US Olympic Beach Volleyball 2012: 10 Things You Need to Know About Jen Kessy
When it comes to women's volleyball in the Olympics, you've probably heard of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh. You've probably never heard of Jen Kessy and April Ross.
Kessy and Ross are the "other" sand-court pairing vying for gold in London. It's okay, May-Treanor and Walsh are the only duo to win to gold medals in the Games and are going for their third straight. Kessy and Ross are in their first Olympics.
So maybe it's time to freshen up on one half of this underdog pair.
Meet Jen Kessy, the 34-year-old California native who has spent much of her life on the beach with a volleyball in her hands. Here are 10 things you need to know about Kessy.
Empress of Troy
If you take a look at the USC volleyball media guide, you'll see one name over and over again in the records section (Ross is also well represented).
Kessy arrived at SoCal in 1995 and was an instant success. In her freshman year, she played in 27 matches, tallying 360 kills. Each year, her attacks and kills rose as she continued to dominate the game.
Her senior year was her best by far, as she tallied 554 kills with a .295 attack percentage along with 35 aces in 30 matches.
Over a decade after her last match, Kessy is still at the top of the Trojan record books. Her 38 kills in a match against San Diego in 1997 rank second in school history. She's also second in career kills per set, with 4.33.
She's also second in attacks with 4,356 and, you guessed it, kills with 1,799. Those records stood for 13 years, until recent graduate Alex Jupiter completed her senior season with the career record in kills (1,918) and attempts (4,759), becoming the first Trojan to record three seasons with at least 500 kills.
And it took her this long to get to the Olympics?
This Will Be Her One, and Only, Olympics
Father Time is unforgiving, even for seemingly superhuman Olympic athletes.
At 34, Kessy doesn't have many years left in her legs to compete at an elite level.
As in any sport, age eventually becomes an issue, and for beach volleyball players, losing that power in your legs is troubling. If you've ever played on the beach before, you know just how much your legs hurt afterwards from jumping and running in the sand.
So with Kessy competing in her first Olympic Games, it's not surprising to hear that this will be her last as well.
It seems like Walsh and May-Treanor have been around for a volleyball eternity. Well, so has Kessy. She just doesn't have the gold to show for it.
She's hoping that will change.
She Could Never Sit Still
Kessy is an athletic machine.
Not only does she play volleyball, but when she was younger she was big into gymnastics, soccer and softball, throwing 100 pitches every night to her dad.
She even won a pull-up contest on her gymnastics team when she was younger, stopping her at 40.
It turns out that the sport that's brought her to the Olympics was almost her mother's breaking point. Kessy's mom didn't want her daughter doing too much, but eventually she caved.
Kessy got hooked on volleyball, spending countless summer days playing on the beaches near her home in San Juan Capistrano, California.
You can relax now, Mom.
She Was Ross's Back Up (Kind Of)
Five years ago, Kessy was searching for a teammate.
She found Ross, but Ross already had a playing partner and politely declined the offer. Not long after Ross was without a partner for the first tournament of the season.
Imagine asking a girl out and her politely declining, only to see her a week later at a bar again and this time the tables have turned.
In an article for USA Today, Ross said she was nervous to call Kessy back when she needed a teammate, and was positive she would be turned down in return.
Thankfully for the pair, Kessy said yes.
She's "Dating" Her Teammate
Before Kessy and Ross agreed to be teammates they had to get to know each other.
The former USC Trojans met up for coffee before committing to what they jokingly call "the date."
For beach volleyball, teammates have to be incredibly in sync to succeed. That comes with understanding, respect for one another and most of all liking each other.
So that's why they act like they're dating each other. They spend most of their time together, even when they're not competing. The personal bond makes their chemistry on the court that much more powerful.
They have to know what the other is thinking on the court, and be able to communicate effectively.
They've even gotten to the point where they can finish each others...
Boyfriends Ruin Team Chemistry
Life on the road competing in U.S. and international tournaments makes the social life (especially the dating scene) particularly difficult.
Fortunately for Ross, she's married.
Unfortunately for the duo, Kessy's got a boyfriend. The "honeymoon phase" was especially rough.
Kessy admitted to Fox Sports that in the early stages of her new relationship she spent much more time with her boyfriend and less time with her teammate than in the past. After being used to seeing so much of each other all the time it was a bit of a change.
"It kind of messed with our team dynamic a little bit," she said. "We just had to have one good talk about it, one good cry, and that was it."
So don't worry, the Kessy-Ross relationship is as strong as ever, on and off the sand.
Away Court Advantage
It may go down in volleyball lore that if it wasn't for the Stavanger Grand Slam in 2007, we may not see Kessy and Ross on the sand together in London.
The duo was still barely teammates that June when they entered the tournament as the 29th seed. They had to win three qualifying matches just to get into the draw. And even still they barely made it to the elimination rounds.
But somehow Kessy and Ross found their groove and swept their way to gold in the tournament, becoming the lowest seed ever to win a Grand Slam.
They took bronze the year after, won their first world title in Stavanger in 2009 and again won the Grand Slam in 2011.
Maybe they just like those big Viking swords the winners receive. Who knows.
1 of 6 Women to Earn $1 Million
Outside of the gold and the increased fame, Kessy's pairing with Ross has helped in one other area.
The duo finished an unimpressive ninth in July 2010 at a tournament in Stavanger (something's in the water), but the finish made Kessy just the sixth American woman to reach seven figures in career earnings.
Since making her debut in 2000, she has earned $1,210,035, according to her bio on NBC Olympics.
And if that isn't impressive for you, it took just two years for Kessy and Ross to become the third U.S. duo to earn $1 million together. As of last year, that total stood at $1,710,600.
If Kessy keeps playing another year or so, they could easily reach $2 million.
She Takes Her Pillow Everywhere
Now this is something I can relate to.
In an interview with Rockstar, Kessy admitted to bringing her pillow everywhere she travels for the past six years (and I thought I was the only one).
She likes the comfort of knowing where she'll be able to rest her head, no matter what country she's in.
And her teammate called her out on the night mask. What are friends for?
(No, I do not use a night mask.)
She Loves to Sight-See
While the stress of being away from home for months at a time can get to be too much (Kessy said she averages about eight days at home a month), there are some perks that come with traveling the world.
For Kessy it seems to be that she actually can see the world.
She's spent time at the concentration camps in Auschwitz with fellow players. She's toured Rome. She's seen Buckingham Palace (so she doesn't need to during the Games).
She admits on her bio page that she loves taking photos, especially of anything old.
If she's seen so much, what's left to see when she retires?