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December 16, 2016

John Dunning

Kelsey Humphreys

Inky Ajanaku

Columbus, Ohio

THE MODERATOR: This is Stanford's fifth championship match appearance and first since 2008, Cardinals looking to win its seventh national title and it's first since 2004.

Joined by head coach John Dunning and student athletes Inky Ajanaku and Kelsey Humphreys.

Coach, thoughts on tomorrow night's match?

COACH DUNNING: I think to start with, I don't have anything to say. We're very excited, but we talked about it a lot last night. I'll just pass it on to the athletes right now.

Q. After your learning experience last year, I'm sure you've been asked a million times; that you weren't able to play and maybe gave you a chance to do some other things, watch the game from a different perspective, work with some of the younger teammates. How might that injury, which initially was devastating, I'm sure, helped you get to where you are right now?
INKY AJANAKU: Yeah, I sat on the bench. I got to sit next to Tyler Taylor who did a lot of our servings. I just grew in appreciation for the strategy of the game and how big of an impact serving can really help the blockers. Not something that I appreciated before.

And being able to see that, see how that impacted the game last year, helped me focus, especially the freshmen this year. Right now, all you could think is your serve. All you can think about is your pass. Even if I'm not doing it, if I can help them focus on that, I know it sets us up for success.

Q. Inky, obviously your guys height and defense has got a lot of press over the past couple days, so just how much of an asset do you guys think that is?
INKY AJANAKU: A huge asset. Especially our defense, Morgan is a anyone gentleman in the back row, can make some amazing plays and is really spectacular to watch. And it's really easy to block balls when you only have to block a certain part of the court and Morgan takes up the other half. So that combination together is what's made us successful and hopefully it will continue to make us successful.

Q. Kelsey, everybody talks about Stanford's size and the block and everything, but Morgan and UCONN beauty a whole lot, particularly last night, I think you had 17 digs and made some great defensive plays. How does that work together with the block defense in terms of making Stanford very hard to fall down against?
KELSEY HUMPHREYS: Yeah, I think the block makes it pretty easy for the defenders to know where to stand and they make our job a lot easier by giving us like a specific part of the court to defend.

And after that, it's just a matter of will and desire and how much you want that point and how much you want the match and so we are all working together, and I think the best part about our team is we are working for each other, and that's what makes it so easy to play together.

Q. Inky, was there any particular time in the season when you thought, okay, really, this is something we can't do -- we can be a National Championship team. Because it's tough when you have the youngsters and you have some of the losses you guys had. Was there someplace in the season that really clicked for you, or was it really not until this really happened that you guys sort of recognized you could do it?
INKY AJANAKU: I've seen glimpses of it all year. We had the talent in the beginning but we didn't have the consistency. A lot of people are saying, wow, you guys got together really quick, you got really talented. But we had those players all year and we were not surprised about I them.

But our ability to mature mentally and keep that as a consistent play, that's what we've been waiting for, and we knew we were capable of it. I'm pretty sure we all knew we were capable of it by preseason. We were just waiting when it was going to happen and how much work we have to put in and how much belief in ourselves to we have to manufacture, because obviously the scores weren't giving us that belief.

But especially in that Wisconsin match, there was a look in everyone's eyes, and I was like, we are ready now. Like we have gone through -- have finally gotten through the woods and we are finally ready to be the team that we knew we could always be.

Q. For both of you, kind of building after that, with your time winding down at Stanford, how special would this National Championship be?
KELSEY HUMPHREYS: I think it's special any year, but for whatever reason, when you're a senior and it's your last year, it feels that much more amazing. I'm really lucky to be able to spend it with such amazing teammates and to be given this opportunity to play with them. I'm so excited to go out with them tomorrow.

INKY AJANAKU: I second those sentiments.

COACH DUNNING: Doesn't really matter how much talent or how much experience or anything you have if you -- to play at this level, to play the amazing teams we're playing. If you don't have a good team chemistry, if you don't have a good feeling of team, because of the sport that we play volleyball, such a small court, you affect each other so much; that if you don't have good team chemistry, it's almost impossible to win.

The two of them had a remarkable amount to do with our team chemistry. We have 12 freshmen and sophomores total, and there are so many cool things about them. They have so much energy sometimes; I have to leave the room because it's overwhelming me and there are other times I just sit and smile and it's just a huge part of our team that everybody is contributing to, which makes team sports more fun when everybody has something invested and it's part of them.

And the two of them have a huge amount to do with that, and I think I would like to thank them. It's pretty awesome.

Q. When you were recruiting in the last few years, were you looking specifically to build a team that was this big, so to speak? Is this the biggest you've ever had or did it just come together that way because, you know, the way that recruiting sometimes comes together?
COACH DUNNING: I think we'll go on record with tall or long. But no, that's really hard to do. I mean, the way that -- my plan for our program in any given moment is to come up and recruit to some degree the best athletes, students, that we can find.

The cycle seems to be different all the time. We have some years where this next year we only have one scholarship athlete coming into our program. This last year, we had six people join our program. And so it goes in cycles.

We just got lucky that the people that were interested in our program, Kathryn Plummer, Audriana Fitzmorris, yes, they are pretty tall. But you know, that's an advantage. There's no doubt about it.

The other thing is they are also really athletic and really versatile, which is cool, which means there's a lot of good that's happened in their life to make them good. I think they have had great coaches. They have had great experience behind them. And so we, like on one play, we'll have Audri hit on the left, have her hit on the middle, hit on the right and then hit a slide. It's rare to find someone like that at 6-6 and they are not just tall. They are good tall.

Q. With 15 years at Pacific and now 15 at Stanford, so 32 years on the West Coast. What do you think in terms of the growth of the rest of the country? Last year we had all the central time zone teams in. It's becomes, it seems to me, like harder and harder to win this championship because the rest of the country has grown with the sport and caught up somewhat with the West Coast. Is that an accurate statement?
COACH DUNNING: I'm a very lucky person. I started -- I became a volleyball coach because Title IX passed and everything was being implemented in the mid 70s, and we had a team in my high school and we never had a coach and we never had a team before. Because of Title IX, I was asked to be a volleyball coach at that point and I got it going.

So I got going in the sport, and I've seen it from like the very embryo kind of stage, at least on the college and high school scene, through all the way up till now, and it's remarkable. It doesn't surprise me at all the parity we have right now and how gigantic the sport is compared to what it was a short time ago. Because I've always had passion for and felt that it's just an amazing sport, and it's an amazing spectator sport. And once people got to see how good it was, what a good team sport it is; that it's very teamy for kids to learn in a team situation, then more and more family lies wanted their kids to be involved in that.

To have it grow like it is, where there are good junior programs all over the country that are huge, that are producing great athletes; there are way more than enough players now in the country to make all the teams good.

And so my first year as a college coach, I looked at the schedule when I showed up on campus and I really thought there were only six matches that we could lose. And now, we could lose every match, and that's ridiculous. That's what's cool. That's why you walk out on to the court and see a good match every time you walk in and watch volleyball.

Sorry, that was a very long answer.

Q. Can you talk about how Kathryn Plummer's role has changed this year, given the circumstances of some injuries and different needs and sort of take us through the season with her?
COACH DUNNING: Sure. When we recruited Kathryn, the first time I watched her play I think she was 14 and she was very tall at that point, as well, very good in 14 and unders. She was setting and playing an opposite. She has great hands. Pretty natural move to have her do that. That's like maybe the future national team setter right there, to be a huge international blocking setter, and so she's done that her whole life. I've never seen her in any other role and she has probably done it a few times.

Last summer, she joined the team to go to AAUs I think after JO's (ph) were around that time, and a player had left the team and they asked her to join the team and pass and hit left side. And so she had a little teeny window of opportunity.

The coach actually called me and said, "I don't know what you're going to do with Kathryn when she gets there. She probably has a role set for her already. But I just watched her do this and I think she could do it for you." So it was in my mind a little bit, just a tiny little window of opportunity to see it.

And then Hayley, terrific left-side hitter, is out for the season. Michaela stepped in for her, had something happen, out for the season. You look around in the gym and you go, okay, who is going to hit left for us and Morgan said, "I will". That's all she did when she was at high school or club.

I said, "No, if you get hurt playing left side for us, everyone will kill me because you're that good of a libero." We asked Kathryn, and she said, sure.

At the start, you could see discomfort. When you watch someone pass, if they are really good, they look comfortable doing it, and she didn't look comfortable, even though she's pretty good at it. She has a great platform. She never blocked over there and she's learning it step-by-step. It kind of happened in a progression, where building up to this point where she's playing a very big role for us and something she's never done before since two months ago.

Q. Kathryn played opposite when Hayley was --
COACH DUNNING: Yeah, first two months of the season, she was playing opposite, playing three rotations because we were running a 6-2 and when those two got -- we kept the system and Michaela went into the lineup for Hayley on the left and passed. Two weeks later, we had to say, okay, what are we going to do. And we just like decided to change to this.

So Kathryn's flexibility, I guess, or adaptability in the game and her knowledge, allowed it to happen. Otherwise, we were a little bit out of options except maybe Morgan.

Q. Could you talk a little about what it might be like to be on the other end of a Kathryn Plummer kill?
COACH DUNNING: Yeah, that's a good one. Logan had a little bit in her that I thought was like Kathryn. Logan I think hit -- Logan Tom, who I coached for two years, hit a lot of floaters and diggers, and when someone hits spin-out at you, you can kind of tell where it's going. When they hit floater at you, it makes you kind of flinch. And Kathryn has a little bit of that in her. She's a little bit like a player that we coached in the mid to late 80s, Cynthia Barboza, who hit it so hard that if you beat the block, it might beat the bigger because she just can bounce it off of people.

And so Kathryn is a little bit of a combination of those. She hits some floaters that are scary and it comes really fast. So we have to find openings for her to be able to get it around the block.

But she hits a very -- has a different sound. It's a very heavy ball.

Q. What does it sound like? Anything you can -- analogy you have?
COACH DUNNING: You know, when you list into Inky when she hits, it's like a snap, kind of a sharp sound. When Kathryn hits it, it's kind of like a thump and you can tell that there's more speed on it.

Q. Kind of piggybacking a little bit off, you said about the depth of the game. I mean, there was a time where you almost expected Stanford was going to be in the Final Four and National Championship game, it just became automatic. Has it been a little difficult for you the last few years that those expectations are always there but it's been a little bit harder to make it? I know you've had some incredibly tough regional finals, for example, a tough second-round loss last year. From your personal standpoint as a coach, was there a time when it was really frustrating because the expectations were so high?
COACH DUNNING: If you're going to have some kind of success, you probably hate losing. And so there's no question that that's within me. I mean, I don't sleep very well afterwards. And at my age, it revolves around some different things; I just want our athletes to have a chance to be successful and it kills me when they don't have that chance.

You can't flinch away from things like that, though, or shy away from them, excuse me. Stanford gives us the resources to have a chance to be great, and that's all I could ever ask for in any job I ever had. The UOP gave me those chances when I was there and Stanford gives me the chance to be successful, and it's up to us to go out and find the players who fit at Stanford who will be happy there, who are good enough to be good.

If we've been in, whatever the percentage of the Final Fours in, we've been in 20 -- this is our 20th one, that's a pretty high percentage. That's a lot of success. In the last six or seven years, we haven't been here as much, and yes, that's frustrating, just because I want the program to succeed at the level that all the people who came before set the bar at.

But it is harder than it's ever been because there are so many good teams. One of the issues is there's so many tipping points for things: Injuries affect things a lot; your conference affects it a lot; and then who you get paired with. We were in the Final Four two years ago, had a great season. I think the year before that, we played Penn State in one of the best regional matches in the history of the game in Kentucky and then they went on to win the Final Four.

So we've missed a couple chances because we ran into some teams that were amazing. Proud of it, but yeah, a little frustrated when it doesn't happen.

THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you. Good luck tomorrow.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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