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December 10, 2016

Inky Ajakanu

John Dunning

Merete Lutz

Madison, Wisconsin

THE MODERATOR: We are joined now by Stanford Head Coach John Dunning, senior Inky Ajanaku and junior Merete Lutz. Coach, if you can start us off with some opening comments and we can take questions for the student-athletes.

COACH DUNNING: First I'd like to say how happy I am for Inky. She's been through a lot in the last year and a half, and you were amazing tonight.

INKY AJANAKU: Thank you.

COACH DUNNING: I'm very happy for both the two athletes up here with me. They played great tonight. Wisconsin is really, really a great team, so for us to be sitting here is an honor. I thought our team played really hard tonight and played with courage when they had to. We hadn't been down two sets and come back and won a match this year. And I think we knew that coming out for the third game -- or the third set that maybe we'd learned enough and that we were ready for the fight that was ahead of us, and we were. I'm very proud of them.

THE MODERATOR: Go ahead and take questions for the student-athletes first.

Q. Inky, what changed after the first two? The second set was a heart breaker to lose. Then how you responded to that. What was the intermission like? What happened after that?
INKY AJANAKU: At the end of the second set, the look in our eyes we were all a little flabbergasted. We didn't quite know how to get ourselves ready for that set. After the second set, we went back into the third and I looked in everybody's eyes, and I saw like they were ready; they were ready to be there all night and they were ready to fight. And that's just having confidence in yourselves, and I think our freshmen are finally getting that and they are recognizing how good we all know that they are. And being able to play to your potential, just pushing out all the doubt, that's what changed. And it's something that takes a lot of maturity, and we were having to do it really early, and I'm really proud of them for doing that.

Q. Backing up just a little bit, in the first set Wisconsin jumped out to a quick 4-1 lead. How much did the crowd have to do with that, the intensity of the room? How much did that kind of maybe get to you guys at the beginning?
INKY AJANAKU: Well, Wisconsin is a really great team. They played really great volleyball, and they had some really great plays that we were just like, okay, that's fine, that was a great play. You're not going to get all of those. The crowd did get to us a little bit. We had a couple of plays where we lost focus a little bit and we relaxed and didn't respond well to the situation. But we're learning. Every single time we're learning and we're getting better, and if we can keep doing that, I think we'll be in a good position next week.

THE MODERATOR: Anything else for the student-athletes?

Q. Inky, you missed all last year. Then you're back and now you're going to the Final Four. What's the emotional temperature for you?
INKY AJANAKU: I mean this season has been a roller coaster. We've had to go through a lot, and I've had to go through a lot, and I think that's kind of what bonded our team is that we were learning to trust ourselves at the same time I was ready to trust myself again. And we were kind of on that same path together, the freshmen. I had to learn to trust in their inabilities and I had to learn to trust in my body and maybe take a couple more risks than I was used to. This is the reason I came back to Stanford because everyone supported me every step of the way and helped me get to this point where I was able to trust myself to play more comfortably on the court. I knew that Stanford is the place that will embrace me and help me get to that level. It's emotional every year. Every year we're in it to win the National Championship, and to be able to go to the Final Four is a great honor, and I'm so happy.

Q. Merete, Inky said there was a change in your guys' eyes during the break. What was said amongst you guys that made such a difference?
MERETE LUTZ: I'm actually glad you asked that, because I think Inky is being modest about her leadership skills. She went on this amazing speech about working hard for each other. That's Inky's whole schtick in volleyball is doing everything for each other, coming together, leaning on each other. So I think she really riled us up, she riled me up big time, just that we would take this point by point and we would do it with each other and communicate and do our jobs and work together as a more cohesive unit. And I think that just brought everyone together and gave everyone a lot of confidence all of because of Inky's amazing leadership. She's too modest.

THE MODERATOR: Anything else for the student-athletes? If not, you guys are free to go. You can stay up here, too, if you'd like to hear Coach. We will take questions for Coach.

Q. What was the turning element for you after the first two? What was different in those last three sets?
COACH DUNNING: Well, you know, there's two ways to look at it. As you would guess, it's easy in that setting with a good team and a great crowd and everything and all the pressure to fold and to just lose in three. But I think our team has believed all year that we're not going to be as good as we can be really honestly until the last time we step on the court. They didn't think our best game was 24-26 in set two. And so when they went back out on the court, they thought we would be better. They didn't panic. And you heard them talk about Inky has been a great leader. You can see her in our huddles talking to especially the younger players. And so I just think we're getting better, and I think at that point -- you know, Wisconsin could have tipped it over on us and played amazing at the start of the third set and buried us. Didn't happen that way and it gave us a chance to kind of go, okay, we are getting better, now let's see. And we've talked all year about the fact that our serving and blocking eventually will get to people. And tonight we just had to play long enough for that to happen. But it eventually got to them. We blocked a lot of balls in the last three sets.

Q. You've coached in a lot of venues. What was this place like tonight? Can you give us some perspective about the crowd and the atmosphere?
JOHN DUNNING: Yeah. It's amazing. They've built up the support here, in Wisconsin. I mean back to the days of Steve Lowe, he was my first assistant as a college coach, and he came here and I think really helped the program begin to get going even better than it had been. Since that day they've grown, and it's been amazing for a long time. There are a few cities around the country that have amazing support, and this is one of them. One of the good things for us, though, is the louder it gets honestly in most venues, the more exciting it gets because it's just loud noise in everybody's ears, and if you can get yourself to believe that, then, hey, there were 6,000-plus people dressed in red that were yelling, and that's our school colors, too.

Q. Going to Columbus, what are you seeing that you like in terms of matchups? What are you afraid of or nervous about that you're going to have to work on?
JOHN DUNNING: Well, who do we play next? Minnesota or whoever.

JOHN DUNNING: We've played both of those teams, and so we know a lot about them. But it's a while back. And so we have to go back. We were not in any way, shape or form looking past any round and our team did a great job of scouting. But we know a lot about them. We played UCLA twice this year, lost to them, two great matches. Then we played Minnesota early in the season at our place and beat them. So we know what they're like, and they're very different, and once we find out the result, we'll get it going. For our especially young team, I'm really happy. Our leaders, seniors have done a really good job of getting our team to believe in scouting and strategy, and we'll know our opponent well, so I think we'll be ready for them, whoever it is.

THE MODERATOR: Anything else for Coach? Thanks, Coach. And congratulations again.

COACH DUNNING: Thank you very much.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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