Player of the Year watch: Stanford's Kathryn Plummer out to prove the best can get better
Each week during the volleyball season, we'll recognize a player whose recent performances reinforce her place among the best in the nation. Consider it our way to check in on, or in some cases introduce, the personalities that will shape the race for espnW player of the year.
Kathryn Plummer's list of honors almost stacks up to her 6-foot-6 frame.
But whether she's the one sizing herself up or it's Stanford coach Kevin Hambly doing the talking, here's what might be most daunting about the Cardinal junior outside hitter.
"She's got plenty of room to grow," said Hambly, who isn't inclined to put her in a class with anyone else right now. "Let her be the first Kathryn. Why would we put limits on this kid? It's like telling LeBron, 'Be the next Michael Jordan.'"
Yikes! (Says everybody else in the game.) Two years ago, Plummer was named AVCA national freshman of the year. She followed that last season by being named AVCA player of the year and espnW player of the year. Last week she nabbed her first AVCA player of the week honor.
Her third season of Pac-12 competition began Wednesday with a sweep of Cal, and lest we forget, the two-time first-team All-American has her whole senior year of eligibility left after this season.
"These last couple of years have gone by in the blink of an eye," said Plummer, a recently declared human biology major with plans to be a physical therapist. "There's honestly a part of me that still feels like I'm a freshman."
Did we mention that was when she led her team to a national championship?
Plummer is in full swing these days after limping through preseason with a sprained ankle. She notched her first double-double of the season, 25 kills and 10 digs, on Sept. 9 in a four-set win over Minnesota, which was ranked No. 1 at the time. Last week, she added a pair of double-doubles in two wins over Texas: 13 kills and 10 digs in the match in Palo Alto followed by 18 kills and 10 digs three days later in Austin.
"In the college game, she's already accomplished things very few have," Hambly said. "Her best years are going to be beyond the college game if she decides that's what she wants to do. She's got some pretty incredible gifts as far as her ability to move and her size."
Plummer, who leads the Cardinal in kills and points, doesn't get caught up in all the hype surrounding her game. In her eyes, the best serve belongs to Olympian Clay Stanley. "It's a topspin serve, and he tosses it really far out in front of the end line and hits it as hard as he possibly can," she said.
As much power as Plummer packs into her kills, it's nowhere near the level of French national star Earvin N'Gapeth, a trickster whose videos leave Plummer rewinding for another look.
As for digs, she gives kudos to her teammate Morgan Hentz. "I can hit the ball at a really short angle, and she'll be there," Plummer said. "It's unbelievable how she reads the court and how explosive she is."
Ask just about anybody else, though, and Plummer's game is pure spectacle. Her jump float serve often travels wickedly through the air, in part due to her height, which creates a downward angle and often an impossible pass for the receiver. Her kill is an emphatic hammer, imposing enough to make the most fearless libero shiver. It's a more versatile shot than it was two years ago, when her tendency to go for broke led to too many errors for her liking.
"She's tooling it down the line or hitting high flat or hitting a roll shot or hitting a ball off the block and recycling it to get another swing," Hambly said. "She's doing more than just whacking it."
Although Plummer perhaps can't contort her body in quite as many ways as Hentz can, she has evolved into a gritty defender who ranks second on her team in digs.
Surrounded by a cast of stars that includes Hentz, setter Jenna Gray and another All-American in opposite hitter Audriana Fitzmorris, Plummer remains the star who shines brightest in the biggest moments.
"I think I play better in really big matches," she said. "I don't know why because my mindset is the same for every match. But I think it's a fun environment when we play really good teams. The beginning of the season was a little shaky for all of us, but I think we've all found our groove."
If the past two years are any indication, the groove for Plummer is a level that's as good as it gets.