Power is only part of the story for espnW player of the year Kathryn Plummer
Stanford lost the second set. Then the third. UCLA looked like it was on the brink of stealing an upset back in November.
Not much was going right for the No. 4 Cardinal. Energy was low, points were coming slow. But, the team did have one pretty big advantage on its side of the net: a 6-foot-6 outside hitter named Kathryn Plummer, who can pretty much do anything, against anyone, any time.
During a timeout, she asked herself, simply: "What can I do?" before hustling into overdrive. A career-high 28 kills later, including one on match point, she guided her team to the five-set win.
This is the game-changing sophomore at her best: fired up yet poised, attacking yet graceful, in a hurry yet in control. The underclassman proved to be ahead of her time all season long, leading the Pac-12 with 4.73 kills per set (good for sixth nationally) and 5.48 points per set (also sixth nationally).
Now the Pac-12 Player of the Year, the Stanford Regional most outstanding player and the AVCA Pacific North Region Player of the Year, who has led defending national champion Stanford to the final four, can add another honor to her shelf: espnW's 2017 national volleyball player of the year.
The way she dominated, who would think this was her first true college season mastering the outside hitter position?
"She does so much for us. People immediately look at her physical gifts and assume she is good solely because of those gifts. That is only part of the story," said Kevin Hambly, Stanford's head coach. "Kathryn is great because of her understanding of the game, her ability to take advantage of what she sees, and she is a hard worker."
During the spring, with beach volleyball practice five days a week and indoor workouts twice a week, Plummer labored to understand the ins and outs of the outside position. Scoring from the right side, her comfortable position, was easy. Scoring from the outside? That was, at first, filled with "frustrating moments and trials and tribulations," she said.
But she worked and worked, putting her faith in herself, her coaches, her teammates. And most of all? "I had to trust the process," Plummer said, even when she was asked to switch back to right side for the first three matches of the season to fill in for an injured Merete Lutz.
Plummer thrives wherever you put her, whenever you need her. She leads the Cardinal (30-3) with eight double-doubles, ranks fourth in the Pac-12 with 0.36 aces per set and ninth with a .323 hitting percentage.
She's totaled 20-plus kills in 11 matches this season (including 27 against No. 1 Penn State in September) and has hit .400 or better in 15 matches (including a season-best .545 at No. 16 Oregon in October).
She became the first conference player to win freshman of the year and player of the year in back-to-back seasons since Stanford's Bev Oden in 1989 and 1990.
And still, Plummer demands more out of herself.
"Kathryn is a player that is always looking to improve her game," said teammate Jenna Gray, the Pac-12 setter of the year. "Her passion and dedication to being the best is extremely inspiring and has been a huge driving force on our team."
Plummer felt comfortable taking on a bigger leadership role this season, given the loss of key seniors like All-American middle blocker Inky Ajanaku. No longer the rookie following the upperclassmen, she led by example and when her team needed it and made her voice heard.
"My teammates the whole way have had my back and allowed me to have confidence," Plummer said. "I'm one of those people that gets the ball in big moments and I want that. It's really cool because people have full faith in me. I feel like if you know that your teammates trust that you're going to do something well, you automatically have confidence and that's something I really appreciate about this team."
After leading her squad to NCAA tournament wins over CSU Bakersfield, Colorado State, Wisconsin and Texas, Plummer is focused on repeating as champions. She said she feels more confident having been through the tournament -- and winning it -- once before.
"A year can change a person a lot, both on the court and off the court," Plummer said. "I think that's definitely shown with me and with my class, all the sophomores, they have a certain level of poise on the court. We have to be the leaders because at one point, four or five of us are on the court at one time. That's pretty legit and that's pretty cool, but at the same time, we have to act older than we are."
She looks around at the teams who made the NCAA tournament and the enormous talent at some of those programs. Many of those schools recruited her out of high school. But Plummer knows she made the best choice. She said she'd still choose Stanford even if she had never stepped foot on a volleyball court. "I could not have picked a better place than this university," Plummer said.
"It's kind of normal to win a national championship," Plummer said. "The [national champion] women's soccer team came back last week, and we were like, 'Congrats!' They said, 'Thanks, you guys can do it too!' Our men's soccer team is in the College Cup this weekend. The atmosphere around Stanford is that it's kind of expected for us to win and I really like that because it pushes us to be that much better every single day."