On a balmy October evening in Holyoke, Mass., the Volleyball Hall of Fame welcomed three new legends into its exclusive ranks. The 2013 class included Caren Kemner of the U.S., Natalie Cook of Australia, and Vyacheslav Zaytsev of Russia – a much smaller class than in recent years, but certainly an elite one.
Kemner, who started out as a high school volleyball and softball player in Quincy, Ill., also played both sports in college at the University of Arizona. After deciding to pursue only volleyball after college and joining the national team, Kemner helped the U.S. take a bronze medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and gold at the FIVB World Grand Prix in 1995. In total, she competed for Team USA for 15 years, earning team MVP honors five times. “She made plays that even today I’ve never seen anybody else make,” said former USAV executive director Al Monaco in Kemner’s introduction at the enshrinement ceremony.
Cook, the only athlete to compete in all five Olympics since beach volleyball was added in 1996, has earned Olympic bronze and gold medals competing with 2007 Hall of Fame inductee Kerri Pottharst. After more than 20 years in the sport, Cook retired following a disappointing performance in the 2012 Olympics, failing to break pool with partner Tamsin Hinchley. She then began to focus on her beach-volleyball inspired company, Sandstorm, in an effort to provide tournaments, leagues, and coaching for all levels of volleyballers around Australia.
In her acceptance speech in Holyoke, Cook gave credit to her grandfather for her sporting success. “My grandfather is the one who drove me to success,” she said. “I used to come home every day and see him and he’d say, ‘Did you win?’ It didn’t matter what I was playing, I didn’t even have to play a sport, I just had to win something. And so at the time I figured out that the best thing I should do is just say ‘yes’ every day. So I felt like a winner from a very early age thanks to my grandfather.”
The third inductee, Vyacheslav Zaytsev began playing volleyball in 1969 as a 17-year-old. Only eight years later, the USSR’s national team named him captain. With the national team, he established himself as one of the best setters and blockers in the game, earning two gold and two silver medals in the FIVB World Championships, Olympic gold in the 1980 Moscow Games, and silver in Montreal 1976 and Seoul 1988. He also served as coach of the Russian Men’s National Team from 1996–1997. Zaytsev’s legacy lives on with his son Ivan who was born and raised in Italy where his father played professionally from 1987 to 1992. Ivan plays for the Italian Men’s National Team and earned a bronze medal in the London Olympics.
Speaking to the crowd at the ceremony through a translator, Zaytsev said, “The hall that we visited today is a hall of fame, it is mine.” The translator then explained that in Russian, Slava, Zaytsev’s nickname, translates to something like fame or glory. Therefore, the Hall of Fame is also the Hall of Slava. “Thank you for everyone who helped me be here with you in my hall,” Zaytsev concluded.
Joel Dearing, former head women’s volleyball coach at Springfield College, also took the stage at the induction ceremony. He received the Mintonette Medallion of Merit for his record at Springfield (595–196) over 22 seasons, as well as for his varied contributions to the volleyball community. Dearing was a large part of the effort to establish the Molten Division III Men’s Invitational Championship in 1997 and has conducted volleyball clinics in six countries.
The Hall of Fame now includes 115 players and coaches, beginning with William G. Morgan’s induction in 1985.
This year’s Hall of Fame honorees have a multitude of talents, contributing not only to the volleyball community but to the literary one as well.
Go Girl! By Natalie Cook
Part memoir and part self-help manual, Go Girl! follows Cook’s pursuit of Olympic gold, all the while laying out strategies for success no matter what your dream may be.
The Untold Story of William G. Morgan – Inventor of Volleyball By Joel Dearing
Dearing charts the adventures of Morgan from early childhood to adulthood, searching to uncover the creation story of a very beloved American-made sport.
Hardcover, $25.95; Paperback, $12.95; dearingvolleyballschool.com
Originally published in January 2014