Stanford beats Texas to win NCAA women's volleyball title
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Stanford coach John Dunning expected big things from his latest recruiting class.
Just maybe not this soon.
Inky Ajanaku had 18 kills, Kathryn Plummer added 16 and Stanford -- led by four freshman starters -- beat Texas 25-21, 25-19, 18-25, 25-21 on Saturday night in the NCAA women's volleyball final.
The Cardinal (27-7) won 16 of their last 17 matches to complete an unlikely championship run with four freshman starters: Plummer, Audriana Fitzmorris, Jenna Gray and Morgan Hentz.
"You know, it's overwhelming," coach John Dunning said. "You put so much into this, and this is just a group that's just fun to be with. And I love being around them."
The Cardinal have the most losses of any championship team in Division I women's volleyball history. Ajanaku, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, leaves Stanford as a champion just a year following a devastating right knee injury that sidelined her for the entire 2015 season.
Stanford began the season 10-5 overall and 4-3 in the Pac-12. Then Dunning moved senior Kelsey Humphreys to defensive specialist and handed the setting duties to Gray. The Cardinal were the hottest team in volleyball from that point on.
After losing the third set, Stanford jumped out to a 6-0 lead and continued to dominate the net. Plummer received a bump set from Humphreys and registered the winning kill off of the Texas block to secure the program's first national title since 2004.
Humphreys' mom played in four Final Fours for Stanford but never was able to claim the championship.
"When we won two days ago she said, `Bring one home for the family," Humphreys said. "To be able to share the Stanford experience with her is something I can't put into words."
The loss marks Texas' second consecutive NCAA runner-up finish, after losing in three sets to Nebraska last year. Micaya White had 17 kills, and Ebony Nwanebu 16.
Paulina Prieto-Cerame had 12 kills in the semifinal against Nebraska, but struggled mightily in the final against Stanford's top-rated block. Prieto-Cerame had just two kills and eight hitting errors before being taken out of the match.
"Our first touches weren't as good as we had hoped, but I think early on that game our setting location was really off," coach Jerritt Elliott said. "And so I think her first five or six swings were pretty difficult swings, and I think it just got in her head then and she just kind of struggled from that point on."
After trailing 18-16 in the second set, Stanford turned the table with a 7-0 run led by freshman Audriana Fitzmorris and Plummer, who combined for six points during the stretch. The Cardinal won two of the next three points to close the set.
Jenna Gray had 51 assists and Morgan Hentz had 27 digs in the winning effort.
Stanford had a .277 hitting percentage to Texas' .217.
Texas finished 27-5.