Jake Kneller is the lone senior on this year’s men’s volleyball team. Gone are All-Americans Brad Lawson and Erij Shoji, along with the rest of the class of 2012 that set a school record with 86 wins in four seasons.
Kneller, a 6-foot-4 outside hitter from Westlake Village, Calif., stands by himself as the only member of the team who was on the roster for Stanford’s NCAA Championship in 2010. A co-captain with junior Brian Cook, Kneller sat down with The Daily to discuss the volleyball squad’s musical tastes and all things Stanford.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): As a senior, how do you take on a leadership role as the only guy on the team who has tasted the kind of success that is an NCAA title?
Jake Kneller (Kneller): It’s a little weird. I’m the only senior, and all the other classes are pretty large so it is kind of funny in that way. I do definitely feel added responsibility and pride, mostly just focusing on conducting myself the right way on and off the court.
When you’re younger, you can kind of get away with stuff, not in a bad way, but just in that you can have a game where you aren’t totally into it physically and mentally. Now the freshmen are looking at the way I play and act all the time to see how to conduct themselves. I enjoy doing that, and it’s nice to play that roll for a change.
TSD: You’ve only had a couple of weeks playing together this year, but what’s the team dynamic like so far with the younger classes making up such a large proportion of the roster?
Kneller: From the first day of practice, we said that everyone on the team is going to have the opportunity to be leaders. Every person brings something and there’s going to be a time and place where we need them to take on a leadership role. It’s definitely a different dynamic from last year with seven seniors gone, three or four of them had been starting the whole time, so it was really a senior-heavy team.
This season it’s almost like we have been wiped clean. I am the only one left from the 2010 national team, and that team was kind of really tied to the guys that graduated—Brad [Lawson], Erik [Shoji], Gus [Ellis]. We have a lot to prove, and while we don’t have that senior experience, from an on-court perspective the experience comes from all over the places. It comes from Cook and [Eric] Maholski, from the two freshmen setters, one of whom has to start because they’re the only ones on the roster. We have to come together and it has to be that way to lead us to victory.
TSD: Ok, well let’s transition a little to a couple of lighter topics. What’s playing on the iPod in the locker room these days?
Kneller: Oh, well definitely “Walking on Broken Glass” by Annie Lennox, been listening to that quite a bit. Probably “Shark in the Water,” the Louis la Roche remix. And we’re pretty big T-Swift fans, so “I Knew You Were Trouble” off the new album.
TSD: Alright very nice. Where can you find the best meal on campus and what is it?
Kneller: I’d have to say burrito night at Kappa Alpha [Kneller’s residence]. Every other Wednesday night with my boy Billy [KA’s house chef] is where it’s at.
TSD: What’s the greatest moment you’ve been a part of with the team?
Kneller: Has to be winning a national championship at Maples Pavilion in front of a sold-out crowd my freshman year. Trying to get back there is the goal this year. We’ve got the 2013 NCAA Championship circled on the board in our locker room already. We know we’ve got the skill and heart, and now we have to put in the work because everyone wants it. Now it’s about wanting it more than the next guy. It’s a journey and you have to enjoy every step because we know how important everything we do right now is for when the NCAA Finals come around May 4 at UCLA.
TSD: Does being a senior and having experienced three full seasons give you more perspective on that game and that moment than you had as someone in your first year of playing collegiate volleyball?
Kneller: After two years of being on very, very solid teams, I thought for sure we would get there again. It shows you that one point here or one point there is so huge. There’s such a small room for error that I didn’t appreciate before and kind of took for granted my freshman year.
It was destiny at that point, and being on the other side of it with heart-wrenching losses, it makes you appreciate things so much more and show how worth it is to get back there and that is what motivates me. Honestly, I probably won’t end up playing a ton this year, but it’s worth it to me to work my ass off every day to get back to that feeling I had freshman year.
TSD: Favorite class so far at Stanford?
Kneller: CS 106A. When you’re doing the problem sets, it’s a different way of thinking and it’s very cool—problem solving in a whole other way that my mind hadn’t worked before. Or maybe MSE 175, Creating Innovation and Change. It’s an awesome class thinking about business in a completely different way, looking at how companies create and innovate.
TSD: Any pregame routines or superstitions that you’ve got as a veteran on the team?
Kneller: Well we definitely have a set routine as a team: we watch video at the same time and then have about an hour to chill and get ready on our own. Most of that time I really spend almost always thinking about just how lucky I am to be a part of this program, how far volleyball has taken me on and off the court. That makes the game much more fun and puts less pressure on me when I consider how amazing the journey has been to this point.
TSD: What do people not know about men’s volleyball that they should?
Kneller: Probably just that behind soccer its up there as the most popular sport in the world in terms of the number of people that in Europe, Russia, South America. Lot’s of a people consider it to be a California sport, but men’s volleyball is just so exciting. It’s such a fast-paced team sport. Our home games are always free, and you’ll always hear some creative heckling from the KA brothers and creative costumes.
TSD: Ok last question: you can invite three people to a dinner party, who’s coming?
Kneller: Living or dead?
Kneller: Mitt Romney, Barack Obama and my grandpa.
TSD: Enough said. Thanks for taking the time to talk, Jake.
Kneller: No, thank you.