By James Hemker
PITTSBURGH — Christmas has come early. Before her senior season began, setter Jenna Gray had just a singular wish for her last year in the Cardinal and White.
“The one thing I want to do is win it all, and I want to be able to contribute to us winning in whatever way possible,” Gray said in August.
Gray, and the other members of this legendary senior class, can rest easy tonight knowing that they have achieved the ultimate. They are national champions for the third time in four years.
No. 3 Stanford dropped fourth-seeded Wisconsin in straight sets to claim the program’s nation-leading ninth national championship. The 25-16, 25-17, 25-20 win gives Stanford its third team title of the year, and brings the school total to a NCAA-best 126.
With 39 assists, Gray commanded her offense to hitting at a .358 clip. Against a very tall Wisconsin team, the highly aggressive general attempted just two unsuccessful dumps and instead allow her attackers to do the work.
“I’ve been saying since freshman year that I was going to dump at the national championship on match point,” laughed Gray. “[My hitters] put in so much work for me, I think they deserved it so much, and they made my job so much easier.”
It’s a sentence that has been written a thousand times over the last four years: outside Kathryn Plummer made the game her own. The senior terminated a match-high 22 kills while hitting a highly-efficient .459. These weren’t run-of-the-mill kills — Plummer hit every shot in her arsenal to fool the Badgers. In front of a crowd of 16,290 people, she turned in yet another double-double with 10 digs and earned the Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament.
“She’s the most lethal attacker in the NCAA and arguably, any attacker out there,” said senior libero Morgan Hentz. “We’re lucky to have her on our side.”
Hentz and Gray were also named to the All-Tournament Team.
Everyone knew Plummer would define the match for Stanford, but the X-factor was how the Cardinal middles would deal with Wisconsin’s three-time First Team All-American Dana Rettke. One loomed large, and the other rained points on the Badgers. Rettke finished with just seven kills while hitting .158.
Sophomore middle Holly Campbell paced the floor with five blocks while contributing three kills on six swings. Graduate middle Madeleine Gates, who transferred from UCLA for her final year of eligibility, was the most efficient attacker on the floor. She put away 10 kills on .529 hitting, including the match-winning point.
“I definitely didn’t expect to get set on that point,” said Gates. “But it was amazing and a really surreal way to finish out my college career.”
For Gates, this match is simply the exclamation point on an insane postseason run. The 2019 All-American concluded the tournament with 46 kills on 80 swings and just a single error. Over six games, she averaged a .563 hitting efficiency.
Senior opposite Audriana Fitzmorris put away eight kills, including a string in the second set to bury the Badgers.
It took Wisconsin until the third set to earn their first lead of the match. The Cardinal defense trapped the Badgers, who hit .152 as a whole team — their worst performance of the year. While the stat sheet says Stanford recorded just seven blocks, the front row put hands on nearly every Wisconsin attack, making it much easier for the back row to dig balls.
And digs balls they did. With 57 total digs, the team was one shy of the season’s three-set high. Hentz paced the team for the final time with 17, and junior outside Meghan McClure upped 13 more, while also turning in seven kills.
The back row was excellent at controlling Stanford’s transition and out of system play. Hentz put up five assists and junior defensive specialist Kate Formico had two more — all of them signifying points where the offense managed to control the chaos. Wisconsin was unable to consistently put balls away, contributing to Stanford’s 70% sideout rate.
With three national championships to their name, the senior class has completed one of the grandest four-year runs in the history of college volleyball. They finish their careers with a 121-16 record, including a 22-1 postseason record. The Big Four in Gray, Hentz, Fitzmorris and Plummer have all left their mark on the school in the form of records, titles and awards.
But if you ask any of them, the seniors don’t need to think about their legacy or the gravity of their undertaking. They are perfectly happy with being in the moment and knowing that in their final year, they were the best.
Contact James Hemker at jahemker ‘at’ stanford.edu.