Kathryn Plummer adds precision to power and repeats as espnW volleyball player of year
The best player in NCAA volleyball in 2018 was the best player in NCAA volleyball in 2017. Kathryn Plummer is only a junior, a daunting reminder for 2019, and Stanford's 6-foot-6 outside hitter is the espnW player of the year for the second consecutive season. And just like last year and the year before that, the two-time first-team All-American is in the final four.
Stanford (32-1) matches up against BYU (31-1) on Thursday at the Target Center in Minneapolis before Illinois (32-3) plays Nebraska (28-6). You can bet Plummer is stoked for a Stanford victory. After the Cardinal won the national title her freshman season, Plummer told her dad that she wanted to make that an annual occurrence.
It didn't happen in 2017, making the reigning AVCA national player of the year even more motivated this season.
"We know what it's like to win and to lose, and we don't like that other side," said Plummer, whose team fell to Florida in a five-set semifinal last year.
Plummer punishes the ball with such velocity and precision that she can throw the most defensive-minded opponent off its game. But her arsenal continues to evolve beyond sheer power.
"She has the potential to be a very good international player because she has the entire skill set," said Karch Kiraly, who coaches the U.S. national team. "Very few players come out of college with all the skills -- serving, defending, hitting out of the backcourt, along with hitting and blocking. Plus, she did some setting before going to Stanford. She has a wonderful skill set all around."
It's not by accident. Cardinal coach Kevin Hambly said big hitters often get complacent.
"Kathryn's always at the video board looking at what she did and how she can do it better," he said. "She wants to be the best player in the country. It's refreshing to be around a player who understands [that] the game is more than hitting and blocking."
Behind Plummer, Stanford became the first team since 2003 to sweep its Pac-12 matches. Her magnificent performance in Saturday's regional final helped the Cardinal rally past Penn State 3-1. Named most outstanding player of the Stanford Regional, she finished with 23 kills on .383 hitting along with 10 digs and three blocks.
That marked her ninth 20-kill match and 10th double-double of the season.
Plummer said she approached this season fully aware of the target she's become on an opponent's scouting report. She's particularly proud of the defensive strides she's made.
"I've broadened the scope of how I play defense, but at the same time, players like Morgan Hentz make it a whole lot easier to get better," she said, referring to Stanford's first-team All-American libero. "She takes up so much court that I only have to be responsible about a small sliver."
Plummer's been forced to become a more creative shot maker, on display last month at Oregon.
Her 21 kills against the Ducks that night were 10 more than the next-highest output by a player on either team. She added six blocks and eight digs.
"That was my favorite match of hers this year," Hambly said. "They were trying to take her away by trapping and triple-stuff blocking her. She had to do things outside of just hitting. She had to go up and tip and tip and roll and score that way. It was fun to see that. That was the first time I saw her go away from the hard stuff and do the soft stuff, and she excelled at it."
Not putting all of her might into every single kill has made this season easier on her body, which is significant because Plummer also plays beach volleyball in the spring. Plummer was an honorable mention All-American in the sand game last season and Pac-12 freshman of the year before that.
"This year people are honing in on me more and I'm still having success," she said. "Those are the matches I'm most proud of because I have to find new ways to score."
Setter Jenna Gray said even though they've played alongside each other for nearly three full seasons, she continues to be in awe of her outside hitter.
"Every now and then she pulls out a shot I haven't seen before," Gray said. "My jaw will drop. Three years later and she still continues to amaze me with stuff she does."
Plummer, a human biology major from Aliso Viejo, California, doesn't get too caught up in all the hype. She's dazzled by what many of the men do at the international level, and in this country, she lists NBA great Tim Duncan as an inspiration.
"He does things the right way," she said. "He makes it look easy every time even though what he's doing is very difficult."
The same could be said for Plummer.