Stanford beats Minnesota to reach NCAA volleyball final

BY AP • December 16, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Inky Ajanaku had 15 kills and nine blocks and Stanford beat second-ranked Minnesota in four sets Thursday night to reach the NCAA women's volleyball final.

The 6-foot-6 freshmen hitting duo of Kathryn Plummer and Audriana Fitzmorris combined for 25 kills in the 26-24, 25-19, 22-25, 25-22 victory.

Stanford will face Texas winner in the final. The Longhorns beat Nebraska in straight sets in the second semifinal.

Plummer, Fitzmorris and the 6-4 Ajanaku consistently got touches at the net on the majority of Minnesota's attacks. Morgan Hentz and setter Jenna Gray made up the rest of the freshmen quartet that proved vital in leading Stanford (26-7) to its first national final since 2008.

''People have been talking about our freshmen all week, about whether they're going to play like freshmen or not,'' Stanford coach John Dunning said. ''And what I say is, yeah, they played like freshmen. They're really good. They're poised for freshmen, and they can handle it and they're continuing to learn and handle it better.''

Down 20-17 in the fourth set, Minnesota's Samantha Seliger-Swenson blocked Stanford's Ivana Vanjak to tie the set at 21. Ajanaku, then, ripped a kill down the middle on the next play to put Stanford ahead for good. At 24-22, Fitzmorris killed an overpass at the net to send the Gophers home.

Big Ten Player of the Year Sarah Wilhite led the Gophers with 25 kills on 70 attempts. She had 10 kills in the first set. Freshman Alexis Hart was second on the team with 11 kills, five of which came in the first set.

Following a tight first set, the Cardinal defense took over. Plummer, Ajanaku and Fitzmorris assisted on eight blocks in the second set. Gray had three kills on four attempts for Stanford. Kelsey Humphries had eight of her 17 digs in the set.

''Stanford is a great blocking team,'' Wilhite said. ''They played great out there. They played hard. I just think as hitters we really had to mix up our offense and our shots to kind of combat the tall block.''

Stanford hit just .188 in the match with the Gophers swinging at a rate of .149. The Gophers had won 14 straight games before Thursday.

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