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December 15, 2016

Inky Ajanaku

John Dunning

Jenna Gray

Kathryn Plummer

Columbus, Ohio

Stanford - 3, Minnesota - 1

THE MODERATOR: We're joined here by the Stanford Cardinal -- head Coach Dunning, student-athletes Inky Ajanaku, Kathryn Plummer and Jenna Gray. Coach, an opening statement..

COACH DUNNING: Well, I'm happy for the three sitting up here. They did a wonderful job today. I want to congratulate Minnesota. They're a great team. Matches like that can turn on one play.

I thought there were a few key ones that this one turned on, went our way. I thought in the third set they were unbelievably scrappy to come back and win that set.

But I thought we were tough. People have been talking about our freshmen all week, about whether they're going to play like freshmen or not. And what I say is, yeah, they played like freshmen. They're really good. They're poised for freshmen, and they can handle it and they're continuing to learn and handle it better. Looking forward to Saturday. I mean this is unbelievable stuff.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student-athletes.

Q. Kathryn, I think it was 19-17 in the fourth game and you went all the way across or you read the slide to one of the Tapp twins and made a great block. And that may have been one of the plays you were talking about. Can you describe what you saw and how that half played out?
KATHRYN PLUMMER: Yeah, a couple points prior John told me act like you're another person and then dive in even more. So I was like, okay, I'm going to do this this time because it wasn't working before.

So I just had that in mind and I knew that my team needed that block.

Q. It seemed like you guys had done a great job of scouting the slide. That's a big weapon for Minnesota. You guys pretty much took it away. Can you talk about that?
KATHRYN PLUMMER: Yeah, this whole week we had finals. So yesterday and today we really locked down on scouting. And that's been our Achilles' heel this year, stopping the right-side attack, and that's one thing we were really focusing on. And we knew their speed was really fast and they were really productive with it. So we were really focused on that.

Q. Inky, can you just speak about, you know, do you feel like teams have maybe forgotten about what you're capable of. Seems like you're getting healthier and healthier and seems like maybe people forgot what you're able to do on the court. We're starting to see it this postseason. Can you talk about that?
INKY AJANAKU: Yeah, I do feel like I'm getting healthier throughout the season, which is something really incredible to say. So kudos to our athletic training staff. They've worked really hard with me, have me in there every day trying new things to get me healthy.

Honestly, I can't really control what other people think of how I played. Mostly how I think of myself. I've gotten more confidence throughout the season in my body and my play.

So I'm happy that I'm peaking and our team is peaking at the right time. But I've got good control. Thank you.

Q. Jenna and Kathryn, kind of put this into perspective, as true freshmen to come into this program and now you're playing for a national championship. I know you guys have played in some big games and maybe you felt ready for this one but maybe not as big as the one you had tonight. Just kind of talk about the emotions through the night. And will you ever realize what you guys have done as true freshmen?
KATHRYN PLUMMER: I think right now it doesn't seem real or set in, but Inky has talked to us a lot that it's another match. If we put too much around it then we'll feel a lot of pressure. And there is pressure, but we've got to accept it and keep playing like another match.

JENNA GRAY: Yeah, I echo everything she said, but all the classes are talking to us about how many distractions there are with this whole championship experience and that's kind of a big thing to take on as a freshman. But I think we're doing a really good job at it. And like Jenna said, we're just playing volleyball. That's what we love and just playing one set at a time.

Q. Inky, for the last three sets of the last match and then this match tonight, pretty stout stretch. Where does that rank during your career at Stanford?
INKY AJANAKU: You know, I played with a lot of great players, a lot of great different teams. Every experience playing for Stanford, with Stanford on your shirt, is incredible. And the talent on this team being able to play with everyone is amazing. And the heart in their eyes is something that is really rare in volleyball, when everyone seems like they're on the same page working for the same goal.

And I've only seen it, that amount, in everybody's eyes a handful of times of the teams I've been on and it's really special. It inspired me.

Q. Kathryn, can you guys just talk about how much of an incredible asset your guys' height advantage is against these other teams?
KATHRYN PLUMMER: Yeah, we definitely have an advantage in that aspect of the game. I think our average is like 6'4", something ridiculous like that. But it's definitely an advantage at this level of volleyball.

And we can handle the speed of the game when teams go fast and we can handle, definitely handle the speed when they go slow. Because we're big and we love that game.

But I think that we're just good volleyball players even if we're big. And it doesn't really matter.

Q. Inky, people talk about your height and the block, but it seems like when you guys don't block the ball, Morgan makes an awful lot of big plays back there. Can you tell us a little bit about how special she is as a libero and as a freshman libero?
INKY AJANAKU: Yeah, it's really easy to be a great blocker when you only have to take up a certain part of the court. And Morgan allows that for us.

Our height is really important, but when we have to take up just a small sliver because we know she can dig everything to our left is really special. And I feel like the libero position is often overlooked, but she's doing some acrobatic stuff in the back every single time, and she's giving it her all every single time, and she takes every dig she doesn't get take personally. It gives us more responsibility to take every ball that we don't touch personally when she's giving it her all.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions for Coach.

Q. Same question I asked Inky, considering where you were in the Wisconsin match, in that situation against them and how good Minnesota is and how good they've been all season, can you quantify the stretch right now? Because you've been at this a long time and had a lot of success, but that's really big.
COACH DUNNING: Yeah, we're playing some amazing teams. And the level of volleyball is pretty amazing. I would say that we're having some players just step up and do things at a really high level. Kelsey Humphreys tonight, 17 digs. She just was amazing.

She's in a completely different role than she was earlier in the season, and she's taken to it and did a great job.

And you know you can kind of look at how several different players have stepped up in situations because Kathryn carries a big load for us. And when you get right down to it Inky is just going to make plays.

The other thing I think happens is until this point -- we'll see what happens on Saturday -- we think that some of the things we do as a sum can get to people in the long run. Against Wisconsin we just were hoping we were playing long enough to have it happen. It almost didn't get there.

But our block gets to people usually after a while, and I thought that's what happened tonight. The block was involved early, went away and our block got back into it.

And I think Audrey is doing an amazing job as an entry into this level even though she's very experienced blocking, because there's so much to see. It's so fast. The Minnesota offense is ridiculously fast. They had some balls that we should have just said, okay, go ahead because we can't block it or dig it.

But Audrey is up to the speed as Inky is. So I think it's a sum effect, and we're getting better. When the team senses that you're on a rise, I think it matters, and our team feels that way and that's the way it's been. It's kind of carrying us forward.

It's like, no, how good can we be next game, not in two weeks, but in the next game? I think that matters?

Q. When we spoke in November, you were reflecting back to a couple of years ago and said, a few years ago we were 28-0 going into the last week of the season and we knew who we were from day one. At that point, just a month ago, you said you were still figuring out who you were. How much has it helped you to have to reinvent yourself biweekly this season in order to handle the pressure and the adjustments in this tournament?
COACH DUNNING: That's a good question. One of the things that happened a couple years ago in Inky's junior year was we ran out of gas. Our schedule through our conference was so hard we had a couple of players who could barely walk at that point, including Inky. So we ran out of gas and Penn State handed us our lunch.

Right now that's not happening. And our team has a lot of energy. One of the -- and we have Inky's spirit. I think that matters a lot. She's really tough right now and being an example and leader for everyone.

One of the things I've always believed in is the longer you play together is a chance for you to play better and better and better. And that's weird for us. We've been playing together for like a month and a half now in this lineup.

Kathryn Plummer has been playing left-side hitter as primary passer for a month and a half or so. So there is -- it's like this new exuberance kind of thing that we have with our lineup. I don't know why we can play together as well as we can except there's just really good volleyball players.

So I think it's like an energy thing that's been building. A little bit in here, a little in here. And we're not beat up right now. We're good. We're really healthy. So just looking forward to another one.

Q. I wanted to ask you your perspective on the fact that the match was on ESPN. You probably didn't coach any different because of it, but I'm sure you know the significance of it finally getting to the main network and then having such a great entertaining match. Just some thoughts about that.
COACH DUNNING: I love volleyball. And when I started 42 years ago coaching volleyball, it wasn't like this. The first Final Four I went to wasn't like this. It's grown and grown and grown.

And the people that are involved in volleyball for a long time know it's just an amazing, elegant, fast, athletic, strategy-based sport. And the more people get exposed to it the more they'll love it.

Having the sport rise up over the years and, I think, taking a big jump right now is huge for volleyball and all the people that can experience this amazing thing. It's such a small court with so many people close together, you have to be so good with one another that close together. The ball travels 70 miles an hour. It's so fast.

How could you not love the game? And how many more people are going to love it? I'm excited. It's just going to explode now, I think.

Q. Can you just talk about how you game plan and then defend in game against a player like Sarah Wilhite?
COACH DUNNING: Yeah, I think we were awful at it. She had 25 kills. But she also had 70 sets. And so I guess I didn't mean to exactly say it that way. I was kidding a little bit.

She's just really good. And we knew we had to stop her. We know they went to their outsides a lot. We tried to serve them tough to try to take them outside of their slide attack, and all it made them do is set she and number 19 more and more and more.

I think after time our block started to get to her a little bit, and it caused some mistakes, caused them to hit some easier balls to us that we could transition better. And when we can transition back to our middles, we're tough. But she was just bombing and hitting balls in and through our block a lot.

And I have no idea what we'd do if we kept going because they hit so many balls cross court inside our block for kills, and that's all we seemed to talk about. But she just kept hitting it sharper and sharper and sharper. She's a great player. So at the end I thought we improved on what we were doing but she was carrying them for a long time.


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