From Kathryn Plummer at Stanford to Adora Anae at Utah, Pac-12 volleyball is crushing it
Take in a Pac-12 volleyball game, and any notions you may have had about the West Coast being laid-back will go out to sea. From smasher Kathryn Plummer of reigning national champion Stanford to terminator Adora Anae of Utah, the conference features some of the biggest hitters in the game.
It also features a whole lot of depth. Here are a few storylines in a conference that keeps us guessing.
Starting at Stanford: She was an All-American, the national freshman of the year and a national champion a season ago. So what is the 6-foot-6 Plummer, who tweets from the handle @plummdawgg, doing for an encore? Let's just say it's the opposite of slummin'. The Cardinal are alone atop the Pac-12 standings at 6-0, and Plummer is a vital piece (to say the least). The outside hitter boasts 238 kills thus far, more than double any of her teammates. She averages a team-best 5.44 points per set, fourth in the NCAA. Her arsenal keeps even the most confident liberos on their toes.
Ut, Ut oh! If you've followed the Utes, you know they could finish higher in the Pac-12 than the fourth-place finish they were slated for at the beginning of the season. They are third in the NCAA in assists per set behind sophomore setter Bailey Choy. Last weekend they stunned defending regular-season conference champion Washington, 3-2, in Seattle to secure a second-place tie with USC in the Pac-12 race. The Utes, previously 0-7 at Washington, got rewarded in this week's poll with a No. 13 ranking, their highest since 2006. You can't mention Utah without gushing about Anae. The senior from Hawaii became the program's all-time leader in kills last Sunday against Washington State and now has 1,635 for her career. Another key cog: middle blocker Tawnee Luafalemana, who earlier this year hit an NCAA-best .857 (18 kills, 0 errors) against Utah Valley.
Neck and neck: We told you last week how dominant the Big Ten was in the nonconference season, boasting a 128-27 record. Meanwhile, the Pac-12 finished 104-22 out of conference. The signature win for the league: Oregon knocking off Nebraska on opening weekend.
POY watch: Stanford's Plummer generates plenty of buzz as a possible national player of the year, though the sophomore hasn't garnered a player of the week honor yet. Meanwhile, USC's Brittany Abercrombie has two and last Sunday at Arizona State, the senior opposite matched her career high with 18 kills. The 2016 Pac-12 player of the year, Courtney Schwan, has been slowed by an ankle injury but is healthy again for the Huskies. And given the kind of season Anae has put together, don't count out one of the most daunting terminators in the league.
Fresh faces: The race for conference freshman of the year could boil down to Colorado's Brynna DeLuzio, UCLA's Mac May and Washington's Lauren Sanders. DeLuzio became the first Colorado player to earn league freshman of the week honors after posting double-doubles in assists and digs over Xavier and Colorado State. Two weeks later, she picked up the award again behind 46 assists and 13 digs in the Buffs' four-set upset of Oregon. May has also picked up the honor twice, including opening weekend after her 18 kills led the Bruins over Hawaii. Sanders is the reigning conference freshman of the week behind 17 kills, hitting .762 against, Utah last Friday. She leads the Pac-12 in blocks per set.
Say, did you see? Oregon's Taylor Agost sang the national anthem alongside three other athletes in front of 77,612 at last year's men's basketball Final Four in Glendale, Arizona. The performance went viral, and her Instagram account has since spiked to more than 53,000 followers (including Yankees rookie slugger Aaron Judge). The senior outside hitter from Happy Valley, Oregon, is integral to a Ducks team that continues to top ranked opponents (Nebraska, Cal Poly, Wichita State, Utah). Her vocal talent dates back to her days in middle school choir. "Right after I sang the anthem I ran into my mom and she handed me my phone and it was blowing up," she said. She's never sung before a volleyball game because, well, nerves. "You never know," she said. "I always say that life begins when you get outside of your comfort zone."
Best on the block: Two Pac-12 teams rank in the NCAA top five in blocks: Washington ranks second behind Texas as the top blocking team in the nation and Washington State is fourth. Nobody's better at the block in the Pac-12 than Washington middle Sanders, the tallest Husky at 6-4, who admits she wasn't very good at the sport initially. She couldn't serve in seventh grade, and when she jumped, the ball would often hit her head instead of her hand. We're told it's true. Washington State, which led the nation in total blocks in 2016, boasts a daunting front line that includes 6-3 Jocelyn Urias, a member of the Mexican national team.
Welcome to UCLA: Bruins senior Sarah Sponcil, ranked 21st in the nation in assists per set, spent her first three years at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles where she played all 94 matches. The two-time All American in beach volleyball was the 2016 West Coast Conference player of the year; her 11.27 assist average ranks second in the Pac-12 to Stanford's Jenna Gray.
Logjam: The chaos in the Pac-12 standings a year ago mimicked an L.A. freeway. Remember, Stanford won the NCAA championship as a 6 seed, while Washington snagged the regular season title. Although the Cardinal are unscathed for now, the congestion remains. Utah and USC are one game back in second place. Preseason favorite Washington is right behind at 5-2. UCLA (4-2) and Oregon (3-4) are also in the mix. Stanford, by the way, hasn't lost to a conference team since last November, at UCLA. The Cardinal and the Bruins square off in Pauley Pavilion on Friday.
Dig it: It's a growing pains kind of year for Arizona State under new coach Sanja Tomasevic (who, speaking of the Pac-12, was among the all-time greats at Washington). The Sun Devils (10-8) are 0-6 in conference standings. Two reasons not to give up on the Sun Devils: outside hitter Oluoma Okaro and libero Halle Harker. Okaro's explosiveness against Washington nearly sparked an upset in five. Her 30 kills tied for the most in a single match in the school's rally-scoring era. The 5-5 Harker is the Pac-12 leader in digs and third all-time at ASU.