Kevin Plummer so grateful for journey that Kathryn has taken the family on

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Kathryn Kevin Plummer 12/9/2019-Stanford volleyball
Kristian, Kathryn, Michelle, and Kevin Plummer at Stanford senior day

If you’ve been around Stanford volleyball the past four years, it’s been hard to miss Kevin Plummer.
Yes, his daughter, 6-foot-6 Kathryn, is one of the best to ever play NCAA volleyball, VolleyballMag.com’s 2018 Player of the Year. But Kevin, a big man with a loud voice, a sense of humor and incredible devotion to Kathryn, is even harder to miss.
Kevin Plummer, 6-foot-8, and and his wife, 6-3 Michelle, have seen nearly every Stanford match the past four years and, of course, they’ll be in Palo Alto this weekend for the NCAA regional. At the most, Kathryn has four more matches left to an illustrious career that started long before she became a Cardinal and, mostly likely, will be one that will continue for many years to come.
We asked Kevin to chronicle the journey.

By Kevin Plummer for VolleyballMag.com

Jokingly, friends used to make remarks like, “I want first rights to represent your kids,” and that we would have “genetic freaks for offspring.” 

Little did my wife and I know, but these assumptions were pretty accurate.

In the winter of 1994 we were blessed with the birth of a healthy son, Kristian. Just how I had dreamed and imagined, the next couple decades would be spent at dance recitals (yep), basketball courts, Little League baseball fields, soccer complexes, orchestra performances, lacrosse fields and some of the toughest intercity football fields around. 

Not until he got to high school had we ever considered volleyball. 

After very successful freshman football and basketball seasons, we assumed he would play lacrosse in the spring. Kristian came home one day and said, “Hey Mom and Dad, I tried out for the volleyball team and made it!” 

Michelle chuckled and asked, “Do boys play volleyball?”

Kristian, 6-foot-7, was a natural. A left-handed setter. His high school coach suggested he try out for a local club program. We went from club to club, paying our $25 fee to join hundreds of other “newbies” for a coveted spot on their 15-1’s team. 

He was invited by many, but when his high school coach heard that Balboa Bay had offered him a spot he highly encouraged him to accept. Thus started the Plummer Family relationship with a sport that has given so much more than we can ever give back. 

For this I am grateful.

Every weekend would be spent at the Anaheim Sports Center watching our son play.

Kathryn and Kristian Plummer

And we brought with us his 10-year-old sister.

Kathryn, along with another player’s 9-year-old sister, was an unofficial cheer leader. At that time, Kathryn stood about 5-10 and had a heck of a time doing split jumps and other acrobatic stunts like her much shorter friend. Her dream of being the “flyer” would never be realized. She had spent the last couple years playing club soccer and basketball, and excelled at both. We feel this developed decent foot speed and coordination for a girl who would soon grow to 6-6. 

For this I am grateful.

Kathryn as an infant

This chubby tow-head blonde was on the young end of her peer group. Born in the fall of 1998, her nickname of “Buddha” was quite appropriate. She would sit with the same intense expression that she is known for today, all of her rolls gathered up like a venetian blind, seemingly pondering her next chess move in life. 

She had learned to pepper with her brother and they would celebrate milestones of keeping the ball alive. I remember vividly the first time they had 100 consecutive touches without letting the ball touch the ground. The excitement was real. Kris taught her to hand set, and this is what got her noticed. 

For this I am grateful.

On a very cold February afternoon at a tournament in Chicago, 10-year-old Kathryn was bored to tears. 

None of her buddies had made the trip and she was the only sibling in the gym and sequestered due to the outside weather. When we had a lunch break and before we set off to find deep dish Chicago-style pizza, Kathryn tried to serve a couple balls over the boys net. 

Not even close! 

One of our son’s coaches caught her out of the corner of his eye and went over to console her frustration. They peppered a bit and he noticed how large and soft her hands were setting the ball. He suggested that Mom and Dad get her in a volleyball clinic “stat!” 

The pizza was delicious, and a week later Mom took her to Laguna Beach VBC. Kathryn’s own personal volleyball career officially started, as did our adventure that would then include two volleyball-playing kids and a cultural journey that would visit the corners of the earth. 

In other words, no off season and every weekend in a gym, as well as 4-5 nights a week at a practice. 

For this I am grateful.

She was 10 and played on the 12-1’s team that eventually would win a silver medal at the USA Volleyball junior nationals that year.

And Kathryn was not there for the final match. 

Young Katherine, back left, with her 12s Laguna Beach team that also included Meghan McClure and Mima Mirkovic

We/she had had plans for her to travel to Europe that summer with a student ambassador group. Lo and behold, the travel date to Paris was the Saturday of the final in Reno, Nevada. So we had to leave Reno on Friday evening to get her to LAX to catch a flight very early Saturday morning. 

The year before, Kristian’s team won the USA Volleyball 15s Open national title, so Katrhyn knew what she was missing and felt she let her teammates down by not being there battling with them. 

But we got her off to her trip and then got on a plane ourselves to Austin, where Kris’ team was competing in the national tournament. Balboa Bay and legendary coach Rich Polk had won the last several 16s open championships. Not that year. They had to settle for bronze. Little did either one of our kids know how difficult it is to medal in the open division of a junior national tournament, let alone any division.

For this I am grateful.

When she was 11, Kathryn moved up to to the Laguna Beach 14-1 team. She was by far the youngest player on the team and was hearing things that would make a sailor blush. The team ran a 6-2 which allowed Kat to set in the back row and hit as an opposite. 

She grew up tremendously that year and tried out for her first USA High Performance team. She was selected to the Southern California squad that competed in Tucson. Kathryn rarely saw the court, as she was 2-3 years younger than anyone else, but she learned so much at practices and never complained. 

The team won the silver medal that summer, and the experience gave Kat the confidence she had needed to make a full/sole commitment to the sport. We wouldn’t allow her to quit basketball and soccer until she completed her commitments on her then current teams. We were heartbroken to leave our friends in those sports, but realized that in this new generation, specialization was the norm. Besides, it was chaos going from sport to sport and maybe it was best to give us a small break too. 

For this I am grateful.

But if we expected a break in being sports parents, we had another thing coming to us. 

Kerri Walsh Jennings, Kathryn Plummer and Misty May before the 2012 London Olympics. Kathryn was used as a tall blocker to help the eventual gold-medalists prepare for the Austrians at the Olympic games.

Kathryn soon discovered beach volleyball and when not in the gym, she could be found on one of many Southern California beaches. Kathryn made a decision (not really, Mom & Dad did) to move to another club. We chose Tstreet Volleyball Club and spent the next five years there, which led to a bunch of medals, plaques, trophies and culminating with a 18s Open title — she was 16 — at the USA Volleyball nationals in New Orleans.

Columbus, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Reno and Dallas were some of the many trips we made where lifelong relationships have budded and flourished.

Kathryn’s second 18s Open experience in Milwaukee was where the eventual Stanford Class of 2020 first met as an entire, committed group. 

The time at Tstreet allowed us to meet who we consider our best friends. Our lives were changed, infinitely for the better, by the friendships we’ve developed from this group. The tailgates were epic and brought together parents of several clubs every week to enjoy each other’s company. It is not uncommon for us to have reunions a couple times a year to come together as folks we truly love.

For this I am grateful.

I recall racing up and down the 405 freeway in rush hour traffic, almost nightly, between Tstreet in Irvine and Hermosa Beach or Doheny State Beach, where Kathryn trained for multiple FIVB beach world championship tournaments. 

Kathryn and Mima Mirkovic, after winning under-21 FIVB beach bronze in 2016

She had the good fortune to compete in four FIVB World Championship events — three beach and one indoor. She also became the first human being to medal in a FIVB World Championship in both disciplines. She won gold in Acapulco, Mexico, and two bronzes, one in Larnaka, Cyprus, and another in Nanjing, China, in beach. Her team won silver indoors in Lima, Peru. 

What’s more, Michelle and I got to travel to all those events and Kris joined us in Lima. We had such amazing trips and met some of the most wonderful people in our lives by participating in the whole experience. 

For this I am grateful.

Kathryn captained both the youth and junior national teams and also competed in NORCECA events that qualified Team USA for the world championships. We also got to watch her play in the International Children’s Games in Windsor, California. This still may be our favorite event, because it was an Olympic village-style environment and the age of the kids was perfect for us observing them having so much fun.

For this I am grateful.

We provided Kathryn a comfortable and nurturing, yet tough love, environment at home. 

She understands the importance of hard work and fully committed effort. She never thought that she was making any sacrifices. She was always in control and knew that decisions were hers to make (we did provide guidance) in regards to where she wanted to go in life. She made willful efforts to high achievement in the classroom so that all options would be available for her collegiate future. I was most proud of how serious she was, and how she managed her time, to being the absolute best she could be in the classroom. She missed many social events, school dances and opportunities to just hang out with friends and be a “normal” teenager. We know she doesn’t regret anything. 

For this I am grateful.

Kathryn fostered a love of the game of volleyball by becoming a student of the game. She begged us to take her to any national-team matches in Southern California. She watched hundreds of hours of video, primarily the men’s game, to learn strategy and the ability to break down a match and see tendencies and keys to look for. She appreciated the men’s style and wanted to emulate players like Clay Stanley, Matt Anderson, Wallace de Souza and Milan Rasic for their powerful style of play. Michelle and I used to take the kids to Long Beach State games. They got to watch great players like Danielle Scott-Arruda, Tayyiba Haneef-Park, Brittany Hochevar, Misty May, Cheryl Weaver and got to know legendary coach Brian Gimmillaro. 

For this I am grateful.

Volleyball at Aliso Niguel High School was a blast. 

Both kids played four years and played with amazing talents. Both played deep into the CIF playoffs and in 2014 Kathryn’s team won the CIF Championship. 

First day of summer camp before Kathryn’s freshman year of high school

Tailgates were again a great way to socialize and bring the parents together. Kristian continued his volleyball career at NAIA Concordia University in Irvine and the Eagles won their first men’s national championship that year. After finishing his freshman year at Concordia, he decided he needed a “collegiate experience,” so he transferred to and graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in sociology. 

Kathryn also competed on the Aliso Niguel track and field team. Although she never did figure out the discus, she was a shot put beast. She broke the school record as a freshman and continuing to break records through her junior year, which was her last. By then she had committed to play volleyball at Stanford University and wanted to make sure she wasn’t pressuring her right shoulder to overuse. 

For this I am grateful.

Kathryn was recruited by some of the top universities in the country. Most had a history of academic and volleyball excellence. Some of the coaches and staff we met were immensely inspiring. We made it a priority to visit as many universities as possible so that Kathryn had the evidence required to make an informed decision on her choice for education and continuance of her volleyball career. As it is very stressful for a teenager to make decisions that will impact the rest of her life, it was clear that Kathryn’s motivation was to do whatever necessary to be considered for Stanford University admissions. Her perseverance throughout the process was remarkable. And let me say this: Stanford associate head coach Denise Corlett, who handles the program’s recruiting, has a poker face. 

For this I am grateful.

May 5, 2015, may be one of my favorite days. 

Denise Corlett called me while I was having a business lunch and asked if we could all be available for a Skype conference call that evening. We scheduled a time without letting Kathryn know. At approximately 5 p.m., with iPad ready, the call came. On the other end were then-Stanford head coach John Dunning and Denise. After a couple minutes of small talk, John dropped the bomb. Kathryn had been admitted to Stanford University and a full scholarship was hers if she accepted!!! 

Without hesitation, like accepting a marriage proposal, Kathryn said “YES!” 

It still gives me goose bumps. Knowing that my baby girl had earned the opportunity to attend one of the world’s top academic institutions and to be included in one of the most storied volleyball traditions, the Cardinal of Stanford University. 

For this I am grateful.

These three and a half years have flown by. It feels like yesterday that Michelle and I were helping her move into her first preseason dorm. I remember how welcoming the upperclassmen were and how helpful Inky Ajanaku and Merete Lutz were with offering their assistance. The first Nike Christmas happened later that day and the expressions on the freshmen’s faces were priceless. 

Fast forward to December 2019. 

Two NCAA championships. Three final fours. 

USA national team experience. 

Are you kidding me? 

Personal accolades too numerous to list. Exuberance and heartbreak. Pain and recovery. A degree from Stanford University in Human Biology. A long-distance love relationship with a Stanford grad who started as a best friend. 

Michael is an amazingly good man, from a remarkable family, who has the world in his grasp. 

Kristian will graduate with his master’s in education (Special Education, Moderate to Severe) next week and will begin his teaching career at San Clemente High School in January. 

Kathryn will walk with her class in June 2020. Some traditions of her senior year will be missed as she prepares for destinations unknown to continue her volleyball career. There is unfinished business for her and her teammates. Why not bring a third home to the Farm? For greatness. 

For this I am grateful.

Kathryn understands her place, too. We have never witnessed her deny an autograph or photo opportunity. She has signed thousands of posters, T-shirts and ticket stubs and taken countless photos. 

She remembers being the young girl who excitedly stood in long lines anticipating meeting her heroes and knows that just maybe some of those items she signed might be hanging on a young fans bedroom wall. 

For this I am grateful.

There are scores of people that need to be thanked. Family, friends, so many coaches, administrators, journalists, and especially teammates and their families. There are far too many to list and I’d hate to leave anyone out. But we are so grateful for the friendships and guidance so many have given Kathryn.

Michelle is the rock of our family. I can’t thank her enough for being the mother to my two children and for guiding them to become exemplary human beings and both role models for future generations.

And Kristian has been such an inspiration and role model. 

Finally, THANK YOU Kathryn! You and your brother make me the proudest guy in the world. 

For all of this I am grateful.

The Plummers on a 2015 trip to Tijuana

4 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you, Kevin and Michelle, for being down to Earth parents of two exceptional young people. I hope the Plummer family will see Stanford WVB (and Kathryn) win another national championship in Pittsburgh.

  2. The KP that we long to see in the court and the love and admiration we bestow on her as a player and as a person are borne out of her total persona of volleyball greatness and humility exemplified. Thank you Kevin and Michelle for molding what has become a total package of talent, wit and grace and sharing the same with us humble lovers of the game of volleyball. I bet even players on the other side of the net and their supporters, critics and the volleyball world are silently admiring KP’s achievements on and off the court – all because of the great foundations you laid out and the continuous guidance you give to your children. We may have seen the almost-finished product of College greatness of this sport, a generational player in a pool of talents, yet we are grateful to those behind the scenes whose sacrifices and dedication are translated into a much-awaited and pleasurable Stanford Cardinal WVB worth-watching games.

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