HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. – Before Todd Rogers and Jen Kessy would be inducted into the California Beach Volleyball Association’s hall of fame on Saturday night, and before 1970s beach standout Tom Chamales and the legendary photographer Bob Van Wagner would be honored as well, there was — and how could there not be? — an introduction from Chris “Geeter” McGee.
“Finally,” McGee, the longtime announcer for the AVP Tour, cried, “honoring legends that are not named Hov, Dodd, Randy, Sinjin, Menges, OB. How many times do we have to give Hov a lifetime achievement award just to get him here? But this, I can get behind.”
He was joking and he was not, as is his charm. Because he had a point. It does seem, indeed, like some time ago that Tim Hovland and Mike Dodd were winning five consecutive Manhattan Beach Opens, and Randy Stoklos and Sinjin Smith were piling up victory after victory, and Jim Menges and Steve Obradovich were detonating on balls, creating stories that have evolved into mythical status by now.
But it does not seem that long ago that Rogers was wrapped up in an American flag, running around a stadium in Beijing, an Olympic gold medal from those ’08 Games soon to be placed over his neck. It does not seem that long ago that Kessy and a young April Ross were stunning top-seeded Brazil’s Larissa Franca and Juliana Felisberta in the 2012 London Games, setting up an all-American Olympic final, the likes that hadn’t been seen since the ’96 Atlanta Games.
Neither moment seems all that long ago because neither really are. And while many of the legends of the game that have been honored time and time again, the Hovlands and Dodds and Smiths and Kiralys and Steffes and Stoklos, there is a new generation moving into that immortal classification.
“Gosh,” Kessy said when accepting her award. “I’m old.”
Hardly. Even in age, at 42, she cannot be considered old by anyone. Is she a bit far removed from her All-American days at USC? Perhaps. But her impact on the game, even after 30 career titles and an Olympic silver medal, is possibly just beginning.
The coach of Ross, her old partner, and Alix Klineman, Kessy has helped oversee arguably the fastest-developing team in the world. It was only two years ago that Ross took a moonshot on the indoor blocker with a raw skill set that held unlimited upside. They began in country quotas and qualifiers.
Two years later, they are the best team in the United States, all but assured an Olympic berth, considered by many the top team in the world.
“I’m on this crazy tour with some other crazy kids that are trying to win a medal,” she said. And trying, it is vital to note, with her. Is Kessy still wearing the red, white, and blue herself on the court? No. But, rest assured, coach, you are far from old, and the impact, far from being over.
It’s a sentiment shared by Rogers, The Professor who is only becoming ever the more professorial in his influence on the game. He was given that name because of his ethereal volleyball IQ. “Off the charts,” Phil Dalhausser said. “He played the chess game better than anyone else.” It’s possible the nickname really came before his time.
Rogers may have been the smartest, wisest, most self-controlled player of his generation and maybe of all-time, yes. One does not simply win eight Defensive Player of the Year awards, 2006 AVP MVP, 78 titles and two Olympic berths on accident.
But now he is, quite literally, a professor of the game, the head coach of the beach program at Cal Poly. It took him all of four seasons to lead the Mustangs to previously uncharted ground. They won the Big West for the first time. Beat Hawai’i for the first time, which they did thrice in 2019 alone. Made the NCAA Championships for the first time.
And Rogers was named Big West Coach of the Year, another first for the program.
Just as they did as players, Kessy and Rogers are ushering in a new generation of American beach volleyball: A new generation of hall of famers.
Read more about Chalmes on his BVBinfo.com biography.