Three-time Olympic gold medalist and former Stanford women’s volleyball player Kerri Walsh Jennings ’00 was inducted into the 2018 Pac-12 Hall of Honor back in March during the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament. The Hall of Honor was initially created in 2002 to recognize athletes and coaches in men’s basketball from each team in the conference. The 2018 iteration, however, was the first year student-athletes and coaches from other sports were inducted. Walsh sat down with The Daily to discuss her feelings on being recognized by the Hall of Honor, her time at Stanford, her new ventures and her reaction to the NCAA’s problems with pay-for-play.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): How do you feel about the Pac-12 conference having taken so long to start recognizing non-men’s basketball athletes with this distinction?
Kerri Walsh Jennings (KWJ): I think the time is now and I think that it’s so wonderful that the [Pac-12] finally adopted more athletes, so I’m so proud to be here ultimately. Everything takes time. We all love tradition. We all love evolution. And I think that’s what this ceremony signifies.
TSD: College women athletes haven’t gotten their due recognition despite their incredible achievements, especially at Stanford. How does it feel to be honored by the Pac-12 as a female athlete?
KWJ: I am really proud to be here in that capacity for sure as a female athlete. Every female athlete here considers themselves a baller. Women are responsible for so much positive growth and inspiration within the Pac-12. There have been a lot of pioneers who have fought for this day.
TSD: Stanford is literally the Home of Champions. There are an incredible amount of tremendous athletes that have competed at Stanford. What does it mean to be the first Cardinal recognized now that every former student-athlete is being considered?
KWJ: Any recognition that I get because of my time at Stanford is absolutely so special to me, and I cherish and honor it with all my heart. The Pac-10 at the time (now the Pac-12) was such a special place and an inspiring conference in which to compete. It was literally iron sharpening iron every single weekend. It really set my career path up for great success because I learned what was required to have sustained excellence, and I learned what it felt to have a huge target on our back because we kept winning Pac-10 titles.
TSD: Four in a row, right?
KWJ: I think four in a row. Not that we were perfect every season, but the Trojans of the world, the Bruins and even Washington State — everyone just made us better. I’m really proud of this honor. I really didn’t understand the gravity of it but being here and seeing Rafer [Johnson’s] name and Cheryl [Miller’s] name… This is an incredible class to be a part of, so it’s just really humbling.
TSD: Do you still keep in touch with Stanford women’s volleyball? Is there any specific player that you have an eye on?
KWJ: They are all awesome. Every year I go to the Final Four, so I have been fortunate enough to watch Stanford the past two years. I was there the year they won it. Kathryn Plummer is a superstar. She plays beach [volleyball] as well, which is really fun. My cousin is on the team, Kate Formico. She is a sweetheart and kind of a silent assassin. She just gets the job done. Those are two of my favorites but I just really appreciate the team. I appreciate [Stanford head coach] Kevin Hambly, and I love the leadership he brings. [Associate head coach] Denise Corlett is literally my most favorite part about Stanford. I love following them all.
TSD: Do you have a favorite Stanford volleyball memory? A favorite Stanford memory unrelated to volleyball?
KWJ: My freshman year, we came in with a real good group of freshman, and we came in with an even greater upperclassmen group, and they took it to us. Preseason, as a freshman, I think just every single day grinding it out and learning from the best of the best, learning what it takes and surviving, to me is one of my favorite memories because it set the tone for my entire four years at Stanford. It was all about excellence. There were no excuses, no settling. It was like we were going for one thing and one thing only and that is to be our best as a team and we are going for excellence. And even the losses, all that just fortifies you, so it’s pretty wonderful.
Non-volleyball memory … I think studying by Lake Lag, you know just kind of a daze where you get lost in the spring and studying for finals. Those were always good memories. Just simple joys like walking around campus, and my best friends were on the team. Sarah Clark Bemus was in my same graduating year and living life with her as a teammate and as a friend was really fun.
TSD: How has Stanford changed as a school and athletic program since you left? Do you like those changes?
KWJ: I wouldn’t be able to speak with [a small] amount of knowledge about the changes. Stanford is always in the upper trend. They are always leading-edge. They always recruit the best of the best. Not just athletes, but the whole human being, and I assume those things have not changed about Stanford. I know the facilities have improved dramatically and they have really committed to the athletes and to the facilities.
TSD: Beach volleyball is now officially an NCAA sport that Stanford has! Do you think that having this available to you in your time at Stanford would have changed the trajectory of your career in any way?
KWJ: You know, I don’t know! I’m actually really glad that I didn’t have the opportunity because I appreciate the foundation that indoor gave me, and I was really hungry when I moved from indoor to beach. I think that hunger and that insecurity drove me to work hard to get my feet underneath me.
But it’s a beautiful thing that these girls have these chances. The more choices, the better. It’s amazing that more young women are playing volleyball in a different platform. That’s really beautiful.
TSD: You’ve recently talked about the p1440 event series. The p144o website states, “Join the movement to elevate the sport of beach volleyball.” How will the p1440 lead to your goal of making volleyball an all-season sport?
KWJ: We are an event series, so ultimately our events are going to feel like festivals, with a professional beach volleyball tournament at the heart of who we are. Around the beach volleyball tournament, which will have the best in the world turning up to compete for the first place crown, we will have a personal development area where you can come work out, train and have fun. Then, there is a health and wellness village where you can learn about leading-edge practices, mindfulness and nutrition. Ultimately, it’s going to feel like a rad, badass health and wellness festival.
It’s going to elevate the game because we are going to treat the athletes as professionals and increase the prize money. The current state of beach volleyball is that people have to work two to three jobs in order to sustain their hobby of beach volleyball. And U.S.A’s standing in the world with respect to volleyball is going down because of it. The world is rising and we are going lower because of that nature. We are going to elevate the prize money. We are going to build brands. We are going to build stars. I’m sick of being the face [of volleyball]. I am very proud of being the face of our sport, but we need to create new stars. We just have a holistic vision of growing the game. Then, ultimately, we are going to have a technology platform and resource center where anything in the realm of volleyball training, health and wellness training and personal development will exist onsite. So you can live with us for 365 [days] and not just at eight of our events. Events are finite, but the platform isn’t.
TSD: Are the events already scheduled?
KWJ: The events are scheduled. They will be in San Jose at the end of September or early October. We are waiting for the final papers there, so we will be close to home, which makes me so excited. We would love to have an event at Stanford. We are talking to the events operator over there and I asked him if Frost Amphitheater was almost ready because it would be amazing to have our concert there. We have a 10-acre footprint which is a very big footprint for our event, but I picture it like Big Game with tailgates, which are allowed to take over the track. We want to go from beach volleyball all the way to Frost. Having that setup would be cool. That is my dream, and I’m going to put it out in the universe. Let’s get it done. It would be perfect for Stanford.
Stanford taught me how to dream big and taught me how to go after my dreams. Having a p1440 event there would be wonderful.
TSD: The NCAA is currently facing issues and scandals with regard to paying student-athletes. Being a former student-athlete, do you think student-athletes should be paid or be able to monetize their brand and image while in school?
KWJ: From my perspective, I have a limited knowledge of the topic. My experience at Stanford was that I was more than well taken care of. I felt like my gift and the way I was paid was in this amazing opportunity to get a college scholarship at the best university in the world. I know a lot of athletes go just for two years and then they go to the NBA or the NFL. I think that’s a different situation. It’s a personal choice. I had this thought that it would be incredible, instead of perhaps paying the athletes, and since Title IX has done so much good for women, maybe add more men to club teams or support athletes in other ways. I don’t know what they could change, but I know it is needed.
TSD: What more do you think the NCAA can or should be doing to help its student-athletes?
KWJ: I think the NCAA’s job is, largely, to take care of the athletes while they are student-athletes. I don’t know if there are enough advocates for student-athletes these days. They’re always put in the middle, and they are kind of at the mercy of everyone. There needs to be a true student-athlete advocate — that should be the job of the NCAA. I don’t think making money is a dirty thing. I think it’s wonderful that they are able to service the sports and universities. Once you graduate, most people go on to professional careers, so if there is a way to help [student-athletes] in that transition and to prepare for the real world, then there is an opportunity to help them pivot into professional careers.
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.