Who is Kerri Walsh Jennings? From MLB Dreams to the Beach
Kerri Walsh Jennings dreamed of being the first girl to play Major League Baseball, she said in a recent interview.
We can assume the little girl version of Walsh Jennings would be proud of who the grown-up version has become, despite never playing on a professional baseball team.
Walsh Jennings has become one of the best beach volleyball players to ever have stepped foot on the sand, with five (soon to be six) Olympic appearances and medals in four of them.
Her impact on women’s volleyball and women’s athletics is immeasurable.
As we look back on her story, we can appreciate her impact, dominance, and resolve.
The Tokyo Summer Olympics may be her last attempt at gold but in no way will it mark the end of her influence.
Kerri Walsh Jennings is poised to take her stature as an athlete and transform it into an unmatched legacy of determination leading to success.
Destined for Athletics
As is the case for many elite American volleyball players, Kerri Walsh Jennings (born Kerri Lee Walsh on 15 August 1978) was born on the west coast of the United States. Specifically, she grew up in a town near Santa Cruz called Scotts Valley.
Her love for baseball, as evidenced by her now-famous childhood dream, started at home.
Walsh’s dad played minor league level baseball and instilled an appreciation for the game.
More impactful, however, might have been the previous athletic prowess of Kerri’s mother – a winner of the MVP at Santa Clara University.
You guessed it:
Her mother won the MVP twice in the sport of volleyball.
Walsh Jennings was an athlete from the beginning. Volleyball was not her only success story.
The family moved to San Jose and Walsh Jennings embarked on her high school career at a prestigious athletic program – Archbishop Mitty High School.
Kerri Walsh Jennings set herself apart as a dominant athlete, leading her high school volleyball team to three state titles (1993, 1994, 1995) and her high school basketball team to a state championship win in 1995.
Walsh Jennings was awarded the very first Gatorade National High School Volleyball Player of the year in 1996 – a sign of positive things to come.
The Collegiate Career of Kerri Walsh Jennings
Kerri Walsh Jennings was a dominant high school player and carried that momentum into her university years.
She received a scholarship to attend Stanford University, a prestigious academic university and powerhouse volleyball program.
Her collegiate success can be summed up by noting that she achieved an incredibly rare feat:
Being named first-team All-American for all four years of her collegiate career.
Kerri Walsh enjoyed team success in addition to her personal achievements.
Stanford won the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship her freshman and sophomore years, won the PAC-10 (now PAC-12) all four years, and made it back to the NCAA Championship her senior year.
If there is one blemish on her time at Stanford, it would be that loss in her senior season to Penn State in the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship.
However, the fact that her team won over 90% of its matches during her tenure while she earned numerous MVP and a National Player of the Year award certainly lessens the sting of a loss in her final match.
Despite utter domination in college, the best was yet to come for Kerri Walsh Jennings.
The world’s best women’s volleyball player was just getting started.
A Little Time Inside
Kerri Walsh Jennings is known for her beach volleyball play, and for good reason. She did spend time inside on the court before hitting the beach.
Walsh Jennings was a member of the 2000 Sydney Olympics USA Women’s Volleyball team.
Her career with the team was nearly marred by an issue with a procedural drug test for performance-enhancing drugs.
Fortunately, Walsh was cleared of any wrongdoing after a second test revealed there were no issues.
The 2000 Olympics were a mere blip on the timeline of Walsh Jennings’ career.
Her time there as an opposite hitter was well spent, despite finishing fourth in the Games that year.
The lessons learned on that big stage would serve Kerri Walsh Jennings to a wildly successful professional career on the sand.
The Move Outdoors
Beach volleyball partnerships are best described as a blind attempt at finding the right fit.
Sometimes it can take a couple of tries before landing on the right person to pair with.
No one knows this better than Walsh Jennings’ most successful partner – Misty May-Treanor.
Her first foray into the international beach scene was an attempt at the 2000 Sydney Olympics with partner Holly McPeak.
While Walsh Jennings was inside placing fourth with the indoor volleyball team, May-Treanor was in the sand coming in fifth.
Neither player would be satisfied with those types of performances and both sought greener pastures after 2000.
There is a lesson to be learned here:
The easy road is not always the best choice.
With both athletes deciding to find a better fit, they were able to discover a road to success that would have been hidden had they tried to “stick it out” with their current circumstances.
Their early days on the beach would be a bumpy road full of losses but those fortunes quickly changed.
The duo of Walsh/May would become a household name.
No beach volleyball tandem has ever proven more formidable than the combination of Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor.
Their Olympic domination in 2004 and 2008 was widely reported but they also destroyed their competition in the AVP and FIVB beach tournaments. The duo went on a streak in 2007 and 2008 that resulted in 112 straight match victories.
Walsh Jennings and May-Treanor did indeed win gold in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, which led to their household recognition.
Beach volleyball was a relatively young Olympic sport, debuting in the 1996 games. They quickly became the only pair to win back-to-back Olympic Golds in the sport.
More impressively, the team did not lose a single set during those two Olympic runs.
Fate and Motherhood
We can glean another life lesson from the journey Kerri Walsh Jennings has made as she followed the path volleyball laid out before her:
Despite your best-laid plans, things change.
In the fall of 2008, just after another display of perfection at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, fate would change the course for both Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings.
Dancing with the Stars, a popular American reality talent show, came calling for Misty May-Treanor.
During a rehearsal for an upcoming Dancing with the Stars episode, May-Treanor suffered an injury that would threaten her volleyball career – a ruptured Achilles tendon.
The rehabilitation process would take at least a year.
Kerri Walsh Jennings was unavailable when May-Treanor was ready to return to the beach. Not because of another partner, but because two bundles of joy had arrived in the meantime.
May-Treanor would join another partner to give things a go, subsequently deciding she was not committed to the game and quitting.
Walsh Jennings then realized she was ready to return and joined the very same partner May-Treanor had just quited on – Nicole Branagh.
The 2012 Olympics in London was in the sites of the newly formed Branagh/Walsh Jennings team.
Meanwhile, May-Treanor was miserable about her choice to leave the game. She finally concluded that she wanted to try and partner up with Walsh Jennings one last time.
Walsh Jennings had another moment of making the tough choice, but the right choice.
May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings entered the 2012 Olympic Games as anything but the favorite for the first time but ended up defeating fellow Americans Ross and Kessy for Olympic Gold.
The gold medal victory would represent the swan song for the May/Walsh duo, as Misty May-Treanor finally retired for good.
Walsh Jennings revealed that she was five weeks pregnant as she received the gold medal around her neck in the summer of 2012.
Would her third child be the impetus for her saying goodbye to the sport that had propelled her to such great heights?
Finishing Strong and Moving On
Walsh Jennings could not let the call of the beach go.
She teamed with the same April Ross that she defeated in the 2012 games and aimed to take another gold in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Unfortunately, the home team of Brazil would end the dream of a fourth gold medal for Kerri Walsh Jennings.
She and Ross would claim the bronze, making Walsh Jennings one of the most decorated Olympic volleyball players of all time.
Kerri Walsh Jennings is widely known for her elite volleyball skills.
However, her story is one that can inspire young male and female athletes, and non-athletes alike.
Perseverance, making a good choice despite its difficulty, and never letting circumstances dictate the outcome for you.
She gives us one more lesson as news spread about the delay of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said in a recent interview with CBS news:
"There's a period where you have to understand and process what's going on, but once that's over, it's go time, and I believe every athlete will just see this as, you know, I have 365 more days, or whatever it is, to become even better.”
True to herself, Walsh Jennings will indeed work to get better ahead of her last run at Olympic gold.
Full List of Awards, Achievements, and Significant Victories
Olympic Gold Medals: 2004, 2008, 2012
Other Olympic Medals: 2016 (Bronze)
AVP Best Offensive Player: 2003, 2014
AVP MVP: 2003, 2004
AVP Best Team: 2003 – 2008, 2014, 2016
Sportswoman of the Year: 2004, 2006