal attackers, setting a career high with six blocks against the Bears. McClure also put up a double-double with 11 digs and 12 kills on .385 hitting.
“We did a really great job of getting them out-of-system and making it harder for them to hit in the first place with our serve-receive and our attacking,” McClure said of her blocking prowess. “[Head coach] Kevin [Hambly] has worked a lot with me on blocking, and everything kind of seemed to be coming into place today.”
After a rough first set in which Stanford’s passing struggles hamstrung the offense and allowed Cal to steal it 25-23, the Cardinal settled down and passed proficiently while ratcheting up the service pressure on Cal. Stanford suffocated the Cal offense in the second set, holding the Bears to just eight kills and recording 19 of its own to win 25-13. The fourth and the fifth sets were more back and forth at 25-19 and 25-21 respectively, but Stanford seemed completely in control of the match after overcoming the opening set tension that allowed Cal to grab an early lead.
As she had done so many times in her Cardinal career, Gray captained the offense to an efficient .272 performance with 62 kills from six different players. The two-sport All-American also called her own number to great success with six kills to go along with 46 assists and seven digs. During the Senior Night ceremonies after the game, Gray displayed the witty humor she is famous for with some light-hearted jabs at Hambly’s spelling in the locker room.
Plummer, the two-time AVCA National Player of the Year, had a frustrating match with nine errors to offset her 13 kills. But the top hitter in college volleyball sent a roar through the crowd with a back-row cannon kill that nearly pulverized Cal libero Emma Smith. After missing 10 matches with an undisclosed injury, Plummer is back to leading the offense at a career-high 4.75 kills per set mark.
Even on an off night for Plummer in terms of points scored, Fitzmorris, McClure and the Stanford block more than picked up the slack. In addition to Fitzmorris and McClure’s 28 combined kills, sophomore middle blocker Holly Campbell added 10 kills on .348 hitting, and the Cardinal registered 12.5 stuff blocks.
Gates contributed seven of those blocks to go along with five kills on her Senior Night after graduating early from UCLA and transferring to Stanford this past summer. With Keefe also getting the start and recording a dig, all six departing seniors left their mark on the match, as they have left their mark on the program as a whole.
“I’m really grateful to have played with people who are going to go down in the history books of volleyball as being the best ever,” McClure said after the match.
Though this was its last regular season contest, the Class of 2020 will hopefully play at least four more matches inside Maples Pavilion and up to six matches overall in the NCAA Tournament. During Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show, Stanford will likely earn one of the top four overall seeds, allowing the Cardinal to host through the regional final. Stanford’s senior class is gunning for its fourth-straight Final Four appearance and third National Championship in December.
But for now, the Cardinal can enjoy another remarkable regular season run, including a third-consecutive Pac-12 Championship. The atmosphere in Maples got a little misty during the Senior Night speeches, as the moving words of the senior class and their young teammates brought many to tears. It would be impossible to encapsulate the brilliance of the Stanford Class of 2020 in one game, but this Senior Night showing was a fitting tribute.
Though Stanford’s seniors will be playing with all the pressure of defending their national title and cementing their volleyball legacy, they can rest easy knowing that their impact extends far beyond the court.
“As great as they are at volleyball, they’re better human beings,” McClure said of the six departing seniors. “So it’s been really cool for me to be able to play alongside some of my best friends and some of the best volleyball players this world has seen.”
Contact King Jemison at kingj ‘at’ stanford.edu.