New Stanford women’s coach Kevin Hambly’s acclimation to the Palo Alto, Calif., school is coming along just fine, thank you.
“I love everything about it,” Hambly said at the recent USA Volleyball girls’ junior national championships in Minneapolis. “I’m learning a lot. Stanford is a different place. The players are great and so is the university. It’s a very laid-back place that achieves at a high level and that makes it very unique. It suits my sensibility.”
The 44-year-old Hambly, whose official title at Stanford is director of women’s volleyball, took over for retired coaching great John Dunning in January after an eight-year run at Illinois where he went 178-86 and led the Fighting Illini to the 2011 NCAA title match. Hambly was named the 2011 VolleyballMag.com women’s college coach of the year.
“We’ve been busy,” he said. “We had the beach thing going on in the spring and we put systems in place that will help us get a good start for the fall.”
Hambly inherits a team that returns numerous players who played key roles in the Cardinal’s seventh NCAA title win last December in Columbus, Ohio.
Sophomores-to-be Jenna Gray, Kathryn Plummer, Morgan Hentz and Audriana Fitzmorris each played in 129 sets last year as rookies, as did redshirt senior-to-be right-side hitter Merete Lutz. The 6-foot-6 Plummer was an NCAA all-tournament selection, the AVCA freshman of the year and a VolleyballMag.com All-American second-team pick. Gray also made the NCAA all-tournament team and was a VBM All-American honorable-mention pick, while the 6-8 Lutz has been on a VBM All-American team in 2014, 2015 and last year.
“We are a long way from being good right now,” Hambly said. “The good thing is we can play. We just have some things to figure out. There is plenty of talent here. We should be able to compete. We have very high IQs here on the court and off the court. That’s fun to work with.”
Hambly has been particularly impressed with Hentz, who as a freshman libero made the NCAA all-tournament team and was a 2016 VolleyballMag.com All-American honorable-mention.
“As good as people think she is, she’s great,” Hambly said. “She’s even better than I thought.”
Hambly also is encouraged by the versatility of his roster.
“We have three or four kids who can play two or three positions,” he noted. “Kathryn Plummer, and Audriana and Merete can play multiple positions. It’s fun to have all those pieces and figure out where to go with them. I enjoy that.”
Hambly’s team will be tested early and often this fall. The Cardinal will see Long Beach State and new coach Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer right off the bat at the Long Beach State tournament Aug. 25. Stanford faces Penn State and Texas A&M a week later in College Station, Texas.
The following weekend Hambly heads back to Illinois for the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge with matches against his former team and Penn State once again.
“We see Penn State twice early and they should be in the running on a national level,” he said. “We go back to Illinois and that will be interesting. We’re playing Joy and Long Beach and that will be fun. I’m also learning about the Pac-12. Every team in the Pac-12 is good. This is a good, challenging schedule for us.”
Hambly said the team’s spring training did not start until May because of the overlap with the college beach season.
“We’re trying to navigate that,” said Hambly, in a refrain that is becoming more common around the country with programs trying to balance the spring beach season and the indoor spring season. “Andrew (Stanford beach coach Fuller) and I agree he needs more beach-only players. We need more time to work through something like this and that’s all part of the transition.”
Hambly’s staff features longtime Cardinal assistant Denise Corlett (his associate head coach), along with Illinois transplant and former Dartmouth head coach Erin Lindsey. Director of volleyball operations Amy Brown also returns and Hambly added recent UCLA graduate Taylor Formico, cousin of former Stanford star Kerri Walsh Jennings, as a volunteer assistant. Formico was a 2016 VBM All-American first-team pick last year as a libero and was the Pac-12 libero of the year.
So overall the transition from Champaign to Palo Alto couldn’t be going any better for Hambly.
“I am having a blast and my family is having a blast,” he said. “My family loves it here.”