PITTSBURGH — Stanford is going for No. 9.
The program with the most national titles — eight — swept Minnesota on Thursday night in the semifinals of the NCAA Division I Volleyball Championship and will play Wisconsin on Saturday in the title match.
Kathryn Plummer was nearly unstoppable for Stanford as the senior outside hitter had 26 kills, hit .353, and had an ace, nine digs, and had all five of her blocks in the first set of the 25-19, 25-22, 25-22 victory.
Defending national-champion Stanford, which ran away with the Pac-12 this season, improved to 29-4, while Minnesota, which tied for second in the Big Ten, ended its season 27-6.
Stanford won the 2016 championship, lost in the 2017 semifinals, and then won it all last year. The Cardinal will try to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since Penn State did so in 2013-14.
Plummer had eight kills with no errors in the first set alone when she also had three of her digs and those five blocks. In that first set, Stanford hit .371 and Minnesota .077.
“I think that Wisconsin’s a very balanced team. I think we’re a balanced team. So I think it will be a good head-to-head match,” Plummer said. “Yeah, they’re big and they’re tall and they’re strong. They’re a Big Ten team. That’s usually what you see.
“But I think that we can have opportunities to score with our speed and with our serves, we’ll get them off the net. And I think when they get off the net, then we’ll have some success. So I think that will be one of our game plans.”
For the match, Stanford hit .325. Minnesota, which beat Stanford in September at Penn State and snapped the Cardinal’s 37-match winning streak, hit .164.
“Congratulations to Minnesota on a great season,” Stanford coach Kevin Hambly said. “They’re a great team. We saw them early and they definitely presented some unique challenges.
“And it was a well-fought — it was a tough match. We had to respond to some of their responses when they continued to push and fight, and I thought our team handled that very well and with poise, and we’re excited to move on and have a chance to win another championship.”
Meghan McClure had eight kills and didn’t commit an error in 22 attacks to hit .364. She also had an assist and 15 digs. Audriana Fitzmorris had seven kills and a block, and Madeleine Gates had five kills in 11 errorless attacks, hit .455, and had four blocks, one solo.
Setter Jenna Gray had five kills in seven errorless attempts to hit .714 and had 41 assists, eight digs, and five blocks. And libero Morgan Hentz had a match-high 23 digs and six assists.
“Congratulations to Stanford. They played a great match tonight. And for our group, obviously disappointing for this season to come to an end after so many adventures that we went on together,” Minnesota coach Hugh McCutcheon said.
“But at the end of the day, they were the better team tonight, and we gotta own that. That being said, I think for me personally so much pride in our team and it was one of the greatest seasons that I’ve got to be a part of. So I told them a lot. I told them often what a privilege it was to work with this group.
“So while the sting of tonight will last a little bit, I think it will probably fade at some point and we can look back at the body of work and feel pretty good about it.”
Stephanie Samedy had 13 kills for Minnesota to go with four digs and a block. Alexis Hart had 12 kills, four digs, and three blocks. Kylie Miller had 32 assists and 11 digs, and CC McGraw had 17 digs.
“I think we played at a high level. I think us being here before, especially in the first set, it helped kind of set a tone in that first set,” Hambly said. “We had eight and a half blocks, which I think that was a lot about nerves for Minnesota. And that gave us a little bit of an advantage. I don’t know for a fact, but it just seemed that way. I think that experience helped.
“But they’re pretty competitive. And these guys know how to win matches. If you would have told me we would have won 3-0, I would have said there’s no way. It didn’t feel like a 3-0 match, to be honest. It didn’t feel like we swept them. We had to put up 65 points in three sets — that’s a lot — to beat them. And it felt like we had to earn every single one of those.”