|Browse by Sport
|Find us on
December 17, 2016
Stanford - 3, Texas - 1
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with Coach Dunning, student-athletes Kathryn Plummer, Kelsey Humphreys and Inky Ajanaku.
Coach, what's the title mean?
COACH DUNNING: I don't know. We'll -- have to settle in, I guess, a little bit. I'm really happy for the athletes on our team, the three that are sitting up here. It's been a while. We've been in some Final Fours and not brought home the trophy. I would like to congratulate Texas, and I'm sure all four of us up here would like to congratulate Texas on a great season. And I'd like to hear what they have to say.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Inky, after what you went through last season, what does it mean to have this be the way you go out?
INKY AJANAKU: Man, I'm excited. I've been wanting this for a really long time and it wasn't exactly the way I thought it was going to be and, you know what, that's life. Life throws a lot of things at you. And it throws a lot of opportunities and a lot of obstacles at you.
It matters how you deal with them and the people you surround yourself with. I was lucky enough to have people who supported me. My mom, Tola, and sister, Kitan, who literally helped me learn to walk again last summer, stayed with me for a whole month taking care of me.
And then the entire Stanford staff -- Andy Choy, Nina, Kaori, working with me every day to get me back healthy and keep me healthy throughout the season, which was a challenge. And when you surround yourselves with people like that, John and everyone on this team, you can face any obstacles that life throws at you. And so I'm really happy.
Q. Kathryn, you've won a gold medal in clubs, 18 open. Gray and Fitz won national championship in high school. I'm sure with this group coming in you felt a national championship in college was possible. To get it done in your first season just tell me how that feels?
KATHRYN PLUMMER: It doesn't really feel right now. So much excitement and so overwhelmed with everything. But the freshman class coming in, we had a lot of expectations for ourselves. And we knew if we kind of went with what Inky said about believing in ourselves and having no doubt that the freshmen on the floor could do that and everyone else could do that. I don't think there was any doubt in our mind that a national championship could be a possibility and now it's real and it's awesome.
Q. Inky you talked about how you physically were able to get back. I want to talk about your emotional state. Last year, that was supposed to be Stanford's year, right? Number one rated class, all these people were going to be seniors. That was going to be your year. Tell me about -- and now you're coming back as a senior with a brand new group of kids, freshmen, tell me about your mental state going from saying that was going to be your year to now unexpectedly probably based on what happened earlier in the year, getting it done?
INKY AJANAKU: The mental side of coming back from this injury was way more strenuous and scary than the physical side. I went through a lot of ups and downs, belief in myself, belief in the situation. I for a long time had thought Stanford volleyball, the Stanford volleyball I knew was with my other classmates, Madi, Jordan, Brittany.
And so coming back, especially from an injury like that to a different type of Stanford volleyball I felt very uncomfortable a lot of the time. It took a really long time throughout the season to believe in myself again. And it was partly because there was amazing freshmen on the court who were able to believe in themselves when they were starting new and starting fresh with college volleyball.
I looked at that and I said it's the same thing as freshman year: If you just believe in yourself and keep going and keep pushing you're going to eventually overcome these obstacles. But I wasn't positive the entire time.
There's a lot of people who were able to believe in me when I wasn't strong enough to believe in myself and I credit a lot to them.
Q. Kelsey, do you have thoughts about what Inky's gone through and appreciation for it now?
KELSEY HUMPHREYS: I have to say that you would never wish that injury on anyone. But I'm so happy to be able to share this with Inky right now and be with her our senior year. And she's one of the strongest individuals I've ever had the pleasure of playing with and knowing. And all the struggle that she's talking about, you would never know by the way she walked in the gym or the way she interacted with any of our teammates.
And she let us believe in ourselves. She's an amazing leader, and I think that's part of the growth she had in her year off. And I am just so humbled to be able to play with her, and so honored to just share this with her.
Q. For you personally, worth it now?
KELSEY HUMPHREYS: It is so worth it.
Q. Kelsey, when you switched your role did you think this was possible? And I guess the second part, your mom's one of the greatest Stanford volleyball athletes in the history of the program. But she never got that national championship and now you have that. Kind of talk about that?
KELSEY HUMPHREYS: Switching my role was never easy. I worked so hard in my four years to be able to be the setter on the court.
But I look back now, I mean, obviously, who can say I have any regrets? We're holding the trophy. But I really turned to my teammates, and I had to make a decision of whether or not -- how I wanted to finish my career and how I wanted my team to remember me, and really just remember what we're working for. Because it's so much bigger than just one individual and one position.
And once I kind of got on board with that, it was easy to come in and work hard every day because we're working hard for each other.
And about my mom, the one thing that she said to me, like, this entire process and my four years is I'm so proud of you. And when we won two days ago she said bring one home for the family. I don't think she -- maybe a little jealous, but to be able to share the Stanford experience with her is something I can't put into words. And I'm really happy to be able to put the Rush name on that trophy.
Q. Inky, Coach Dunning said all along this is all about you guys, but when this guy first won a championship was 31 years ago when they didn't have cell phones. They didn't even have selfies. Talk about what he's meant -- this is his fifth title, and obviously third with Stanford. But what has he meant to Stanford and to this sport?
INKY AJANAKU: I mean, John is one of the people who will continue to look you in the eye and say I will never give up on you. And that is a very rare thing, to have someone who wants you to succeed so much that he will try any method of coaching to make sure that you will succeed in the sport and as a person. And he cares about us as people. He has an incredible volleyball mind.
And he holds us to that standard, to have a great volleyball mind. He makes sure that we understand the game by the time we leave this program.
And I can personally say I've learned so much from him about volleyball, about leadership, about perseverance. We've had a lot of talks at the Grad School of Business and we were just talking about what our vision is and how important vision is so you know where you're going, so you can make the little tweaks here and there because you can see farther beyond people and make sure that everyone's on the right path.
And he had those talks with me last year, and I think he had a great vision for what this year could be. And the fact that he took the time to talk with me about enhancing my leadership role, something I wasn't super excited to do, I was kind of nervous.
That vision and his vision for the people that he coaches is amazing and sets him apart.
Q. Kathryn, could you take us through match point? It was a scramble play. It wasn't exactly how you drew it up, but worked out pretty well you got a big swing there and Kelsey was that your set?
KATHRYN PLUMMER: Yes, it was.
Q. Could you comment, too, on getting actually to set the match point so you were -- yeah, you guys talk about that?
KATHRYN PLUMMER: Well, kind of what was going through our mind was just next point. That's kind of been our thing throughout the whole playoff and pretty much the second half of the season.
And we had like three points lead on them or something like that. But we were just focused on the next point. Texas brought out a great service -- if you rattle Morgan, you know it's a good one.
And then Kelsey had a great set. And I was just willing to do that, working out of system sets a lot. I don't know, but it was just an awesome way to end it because it was kind of -- this is going to sound weird -- but how our season has gone and to end it that way instead of like the smashing kill is kind of just, like, relevant to how we should finish that match.
COACH DUNNING: By the way, she's crying.
KATHRYN PLUMMER: Gone the whole tournament, she cries all the time. We're used to it. They're happy tears.
KELSEY HUMPHREYS: I think what's so great about our hitters and just everyone on the team is there's so much trust. And we know that if we make a bad play that someone's going to be there for us, they have our back. So it wasn't a perfect pass, and I set an out-of-system ball, but no doubt in my mind when Kathryn went up that she was going to get a kill, keep it in play, win the whole match for us.
And, like, she goes up to swing and we're all under her waiting, if she gets blocked we're there for her. And that's something that we've talked about and we've done a lot especially in postseason. It's, like, we have each other's back and we're there for each other. So I knew she had it.
KATHRYN PLUMMER: No. It's a big-girl swing.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations. Questions for Coach.
Q. Game 4 you made a rotation change and had Fitzmorris serving first since you ran off six points. And that was coming off a pretty tough game, 25-18, where they seemed to have figured some things out and have some momentum. Talk about that tactical change and how it played out for you guys.
COACH DUNNING: I think one of the things lots of coaches believe in is not giving your opponent what they want. And so in set 3 we came out with the same rotation. Didn't know how they'd respond after the first two sets. And they completely changed their lineup, different outside hitter, different middle.
And our plan was kind of pushed aside because it was so different. And we were kind of thrown on our heels and didn't respond well and they beat us up.
And what you can't do is leave it the same. And all we did was back rotate two rotations so that we weren't going to change our lineup. We don't have another lineup we were going to use at this point, hopefully. The only thing we could do is get a different matchup. So it did get a different matchup. Audri happened to be going back and she did a great job. She actually dug some great balls in that series of scoring point as well. Tribute to her, she's a good all-around player as well. We just wanted a different matchup. You don't want to give them what they want.
Q. Texas made it this far without one of their best players, Chiaka. Obviously you guys went through something similar without Hayley. How difficult is it for her not to be a part of this? Does part of you feel for her as much as the excitement as well as for the players who are here and winning it?
COACH DUNNING: Of course. I love the group of people who are here. I love Hayley. She's a wonderful person. She's injured and not able to play with us right now. We know she'll be back next season. And kind of every step along the way you go and you look and there's not a 16th jersey. And so that really bothers us. She's keeping in touch with everybody and we wish she was here with us. But she will be back with us next year and that's a really, really good thing.
Q. In 2004 when you won a championship, you won with Bryn Kehoe as your setter. She was a freshman. She was coming off of a high school national championship. She was national player of the year. And she had also been MVP in an open national championship during club volleyball. Jenna Gray had all those attributes as well. Had you ever stopped to consider that? And also tell me about thrusting Jenna Gray into this position to be a setter like you did with Kehoe 12 years ago?
COACH DUNNING: A lot of similarities. We had a tough decision when Bryn was a freshman. There was a setter who was already there and she beat her out. Our season that year didn't go very smoothly either. We lost it a lot and we had a turning point or tipping point right in the middle of the season, and with a match that we played against Washington and we won a miracle match and we didn't lose a match the rest of the way. And Bryn was our leader, our setter.
Jenna, a little later in the process, ended up being our setter. But a lot of similarities. If you're going to be successful in college when you make the jump up and are playing against really, really good teams at this level, and then you're going to play here, she's had good coaches. She's a really, really wonderful athlete.
She's really cagey. She's had lots of success. That gives her a chance to make the jump. Bryn had the same thing. Audri, the same thing. Kathryn, the same thing.
So they're really good players and they've had a lot of things that have added up to they could be ready. But then to have that many of them out there be that poised in that setting, that's a pretty cool thing. They're very special.
Q. Not long after the match ended the kids were off celebrating. You were over by the pole and you went down and put your hands on your knees and kind of looked like to me like you were going to fall out.
COACH DUNNING: Or throw up, yeah.
Q. What were you reflecting on there? Were you just trying to regroup?
COACH DUNNING: You know, it's overwhelming. You put so much into this, and this is just a group that's just fun to be with. And I love being around them. And at that point it was kind of like, oh, my gosh, this is actually real. And it's overwhelming. So I kind of took a deep breath and was separate from people for a second so that I didn't like fall on the floor or cry or throw up or something. It was just overwhelming.
Q. I noticed you went and got that backpack. What was in there that was your primary concern?
COACH DUNNING: My wallet.
No, I don't know why I did that either. I guess I'm not all of good mind and whatever right now because I'm a little overwhelmed. It's just very exciting.
It was just a joy standing watching them celebrate as much as they did, and I know the season wasn't easy. And it was a lot of breakout of things right there like Kathryn, she's very emotional about it.
Q. You mentioned in 2004 earlier. Then you guys were the first time with six losses to win a championship. Now you guys with seven losses, the most losses from a championship team since 1981. Just wondering, when you made that switch and moved Kathryn outside, did you think that that switch is what could do it, or you know what I mean? What did you think that feeling was at that moment? Was it a survival thing, we'll see what happens, or was it like, okay, now we've got what it takes?
COACH DUNNING: The first thing is we're just going to go ahead and lose eight next year (laughter), give us a good chance to win at the end of the season. That's a smart move, I think.
We got to the point where you don't want to get to as a coach, where Hayley's an outside hitter. She had to stop playing. Michaela Keefe is an outside hitter. She had to stop playing. That's who took Hayley's place in our lineup.
And we had to find someone. And Kathryn, last summer, went and played in one of the national championships with another team. They needed a player. And she hit left side and passed, because the coach needed someone and thought she'd have fun doing it. And it's the only time in her life that I know of that she's ever done that.
And he called me and said, you know, if you ever -- you might think this girl could pass in your system, and we didn't have her do that the first half of the season. She played opposite, came out in the back row, we ran a 6-2, and we really had no other choice that was going to -- Morgan Hentz going from libero to outside hitter was probably our next best chance.
And so we -- it's what we had to do. And we just started working on it immediately. And Kathryn is just a really good volleyball player. She has a really heavy arm. You don't know if you can handle the ball control until you get in it and other teams are picking on you serve after serve after serve.
But she's tough. One time we were talking about distractions of playing in the championship, about nervousness; you don't avoid it, you attack it, you realize it's there. And she looked at me and kind of smiled and said, "I don't get, I'm not ever really nervous, Coach." Maybe she has other feelings that she's distracted by.
But there's a lot of good about her. Once we realized what a heavy arm she was on the left, we had to figure out our passing system. But Halland McKenna has been amazing for us this year. She's been amazing in the playoffs. And Morgan Hentz is very special. She's in charge of it even though she's a freshman.
She at one point just -- I mean, she was out there, they were picking on Ivana and they were serving Kathryn. And we have a thing where we just walk passers out, try to lure the server into serving the person. And as they are serving, we walk them out and Morgan walks in.
And we did it a bunch of times tonight. And she's basically passing two-thirds of the court. So that made it easier for Kathryn. But she's the real deal, yeah. And if she hadn't been that good at it, we wouldn't be sitting here.
Q. When you have this many freshmen perform at this kind of level, people look at this and say, wow, how good is Stanford going to be next year? But how tough is it going to be to replace what your seniors bring, and how do you think you guys will be able to do that?
COACH DUNNING: You don't replace. That's one thing I know from coaching a long time. You redo. We're going to have to find who our middle is going to be that will be in the lineup there. But I don't know, it's going to be a little easier than last year.
This year, when we started, we had zero players in the same position that they were in last year during their season. Zero.
Everybody else is doing something new. Merete went from middle to opposite. Halland went from DS -- I mean, libero to DS. So I don't know what next year will bring. And I can barely even think about it. But I would guess everybody should look at us and go we have some good players returning.
Q. How unusual is it to have players the size and physicality of Plummer and Fitzmorris who could make volleyball touches sometimes, stabbies and defensive plays that look maybe almost like a libero? Is that just a gift, or do you do special things in the gym with them?
COACH DUNNING: They're amazing. But that's how much volleyball is changing. My first team, we won the national championship at UOP, and whenever outside hitters -- Julie Maggiano was an amazing athlete. First team All-American, 5'6". That's how much the game has changed. Kathryn Plummer is a foot taller and is a ball control player.
So, yeah, while we're unusual, we're probably the tallest team in the country by a bit. Would we probably say that that's a bit of our future in volleyball? It's amazing. You look at the men's teams, what they were 10 years ago and how many seven-footers are there playing in the men's game now?
So they're very special people at that height, no question.
Q. It dawned on me that we haven't asked you about the match at all. What did you think going in that you had to do to win this thing, and what did your kids do that made it happen?
COACH DUNNING: We showed two nights ago that we were good enough to beat good teams. And we showed it in Wisconsin in a very, very difficult setting.
And so I would guess that it's reasonable for us to think we really had a good chance to win. But you don't know how people are going to react when you get to the race, to the finals. And it's like you go through the prelims in the Olympics and you get to the race and you don't know how people are going to react.
And I thought our freshmen were going to react great. They're goofier than unbelievable, and they were exactly that way before the game.
All they do is sing and dance. And I think they are going to get tired; that we should train more, because they're going to use it all up before the game starts because they're dancing so much. But you kind of roll with some stuff. But that's the way we are.
And you don't know how they're going to react. And we did not react very well at the start of the first set. We were way down. Then they calmed down.
And as soon as we did that and came back in the first set, I thought, okay, we're here, let's just see what Texas has and if we can match it. Because our reaction was good. We were strong enough to handle the situation, or oblivious enough to handle it, whichever it is. (Laughter).
But I think it's strength. I think the four of them are pretty amazing. And I also think we're lucky. It's a combination of Inky, Merete, Kelsey, Ivana. Merete and Ivana, this is their fourth year. They're redshirt juniors, mixed with the freshmen. And Halland, I think it was just a really good mixture.
And that's what teams that end up winning or have a chance to win the championship, that's what it usually is, is a really cool mixture of different ages.
But having that many freshmen, three and a half of the player positions that are out there is freshman, three full-time and one half-time. It's crazy and fun.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports