By Leah Jenk | Dec. 20, 2018, 2:46 p.m. (ET)

Kayla Banwarth competes at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 on Aug. 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

 

On Saturday, Stanford University won its eighth NCAA volleyball championship – and in dramatic fashion. The Cardinal defeated the University of Nebraska in five sets to continue the university’s 43rd consecutive year of winning an NCAA team championship. 

From 64 teams in the NCAA volleyball tournament, Stanford University, the University of Nebraska, the University of Illinois and Brigham Young University advanced to the NCAA championship, all of which had a unique tie to Team USA.


Jordyn Poulter, University of Illinois
University of Illinois senior setter Jordyn Poulter is rare. Last summer, she played on the U.S. women’s national team while still having collegiate eligibility. After her junior year, she played a role on Team USA, winning gold at the Pan American Cup.

“Some of the girls on the team last summer were actually juniors and seniors at other Big Ten schools when I was a freshman,” Poulter said. “They were on the other side of the net then, but I know how competitive they are, and now we got to harness it all together on the same team.”

Playing alongside professionals for a few months was invaluable for Poulter. She was able to bring back knowledge of a faster tempo of volleyball and continue to lead her teammates at Illinois.

The All-Big Ten and All-American student-athlete had a big week. In addition to playing last week in the NCAA tournament, she also graduated on Sunday. 

“I’m really excited to have a degree from Illinois,” she said, “but I think it’s an even bigger honor to represent the university in this championship.”


Heather Olmstead, Brigham Young University
It’s only fitting the recently named American Volleyball Coaches Association Coach of the Year would lead her team to the NCAA championship competition weekend. Prior to being named BYU’s head coach in 2015, Heather Olmstead spent time as an assistant coach for the U.S. women’s national volleyball team.

Olmstead has taken what she’s learned from U.S. head coaches Karch Kiraly and Dan Fisher at the international level and instilled those values at the collegiate level.

“I’ve found that the more I show I believe in my players, the more they will believe in themselves,” Olmstead said. “I try to get them to feel that first and then coach volleyball.”

Olmstead was the only female head coach to lead her team to the final weekend of college volleyball, and she remains hungry to become the first to win the NCAA championship. 

“This is really a high level of volleyball this weekend. They’ll make up some of the best pro teams around the world after this,” Olmstead said of the student-athletes who competed. 

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Kayla Banwarth, University of Nebraska
After walking on at the University of Nebraska, Kayla Banwarth worked her way winning an Olympic bronze medal at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. Today, Banwarth serves as assistant coach at her alma mater.

After her senior season in 2010, Banwarth was given a trial opportunity to train with Team USA in Anaheim, California. Six years later, she was competing in the red, white and blue. 

“The most special part of the Olympics was the Opening Ceremony,” she recalls. “It was really emotional and you could just feel the pride all the athletes have in our country.” 

Banwarth has since transitioned to coaching and is happy to be back at what has become home in Nebraska.

“They’ll ask me about it sometimes,” Banwarth says of her student-athletes and her experience at the Olympics, “but I mostly try to instill everyday principles like hard work and discipline and that every opportunity you have in the gym is a part of the journey.”

Last weekend, Nebraska appeared in its fourth straight NCAA volleyball championship, and Banwarth says she sees a lot of herself in her student-athletes.

“I think a lot of them have potential to play professionally,” Banwarth said. “They’re not focused on that yet, but if they haven’t realized it yet, they will soon realize what they’re capable of.”


Denise Corlett, Stanford University
Denise Corlett is in her 23rd year as an assistant coach at Stanford University and knows the Cardinal philosophy well. It’s one that has taken Stanford to 15 NCAA volleyball championships in her tenure. 

But before she was at Stanford, Corlett was a three-sport varsity athlete at the University of California, Los Angeles and a three-time All-American volleyball player. Upon graduating, she played for the U.S. women’s national team in 1982 and 1983, and has remained involved with Team USA ever since. She has served as an assistant coach for Team USA in the World University Games and the Pan American Games, and as head of delegation for the junior national team and Pan Am Cup. 

Corlett brings her knowledge of playing in four straight NCAA volleyball championships to her coaching now, and the Cardinal refer to her as their “secret weapon.” She proved valuable yet again as the Stanford Cardinal win the 2018 NCAA volleyball championship.

Championship Co-MOPs Kathryn Plummer and Morgan Hentz led the cardinal battle through a thrilling five-set match (28-26, 22-25, 25-16, 15-25, 15-12).