COLUMBUS, OHIO – It feels like ancient history now. Way back in August, the Gophers played at Stanford, losing 3-1 to the Cardinal in the Stanford Invitational.
Both teams have evolved since then — particularly the Cardinal, which switched both its system and its lineup midway through the season. After a loss to Arizona left the team 10-5, coach John Dunning gave key roles to three freshmen and shifted to a 5-1 offense, with five attackers and one setter, from a 6-2 configuration. The changes reinvigorated ninth-ranked Stanford, propelling it to its 20th appearance in the Final Four and a date with the top-ranked Gophers in Thursday’s NCAA semifinals at Nationwide Arena.
One of those freshmen, outside hitter Kathryn Plummer, was named a first-team All-America and national freshman of the year Wednesday. Senior middle blocker Inky Ajanaku also was named a first-team All-America, while junior opposite Merete Lutz was named to the third team.
“It’s been a very interesting journey for our team,’’ said Dunning, whose team is trying for its seventh NCAA championship. “We’ve been through a lot of different things, and it didn’t all fit together right away.
“But it’s been a pretty amazing ride the past two months. We’ve gotten better and better, and it’s been fun to watch.’’
Ajanaku, who returned for a fifth year after knee surgery last year, leads a young and lighthearted team. She is hitting .495 in the tournament with a team-high 58 kills.
Stanford, the No. 6 seed in the tournament, has four freshmen in the starting lineup and has overcome the loss of two prominent players to injuries.
It trailed No. 3 seed Wisconsin 2-0 in Saturday’s regional final in Madison before rallying for its 113th NCAA tournament victory, the most of any team ever.
The Gophers placed five players on the All-America lists. Senior outside hitter Sarah Wilhite and sophomore setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson made the first team, and senior middle blocker Hannah Tapp the second team.
Junior middle blocker Molly Lohman and freshman outside hitter Alexis Hart made honorable mention.
Middle blocker Paige Tapp won the Senior CLASS Award for women’s Division I volleyball, a national honor given to a senior who excels in athletics, academics and community service.