Walsh Jennings (right) and her
former partner, Misty May-Treanor,
after winning the gold medal at the
2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Although there is no physical contact between
opponents in volleyball, players have to be incredible athletes in one of the fastest and most energetic sports on the Olympic program. The first
two-member team beach version of the sport was
played in Santa Monica, California, in 1930; it
evolved over the years, became popular on the
beaches of Waikiki and spread to Europe. Beach
volleyball finally became an Olympic sport at the
1996 games in Atlanta.
Walsh Jennings herself is a part of beach volleyball history. She and her former longtime volleyball partner, Misty May-Treanor, became the first
U.S. women’s Olympic beach volleyball team to win
a gold medal, at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. The
partners of 11 years went on to win the gold in 2008
in Beijing and in 2012 in London, making them the
first U.S. beach volleyball team to win gold in three
consecutive Olympic Games, and giving them the
title of most-decorated Olympic beach volleyball
team of all time.
During their storied partnership, which ended
when May-Treanor retired in 2012, the two became
as close as sisters, Walsh Jennings says. “A lot of life
happened, and we shared it all, so we’re so much
more than partners,” Walsh Jennings, 37, tells The
Connection during an interview in Hermosa Beach,
California. “We grew up together, basically, kind of
traveling the world, chasing these big dreams, dealing with stuff, and it was great.”
Although the two played junior (youth) volleyball together and were only a year apart in age,
Walsh Jennings says she looked up to May-Treanor,
even once requesting her autograph when they were
in their teens. When Walsh Jennings’ parents found
out that May-Treanor was looking for a new partner
in 2001, they set up a rendezvous between the two,
marking the beginning of their partnership.
“My dad always told me, ‘If you want to be the
best, you’ve got to watch the best.’ And so, at every
tournament, if Misty was there, I would make time,”
says Walsh Jennings. “If I had a game off and she
was playing, I would go and watch her, and I would
just absorb everything she did, and I would pick
apart the things that I thought she was just so good
at, and then I would make them my own in training.
So I learned a lot from Misty just by watching her.”
Walsh Jennings was introduced to volleyball
when she was 10 and in the fifth grade at St. Mary
of the Immaculate Conception school in Los Gatos,
California, where she says she fell in love with the
sport. As a freshman at Archbishop Mitty High
School in San Jose, she played varsity volleyball and
went on to earn a scholarship to Stanford, which she
attended from 1996 to 2000. During her freshman
year there, the women’s international volleyball
team, which had just competed in the Atlanta
Olympics, visited Stanford for a friendly match.
Although the Stanford team lost, Walsh Jennings
was able to score a few points, which inspired her to
try out for the national team.
“All my dreams in my life so far, aside from hav-
ing a wonderful family, have been centered around
volleyball, and it’s taken me around the world, it’s
given me a college scholarship,” Walsh Jennings
says. “It’s been such a blessing in my life.”
After making the Olympic team, she left her
senior year and headed to Sydney for her first
Olympics in 2000, where she placed fourth with the
U.S. indoor volleyball team. Although she had
enjoyed playing indoor volleyball for 12 years, when
she returned from the Olympics she felt she had
outgrown it. She also wasn’t prepared to move to
Europe to make a living as a professional indoor
volleyball player, because she was very close to her
family in the United States. Looking for a change,
she was encouraged by her parents to partner with
May-Treanor on the sand.
“When you’re an indoor [player] you’re kind of
one of the herd—you’re told what to do, where to
be, what to wear,” she says. “But in beach volleyball
there’s way more autonomy, and the coach and the
athletes [have] more of a collaboration because
CONTINUED ON PAGE 32
LIKE MANY sports,
beach volleyball has its
own unique terminology.
Here are just a few of the
more than 80 terms provided by fivb.org.
Blocking: A player at
the net stops an opponent’s
shot by reaching higher
than the top of the net.
Bump: Using the forearms and hands together to
direct the ball.
Dig (save): The action
of the ball being saved with
any part of the body, particularly from a spike attempt.
Joust: When two opponents simultaneously contact the ball above the net.
Kong block: A huge
one-hand block used by
beach volleyball legend
Refers to a player who was
hit directly in the face by
Spike: The action of
jumping and striking the
ball with one hand as an