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December 14, 2016

John Dunning

Morgan Hentz

Kathryn Plummer

Inky Ajanaku

Columbus, Ohio

THE MODERATOR: Joined by head coach John Dunning, student-athletes Inky Ajanaku, Kathryn Plummer and Morgan Hentz. Coach Dunning is in his 16th season at Stanford. He's won a couple of national titles with the Cardinal. He's in his eighth Final Four. Coach, an opening statement.

COACH DUNNING: It's been a very interesting journey for our team. Been through a lot of different things, a lot of new people in the program, six freshmen, two of them sitting up here, Inky coming back after not playing the last season.

And it didn't all fit together exactly right away. That happens sometimes. But it's been a pretty amazing ride the last two months. Switched our lineup up, and we played pretty much with the same lineup for the last two months. And we've gotten better and better. It's been very fun to watch.

The team works very hard at improving. I hope you'll see in the arena tomorrow night we have a team that loves to have fun when they play as well, and we're looking forward to it.

We know the teams here are awesome. We played Minnesota already. And we're just looking forward to it. So thank you.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Kathryn, prevailing logic years ago was freshmen didn't just come in and play and be such integral parts. Could you tell us a little bit about how you were ready when you came into Stanford, maybe through your high school and club, and what you've been prepared for?
KATHRYN PLUMMER: Yeah. My club team was really great and the system that we had at Tstreet was awesome for me. I had Hayley, I played with her, and just the people I've been able to surround myself with have been great.

High school, I was always like the leader ever since I was a freshman, so (indiscernible) through that. And I've had experience with the USA, so I had to be in big roles to do that.

So coming into Stanford, it was an adjustment but I've had experience with it so it wasn't such a shock.

Q. Inky, your thoughts about all these, as the old lady of the team and all these babies coming in and doing so well?
INKY AJANAKU: My thoughts about them doing so well? I'm thrilled. They're doing amazing. Well, preseason, when we had our first practice, we came in and we saw what the freshmen could do. We were blown away by the talent. They're absolutely talented. And I think they're so successful because they bring a lot of maturity to the game of volleyball.

They might not be super mature outside the game of volleyball, but their maturity level during the game is very impressive. And I feel like a lot of freshmen who are pushed to carry a load on their team come in with a lot of talent and not a lot of maturity and that's why they are successful.

I think what's interesting about our freshmen and what's amazing, what's allowed them to be so successful, is the level of maturity and effort they put into their game and the process of getting better.

Q. Morgan, can you talk a little bit about your position and do you come in -- you didn't play libero in high school, am I right?

Q. Talk about playing the position. Is that the position you've always wanted, and what are some of the things that people might not understand about the position?
MORGAN HENTZ: Well, you're right. I played outside hitter almost my entire life in club and high school. It was definitely an adjustment changing to just being a libero, because you're used to being able to put the ball away and maybe controlling the game a little more.

But by playing libero I learned that you can control the game, well, help control the game in a different way. And a lot of that has to do with serve/receive. And I've learned a lot of new things since I've been at Stanford about reading the serve, which I never even thought about before.

But I really like the role I have now. And it was definitely an adjustment. But thanks to my teammates, I was able to transition in it.

Q. Inky, can you kind of even put in perspective kind of your journey? I mean you probably weren't expecting to be up here with these freshmen. Got hurt, it changed the trajectory of your career a little bit. And the other night you were down 2-0 thinking it might be over, and yet here you are another Final Four. Can you kind of put that all in perspective?
INKY AJANAKU: Yeah, I haven't really reflected on it for a while. We've been pretty busy with finals. But thinking about it now, it's an it's amazing journey. It was a really tough journey, really exciting.

But I wouldn't have wanted to do it any other place. I came back to play college volleyball again this year because I was at Stanford and because I knew I was coming back to a great support system.

And the people who believed that I could still be the player I wanted to be after recovery. And that in itself is super important coming back from an injury is just having people around you who can believe in you when you don't have enough strength and confidence to believe in yourself.

And I think that's the greatest thing is throughout this journey, the first three years, I always had people around me who said, hey, you could really be an impact player. Like, if you focus on the process and you understand how to get better in the gym, like, you can be someone great.

When you have people around you telling you that over and over again, it really lifts you up in the times where you're struggling or you're plateauing in your game. To have people around you after you go through something traumatic and you kind of don't really know, like, how you stand as a player anymore, and you kind of have your identity taken from you, it really lifts you up to believe that you can put in the work to become the player that you still want to be.

Q. Kathryn, there's a tweet where it looks like Inky's interviewing you and telling you that you're the national freshman of the year. What are your thoughts about being the national freshman of the year?
KATHRYN PLUMMER: That was a surprise, definitely. I'm honored to be the national freshman of the year. I know there's a lot of people in the class that are very deserving of it. And I'm just so humbled to be it.

And Inky surprised me, that was just classic our team because we're just such goofballs and it was the perfect way to find out.

Q. Have you played with or are you friends with any of the other freshmen like maybe Molly Haggerty or other freshmen around the country?
KATHRYN PLUMMER: Yeah, the first time I met Molly was this time last year when we were here for the All-American Under Armour thing. She's an awesome girl. Lexi Hart from Minnesota, I've played with her before. Couple of girls from UCLA, I played club with. I know people in the volleyball world, especially the freshmen. I'm very fortunate to have the freshmen I have on my team.

Q. I'm wondering from you guys we talked to two other teams today that had been to the Final Four. So they knew all the additional stuff that went with it. So from the players' side, how are you guys adjusting with this media availability that you wouldn't have if you came to Columbus just to play Ohio State? How are you guys handling that?
INKY AJANAKU: Our bench is loving it. They're finally getting the platform that they deserve. If you guys have time I would definitely take a look at the bench during our game. They're working on some new cheers.

I mean, coming to the Final Four is different. My first time, it was overwhelming. The media attention and just the attention in general that they're giving this game. But I think we talked a lot about just recognizing that it's still a volleyball game.

We've played 30-some throughout the season. We've played hundreds throughout our career. We know how to play volleyball. And I think if we focus in on that we'll be okay.

MORGAN HENTZ: Yeah, basically I echo everything that Inky says. I mean, it is a little distracting with all the cameras everywhere. But honestly, it is a volleyball game, and we're going to do our best to give it everything we have and be focused on the game.

Q. Kathryn, can you talk when you go up against somebody who really knows how to dig the ball, like a libero, how frustrating is that?
KATHRYN PLUMMER: Well, I experience that every day in practice with this one. It allows you to find different ways to score. That's one thing I've learned, especially at Stanford, there's so many ways to score and you can do it in so many ways.

If a libero like Morgan is digging me off the court, you have to find new shots, new ways to have an impact on the game.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach.

Q. First thoughts about Kathryn being the national freshman of the year?
COACH DUNNING: You know, she's had a pretty amazing year. I think one of the things that people recognized is that the first 40 percent of our season she was playing opposite and did a great job over there. That's where she's played her whole career.

And we had two injuries on our team, and we had to change our lineup and switch her from a 6-2 to a 5-1, and we had to figure out who it was we were going to move. It was going to be someone who hadn't played left side before.

We moved Kathryn because she has such a high volleyball IQ. She had a great platform. She hadn't been passing until this point in the season. She really hasn't on any team for a long period of time.

And she's just been amazing. I mean, from the first day we switched in the middle of a match against Arizona to a 5-1, and from the very first moment she just took to it and did a great job.

And the passing role is a big one. To be a primary passer and not have trained to do that it's not an easy job.

And she's just gotten better every single week. And so there are other people on our team that have adjusted. Jenna stepping in and setting a 5-1 instead of a 6-2 at that point. But Kathryn has done a great job and had a huge effect on our team.

So to do it in two different ways on a team is crazy. That doesn't happen very often. And especially to do it that well. She's a force. And so I'm really happy for her but she's a very good player.

Q. What I was talking about with them before about being a freshman, if I told you 10 years ago you're going to go to the Final Four and you'd be starting four freshmen, it just didn't happen.
COACH DUNNING: Very rarely. Inky's group she came into high school with -- Madi, Jordan and Brittany -- they all started the same kind of thing. And we lost in the round to come to the Final Four. So I don't know if there's, historically, if there's been another group.

But this is pretty remarkable for this group of people to have handled the setting in Wisconsin last weekend in Madison with -- down two and in front of 6,000 people dressed in red, which we convinced ourselves those were Stanford fans.

And to handle the situation, and they clearly did, just great performances. They can handle it.

Q. Just obviously with your experience being, I'm pretty sure the most veteran coach here, do you think that that has helped you guide such a young team. And is there any specific experience you've had in the past that made you prepared to lead a team starting four freshmen to the Final Four?
COACH DUNNING: That's a hard question. Yes, I'm experienced. That's one of the things that happens to you as you get older in life. Coached a long time, so I have a lot of things built up.

And I think one of the things that you find out is that there's not a way to do things the longer you coach, that you have to be who you are, and you use your experiences to figure out how to coach each team, because they're all different.

And so it didn't take very long with this group to realize that they're goofy, that they just like to have fun all the time. Inky's like that. So she fits right in as a leader, but she adds the Inky serious side to it where she's driven and will drive the team.

But I think for me the experience of understanding that we can be different, and that perhaps letting the group be different, letting them be who they are right now because they are -- they just have fun all the time playing on and around the court probably was an experiential thing that might have helped me decide some things that I've decided along the way.

But one thing, when you do have experience, you have some stuff up there in your memory bank and you can kind of figure out how this group should operate. And we have a pretty good way about us right now. It's really fun to be around them, a really fun group to coach.

Q. I know you guys took on Minnesota in the second game of the season. So is that something that you go back and look at that film, or are they too different of a team now to really even worry about the early season? Or is that something that you guys are still going to kind of look back at and see things that worked then that you might be able to try tomorrow?
COACH DUNNING: That's a good one. It's really valuable having that experience of seeing them in person playing against them, understand how their great slide hitters work. We've experienced trying to block them. Understanding how good their two outsides are. And they're really good at what they do.

They play with so few errors. If you can feel that because you played them, it adds to what you know. Everybody else you just know on tape. It's like in our conference we play a team twice, first round, second round. First round you kind of know them from the past but not really.

The second time around you've actually experienced them. So they're different but we are so much more different than we were the first time we played them.

That they might not even recognize us except it's kind of the same jerseys. So it's a very valuable experience having played them.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about the libero position in volleyball, how it's involved in the game and how important it's become? And then if you could talk a little bit about Morgan?
COACH DUNNING: Sure. We went through an era where we switched to rally scoring. The net serve, substitution numbers, so many different things that were big. And for me by far the biggest change in our game was the libero. Changed the women's game. Changed the men's game.

It made it -- the women's game is so exciting because of the rallies, because we can now just hit rockets and the libero adds to the ability to continue the rally. There's two quarterbacks on the court now instead of one. The setter was always the primary personality leader/central figure, and now there are two because the libero is like that, only in a very aggressive, not personally, but just their nature of playing defense is so aggressive, that they add to the team in that way.

So I think it's the most dramatic change we've had in our game, and I'm still so excited that it occurred, giving Morgan a chance to be in the position she's in.

Morgan is, in my mind, as her coach, is ridiculously good. At her age right now, the things that she can do, she's the -- one of the things that defines a great libero is range. How much court you can cover. And she covers a gigantic piece of landscape.

She has, like everybody else, she has things about the game to learn. She has more to learn about passing, about her involvement in that, and she runs our system on the court.

If you watch her, she's in charge of our passing system, which is pretty cool to have a freshman do that. She's becoming a better server. She's understanding setting better.

Morgan is very, very competitive. She has a lot of fun, but there's no messing around between the lines. The very first play of our first practice in August, she dug a ball that the rest of the people went, oh my gosh, she's going to try harder than all of us try on every play, and we are going to have to change.

So that was probably a pretty big thing for our team to realize right there. And she has done it every drill of every practice since then and every game. And so that attitude she brings is just marvelous. And, you know, she's a great addition to our team in a lot of ways. She's a tremendous player already.

Q. [Question off microphone] ?
COACH DUNNING: Thank you. I realize that I'm a senior member. That's for sure.

Q. You mentioned a moment ago that you've enjoyed being around this team. You've been on the road since the middle of last week. Has that changed at all, that sentiment at all?
COACH DUNNING: Inky made a great comment the other night in the locker room after we had won the match with Wisconsin. She said everybody be patient with each other. We've been together for five days and we have a lot more ahead of us.

So just be patient with one another. We're going to get to know each other too much in the next seven days. But there's no worry there at all. They're amazing. They just like to have fun. I just have to sit back because they just make me laugh all the time.

Inky is a crack-up, but so is the whole team. It's pretty fun. We're not tired of each other yet.


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