One block here, one dig there leads to Stanford victory

Tami Alade hit .667 for the evening as Stanford hit .436 as a team in a four-set win over Wisconsin. Photo by Karen Ambrose Hickey/

First-year women's volleyball coach Kevin Hambly knew junior Tami Alade was as talented as anyone he had on the Stanford roster. He just had to convince her she was that good.

"I never really believed in myself," Alade said after recording a match-high .667 hitting percentage in the Cardinal's 22-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-19 victory over Wisconsin in the regional semifinal of the NCAA tournament. "Kevin had a conversation with me at the beginning of the season about it."

Hambly's 'therapy' was to give her the chance to discover it for herself.

"We tried to work through it the first three weeks and we fed her a lot of balls," Hambly said. "That gave her confidence and helped her on her way."

At 6-foot-2, Alade is not the biggest middle blocker around (there two 6-8 middles on the court at times) but uses her leaping ability to at least overcome the height disadvantage. Once she started believed in herself the same way her teammates did, nothing was going to stop her.

Alade is getting noticed a lot more these days. Not only did she earn all-Pac-12 honors but was named AVCA all-Pacific Region honorable mention. She leads the Pac-12 with a .425 hitting percentage and that includes hitting at a .650 pace through the first three rounds of the NCAAs.

"It really was just a mental thing," Alade said. "It was the ability to believe in myself."

The team leader in total blocks (161), she's second in the conference and 17th in the nation with a 1.45 blocks per set. Teammate Audriana Fitzmorris is first in the conference and seventh nationally with 1.51 blocks per set.

The victory sets up a rematch of last year's national championship game with Texas, which beat Utah, 25-19, 16-25, 24-26, 25-21, 16-14, in an earlier semifinal.

Stanford is the No. 3 overall seed in the tournament and Texas is seeded sixth. The Longhorns are ranked second in the nation while the Cardinal is ranked fourth.

"Different year, different team," Stanford's Kathryn Plummer said. "I couldn't compare them at all. They're big and physical and that's the way we like to play, so it should be fun."

Texas coach Jerritt Elliott echoed the sentiments.

"The tournament is about surviving and advancing and being good enough that night to win," Elliott said. "Tomorrow is a completely different night and our focus is to get rested and put a good game plan together. We know we'll need to battle and to find a way to win."

The winner of Saturday's 7 p.m. match between Stanford and Texas gets a free trip to Kansas City for the Final Four.

Three other regionals will be played ahead of Stanford-Texas. Kentucky and Nebraska play at 1 p.m., USC and Florida meet at 3 p.m. and Penn State has a rematch with Michigan State at 5 p.m.

Plummer recorded a match-high 22 kills on .425 hitting, Merete Lutz had 16 kills on .560 hitting and Jenna Gray kept the offense flowing to the tune of .436 hitting.

"It was a very offensive match played at a high level," Hambly said. "Great performances around the room."

It was the first time all season Wisconsin lost when hitting over .300 in 18 matches. The Badgers hit .317, led by freshman Dana Rettke at .360.

"A team is going to have to play to beat us," Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield said. "We ran into a well-oiled machine. Offensively, those were two teams playing at a very high level. There are three players on that team that get my vote for player of the year. They have a lot of talent and are very skilled."

He was referring to Merete Lutz, Plummer and libero Morgan Hentz and when Gray was mentioned, Sheffield added, "you could probably add thr4ee more."

"Hentz is so underrated," Sheffield said. "Once it gets to 20 points, she steps out of the telephone booth with her cape on."

Hentz made another play late in the fourth set that proved to make the big difference. She came out of nowhere to get her hand under the ball and keep it alive. Stanford won the point but it was taken away after a review showed a Cardinal recording a net violation.

"I was cheating back," Hentz said. "But I saw the setter going over there and thought I better get moving."

Stanford took the next four points.

"Morgan just made a great play for us," Plummer said. "We had to get her a few more points. It was freaking awesome."

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