AP
Kerri Walsh

Kristen Leigh Porter, NCAA.com

KANSAS CITY -- Kerri Walsh needs no introduction in volleyball circles.

We caught up with the former Stanford standout Saturday in Kansas City, Mo., at the 2010 NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship. Walsh was scheduled to speak to high school All-Americans and participants in the AVCA/NCAA Youth Clinic and attend team pep rallies and the championship match.

Walsh, a 6-2 hitter, won NCAA titles at Stanford in 1996 and 1997 and played with the women’s indoor national team at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. She teamed with former Long Beach State standout Misty May to win Olympic gold in beach volleyball at Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008.

Walsh, 32, has been married to fellow professional beach volleyball player Casey Jennings since 2005. She is also mom to two sons, Joey, 18 months, and Sundance, six months.

Incorporating questions posed by readers of the NCAA Volleyball Facebook Page, Walsh gave her take on everything from motivation to motherhood.

Question: Which player did you enjoy playing against the most in college?
Answer: “This is a tough question because I played against so many amazing players, but I think the one that comes to the top of my mind is Misty May. I got to play against her once in college, and a couple times in high school. Once in college and we were fortunate enough to win. She was my idol growing up and in college. I wanted to be just like her. Playing against her my sophomore year was pretty amazing.”

Q: Would you consider playing indoor volleyball again?
A: “I’ve been doing some indoor clinics with these girls and boys and it just reminds me of how much I love the sport. I’ve been playing beach for almost 10 years now, and I can’t believe that I haven’t touched an indoor ball in that long. Doing these clinics, I’m getting my love – not that it ever left – but it just makes me say, ‘Huh, maybe I should play again.’ It is so much fun. It kind of brings me back to where it all started. My passion for the sport is so strong and still there. Indoor volleyball’s such a huge part of my life, even though I’m not playing it right now. I love my lifestyle on the beach. I don’t think I would ever trade it in a million years, but that being said, I love the indoor game. If there’s a pick-up game here and there, I might step in.”

Q: Why do you have such a passion for volleyball?
A: “I can’t explain the passion part. Literally, when I first started playing volleyball -- from Day One when I was 10 years old --- I just remember falling in love with it. I was such a nerd about it. I’d go home and practice my approaches up and down the sidewalk. I’d look in the mirror and look at my arm swing. I was so silly about it because I loved it so much. It hasn’t really changed. I love improving and I love knowing that I can always get better and reaching little goals here and there. I feel like I’ve learned so many lessons from volleyball. It’s made such a great life (for me).”

Q: Can you elaborate on the first time you played volleyball?
A: “My first time was in the fifth grade and I was 10 years old. It was basically the first sport offered in the fall for my grammar school. All my best friends were playing, and of course I wanted to play. It was love at first sight, it really was. I still feel like that little 10-year-old playing sometimes because it’s so fun.”

Q: Aside from volleyball, what would you consider the biggest accomplishments in your life?
A: “My biggest accomplishments by far are my boys, Joey and Sundance. They are amazing and they are such an inspiration for me. I can’t wait to have more kids, but that’s after gold in London (at the 2012 Olympic Games), I hope. Aside from volleyball, my college degree is huge for me. I had so much fun at Stanford and it was such a dream come true to go there and get a scholarship and then to graduate. I’m very proud of that diploma, and I know it will serve me well once I’m done with my sporting career. I know I have a great foundation there.”

Q: How fun is it to be a mom?
A: “It’s the most fun. I’m so dang tired all the time, like every parent will say. My boys are amazing. I just got off the phone with them, and they were screaming in the background, but it’s the best sound in the world to me. They’re so beautiful. I just feel like my husband and I have such a great partnership…Raising our boys, it’s such a treasure. Every day, especially now, they’re just doing something fun and different. They’re starting to interact more, which is just hilarious. I love it, with all my heart…Joey bit Sundance for the first time last week and Sundance had a big ole nob on his head. Joey threw his little dinosaur at him. But for the most part, Sundance just laughs at Joey, and it’s so cute. So the gap is closing. I’m in for it, I think it.” 

Q: Did you ever find yourself getting burned out playing volleyball and how did you get yourself over that and continue on? 
A: “I have. Indoor volleyball, I got burned out once. There were so many things going on. It was at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. I had been playing volleyball since I was 10 and (then) I was 21 or 22. I kind of just hit a roadblock. I felt like I had put my heart and soul into the game and some things happened which kind of just brought me down a little bit. But that’s when I found beach volleyball, right after I kinda got burned out on indoor. I didn’t want to go play overseas. I’m such a homebody, I wanted to be around my family. That helped steer me toward the beach game, where I found Misty and my husband and all these amazing things. 

“After the Athens Olympics, in 2006, I was pretty burned out of beach. I remember talking to Karch (Kiraly) and Todd Rogers. And I was like, ‘What do you do when you’re burnt out?’ He’s like, ‘Just think about losing. You don’t want to lose, right?’ I was like, ‘Absolutely not.’ He was like, ‘You’re out here, might as well make the best of it.’” We eventually lost and that kicked my butt and kind of gave me a wake-up call.

“It happens. You’ve got to take a step back and remember why you’re doing it. Go and refresh yourself and the love will come back.”

Q: Do you believe you have to be a certain height to be successful?
A: “In this sport – both indoor and beach – I’ve played with people on the shorter side, 5-5, 5-3, and they’ve been amazing. Some of the best players in the world are that tall. On the other hand, some of the best players in the world are 6-3 and above. I think that there’s no limit on height. You have to have the heart, the drive and the passion. You have to not listen to people who say, ‘You’re 5-3, you can’t do these things’ or ‘You’re 6-2, you can’t pass the ball.’ I was never told that in my life, but I saw a lot of girls who were. It kind of pigeon-holed them and it really held them back. I think that you need to be an advocate for yourself, and need to go out there and say, ‘No, I want to practice all these things. This is how I’m going to be the best asset for my team, this is how I’m going to help myself.’ Height is not required at all.”

Q: Do you love being tall?
A: “…I love being tall, I really do. Growing up, I was always pretty average. When I was about 9 or 10, my brother (Marte) and I, we both had fractures in our feet. I think it was from growing too fast or something. We went in and we got x-rays of our feet and they saw our growth plates. And they’re like, ‘Ok, Kerri. You’re going to be about 5-7.’ And to my brother Marte, ‘You’re going to be about 5-10.’ We both left devastated, we were crying like, ‘What? Our dad is 6-8 and our mom is pretty tall!’ We just had visions of us being really tall…But then a little while later, I went in when I hurt my wrist and got another x-ray. They said, ‘No, you’re going to be tall. Throw that out the window. You’re going to be gigantic.’ And I’m 6-2 and a bit and I love being tall. But I feel like not being taller when I was younger served me really well because I worked on every single skill and I didn’t get pigeonholed…

“I love being tall. I wish every young girl and boy who’s growing up tall…you gotta go through the awkward stage, but embrace it, because it’s such a great thing if you use it. You stand out. It’s nice to stand out a little bit.”

Q: What’s your inseam and where do you buy your jeans?
A: “I have a (36-37 inch) inseam and it’s a nightmare. My shopping days are over, but when I was a shopper, I would try on every single pair of jeans. And obviously look for the long jeans. I started a clothing line called KActive which was a 36-37 inseam…Just use trial and error. You’ve just got to try them out. (Some) come long. You just have to do your due diligence, they’re out there.”

Q: What advice would you give girls who are just starting out with volleyball?
A: “The advice I’d give girls would be the advice I’d give anybody starting anything. The first step is always the hardest, but push through and just keep at it. Play a lot of volleyball, that’s how you become the best. Play against boys, play against girls. Really work on honing your fundamentals, because if you have all the fundamentals down, you’re going to be a great asset to any team.”