Pow­er­ful hit­ter has Stan­ford among vol­ley­ball elite.

Plum­mer’s pow­er­ful spikes have Stan­ford among elite

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Tom FitzGer­ald

Kathryn Plum­mer is 6 feet, 6 inches of vol­ley­ball men­ace.

The player on the other side of the net who gets in the way of a Plum­mer kill does so at her own peril.

Stan­ford set­ter Jenna Gray usu­ally plays on the same side as the two-time All-Amer­ica out­side hit­ter in prac­tice, and she’s glad for that.

“I’ve tried block­ing her — you know you’re go­ing to get hit hard,” she said. “I’ve seen peo­ple get hit in the head.”

Plum­mer, a ju­nior, has led the Car­di­nal (23-1, 15-0 Pac-12) to the No. 2 rank­ing in the coun­try. Stan­ford’s one loss came at the hands of topranked BYU, which carved out a five-set win over the Car­di­nal in Provo, Utah, on Aug. 31. Stan­ford hasn’t lost since then and has won 30 straight matches at Maples Pavil­ion, the long­est home streak in the na­tion.

“We went in not ready for the en­vi­ron­ment,” Plum­mer said of the BYU match. “It was in­sane. That’s what we want to have vol­ley­ball be ev­ery­where.”

The loss was good for the Car­di­nal, she said. “That BYU match sparked some­thing in us, and it’s been smooth sail­ing ever since.”

They beat No. 17 Ore­gon 3-1 on Thurs­day and played Ore­gon State on Fri­day (the match ended too late for this edi­tion).

“Maples is start­ing to get a lit­tle rowdy, which I love,” Plum­mer said. “The en­vi­ron­ment’s great. Our fresh­man year — I don’t know why — it was kind of bor­ing here. Now it’s re­ally fun to play here.”

Stan­ford fans even­tu­ally warmed to the oc­ca­sion in Plum­mer’s fresh­man year when she and the rest of the her­alded in­com­ing class helped win the na­tional ti­tle in re­tir­ing head coach John Dun­ning’s fi­nal sea­son.

Plum­mer was the Amer­i­can Vol­ley­ball Coaches As­so­ci­a­tion’s na­tional fresh­man of the year and last year she was na­tional player of the year, al­though Stan­ford lost in the NCAA semi­fi­nals to Florida. She could re­peat this sea­son, al­though his­tory isn’t on her side: the last back-to-back player of the year was Stan­ford’s Lo­gan Tom in 2001-02.

In a match, Plum­mer’s strength and skill are read­ily

ap­par­ent. But to Stan­ford’s sec­ond-year head coach, Kevin Ham­bly, “It’s her skill that makes her spe­cial. She can pass. She can de­fend. She can block. She can at­tack. She has all the shots.”

She didn’t used to have all the shots, he said. “Her first year, she was more of a hit­ter of the ball. It was all cross­court, all power.”

Like a pitcher who used to rely solely on his fast­ball, she has added off-speed de­liv­er­ies. In a match at Ore­gon, the Ducks were tak­ing away her power, so she sent off-speed shots to the mid­dle of the court.

“She’s been work­ing hard on that,” Ham­bly said. “She’s as skilled as she is phys­i­cal. Most play­ers just rely on their phys­i­cal­ity.”

Plum­mer is a stu­dent of the game, reg­u­larly watch­ing men’s in­ter­na­tional matches on video, look­ing for nu­ances she can use.

She’s a hu­man bi­ol­ogy ma­jor and hopes to be a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist, but she’s also a stu­dent of war and his­tory. Her fa­vorite book is “Amer­i­can Sniper,” the au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of Chris Kyle, the dead­li­est marks­man in the U.S. mil­i­tary his­tory. He was highly dec­o­rated for four tours in the Iraq War only to be mur­dered af­ter his mil­i­tary ca­reer by a vet­eran he tried to help.

Plum­mer also read his widow’s mem­oir. Heart-wrench­ing sto­ries af­fect her very deeply.

In fact, Gray said, “The weird­est things make her cry — like watch­ing a video of Michael Phelps’ ca­reer.”

Ham­bly said, “She prob­a­bly cries more than any kid I’ve ever coached. Not af­ter a loss. But ask her about Uganda and moms there, she’ll start cry­ing. She’s got a big heart.”

Her mother, Michelle, said she “sees things from the other per­son’s per­spec­tive. She’s been that way since she was very young. She gets teary and emo­tional; that’s her ner­vous re­lief.”

Michelle, a for­mer We­ber State bas­ket­ball player, is 6-3. Her hus­band, Kevin, a for­mer foot­ball player, is 6-8. Kathryn’s older brother, Kristian, is 6-7. He played on an NAIA na­tional cham­pi­onship vol­ley­ball team at Con­cor­dia in Irvine.

When Kristian played for the Bal­boa Bay Vol­ley­ball Club in Or­ange County, the fam­ily brought 10-year-old Kathryn to a tour­na­ment in Chicago. Dur­ing a break, the club coach, Rich Polk, in­vited her onto the court.

“Let me see your hands,” he said. “You have meaty paws.”

She re­mem­bers think­ing of the tech­niques he showed her, “This is re­ally cool. I want to go to some clin­ics.”

Plum­mer even­tu­ally dropped bas­ket­ball — to her mom’s dis­ap­point­ment — and soc­cer to con­cen­trate on vol­ley­ball. She played for the Tstreet Vol­ley­ball Club in Irvine and was a four-year star at Aliso Niguel-Aliso Viejo.

She helped the U.S. Un­der-17 team win gold in beach vol­ley­ball at the FIVB worlds in Aca­pulco, Mex­ico. In the in­door game, she and the U-18 team won sil­ver at the worlds in Lima, Peru, in 2017. Be­tween in­door and beach vol­ley­ball, she also left her mark on coun­tries be­gin­ning with “C,” play­ing in China, Cyprus, Costa Rica and Canada.

Along the way, she heeded her mom’s dic­tum: “If you’re tall, stand up straight and carry it. Peo­ple will no­tice how beau­ti­ful you are. If you slump, they’ll think you’re not proud of your­self.”

Ham­bly thinks she can play for the se­nior na­tional team, al­though it will be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult.

“A lot of play­ers are tal­ented but when they get in that gym, they don’t have what it takes to be the worst player there,” he said. “Be­cause she’ll be that when she goes in, with the out­side hit­ters. Th­ese guys are 30-32 years old. They’ve been play­ing at a higher level than she’s seen for a long time.

“I be­lieve she has that in her to do that.”

Karen Am­brose Hickey / Stan­ford Ath­let­ics

Kathryn Plum­mer rises to send the ball across the net for the No. 2 Stan­ford women’s vol­ley­ball team.

Mike Rasay / isipho­tos.com

Plum­mer was the na­tional player of the year last sea­son when the Car­di­nal made the Fi­nal Four.

Al Chang / Stan­ford Ath­let­ics

Be­fore she came to Stan­ford, Kathryn Plum­mer, shown spik­ing the ball against Min­nesota, helped the U.S. Un­der-17 team win gold in beach vol­ley­ball at the world cham­pi­onships.

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