Fittingly, Kathryn Plummer finished it off with a kill. And the Cardinal are going back to the Final Four in women’s volleyball.
The two-time Pac-12 Player of the Year had 23 kills as top-ranked Stanford beat Penn State 18-25, 25-23, 25-20, 25-16 Saturday night in the regional finals at Maples Pavilion.
The Cardinal (32-1), who won the national title in 2016 but lost to Florida in the national semifinals last year, will play No. 4 BYU (31-1) in Minneapolis on Thursday.
No. 3 Illinois and No. 6 Nebraska also punched tickets to the national semifinals.
BYU handed the Cardinal their only loss of the season in an early season, a five-set match in Provo, Utah.
Plummer said the team is happy to get to the final four and to get a chance to get payback at the Cougars.
“That loss to BYU is in the back of everybody’s mind,” she said. “Both teams have gotten a lot better, so it’s going to be a dogfight.”
After losing the first set Saturday night, Stanford was down 20-16 in the second set but outscored the Nittany Lions 9-3 the rest of the set. It didn’t trail the rest of the evening.
4 p.m.: No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 4 BYU ESPN
6 p.m.: No. 3 Illinois vs. No. 6 Nebraska ESPN
The difference, head coach Kevin Hambly said, was “we started to scrap and play some defense.”
Initially, he said, “we were tentative serving. We made a lot more errors than we typically do. What I liked was we didn’t change our game plan. We continued to stay aggressive.”
Plummer, named the Most Outstanding Player of the regional, had plenty of help. Meghan McClure had 12 kills, Audriana Fitzmorris added 10 kills, Jenna Gray recorded 52 assists, and libero Morgan Hentz had 18 digs.
“Plummer is great,” Penn State head coach Russ Rose said, “but if I had to pick an MVP on that team, it would be Morgan Hentz. She’s the battery that keeps that team playing at a high level all the time.”
Nia Reed led No. 7 Penn State (26-8) with 12 kills, Big Ten Freshman of the Year Jonni Parker had 11 and Taylor Leath 10.
Plummer credited the crowd of 3,256 with giving the Cardinal a big lift. “We had a wave at Maples, which I’ve never seen happen,” she said.
Behind Roni Jones-Perry’s 25 kills, BYU swept Texas at home in its regional final. BYU is playing without its best player, junior outside hitter McKenna Miller, who suffered a knee injury in a late-season sweep of Santa Clara.
Asked how much Miller’s injury hurts the Cougars, Hambly said, “You would think it would, but it doesn’t seem like it is. They’re playing at a real high level.”
The big upset of the tournament came Friday night in the regional semifinals in Minneapolis when Oregon stunned No. 2 Minnesota in four sets, the second a 41-39 marathon in the Ducks’ favor. It was the Gophers’ first home loss of the season.