In the first 2013-14 edition of the Senior Sit Down, The Daily’s Sam Fisher chatted with women’s volleyball senior outside hitter Rachel Williams.
Sam Fisher (SF): Now that we’re in week three of senior year, academically — it seems like week 50 in terms of the sports season, I’m sure — how are you feeling? Does it feel real at all that this is your last run?
Rachel Williams (RW): It’s feeling good. In week three, teachers are starting to talk about midterms, so it’s kind of [hard], especially with us being on the road for most of last week. We were gone Tuesday to Saturday, so that’s a lot of class missed and catching up on that for midterms. It feels pretty normal. The beginning of preseason, it was like, “Oh my gosh. It’s my senior preseason. This is our last chance. This is our last time to do this and our last trip here and our last trip there.” It’s still a little bit [emotional] when we go on the road and it’s like my last time in the Galen Center or Pauley Pavilion, or things like that. And there’s definitely a greater appreciation for playing in Maples, because there’s only so many matches left. But now that school’s started, it’s a lot more in the grind, just focused on getting to class, getting to practice on time, taking care of the body. So not as much focus on every day being one less day until graduation. I know that seniors don’t really like to talk about graduation. We like to pretend that we’re staying here forever because this place is so amazing. It’s lots of hard work, lots of focus. In and out, I’ll notice things that it’s like, “Yeah, this is it,” but it’s not too overwhelming.
SF: You mentioned the weird travel schedule last week. As a senior, you have a unique perspective. In years one and two, very little television coverage. In years three and four, a lot of television means very different types of trips like that. What’s that transition been like, getting used to having to leave on a Tuesday rather than a Thursday and figuring out how to balance school and life?
RW: It’s not as difficult as I would have assumed it would be. It might be a little harder for the freshmen, because they’re adjusting to everything and having to miss that much class. Back freshman and sophomore year, sometimes we would play Thursdays so we would leave on Wednesdays. That was more common before I got here. So we do miss school, but it’s just like any other road trip where you’re talking to professors early and being like, “I’m going to miss this, so any chance you can help me out, I can get the lecture notes, blah blah blah.” Definitely I would say that it’s asking a little bit more of us as student-athletes to be on top of our work, but nothing that we can’t handle.
SF: Can you talk about what you’re taking this fall and what you have left before you graduate?
RW: I’m taking Earth Systems 10, to fulfill my Natural Science GER.
SF: I still need to do that.
RW: I was going to take sports med and it got cancelled. I was so disappointed. That was with [Dan] Garza — he’s a doctor on the 49ers. I heard that was a great class so I was excited to take it. So I’m taking this to fulfill the GER, I’m taking Soc 200, which is a seminar for my major because I’m majoring in sociology. And that is basically a 25-page research paper and I am going to focus on whether there is greater racial diversity on athletic varsity teams that have more scholarships than the ones that have like three and have to divide them up among the team. So I’m looking forward to doing that project. And then my last class is PoliSci 114D, which is “Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law” for my minor. And I will be done with all of my major and minor requirements after this quarter, so winter and spring is a lot more play time. My dad’s telling me that I need to find classes that will get me a job. He’s trying to get me to take accounting and finance and econ, which don’t look as much fun as the other options. Mel (Mary Ellen Luck), another senior on the team (my roommate), wants to take sailing in spring and tennis in winter, so I might join her.
SF: It can help you get a job as a sailor or tennis instructor.
RW: Exactly. I tried to tell [my dad] that all of my major and minor requirements were like the job part. I’m looking forward to having some fun classes. I’m trying to figure out what to do because I can take anything that I want. It’s kind of strange. And then not being in offseason with the team will be weird; kind of being a regular student and not a student-athlete any more will kind of by weird, for two quarters.
SF: That’s always been something that I’ve asked about. Being in a fall sport means having no summer for pretty much all of your time at Stanford, but you also get that experience for six months of being a normal Stanford student. Do you think about that at all? Have there been things you are looking forward to about that, anything you want to knock off your bucket list or are you going to wait until after the season to think about those things?
RW: We don’t have a whole lot of specifics, but Mel and I do a lot together, obviously; I’ve mentioned her like three times now. We do have a bucket list and we are planning on doing a lot of things that we couldn’t do when we were athletes. So more trips to the city probably on weekends and we’re working on being more spontaneous because this is our last go-around. But we do like our schedule and we’re excited that we get the two quarters off compared to some of the other sports that do go all the way through. Because we do get eight weeks of summer, even though we’re training, but it’s still nice; we get to see the sun. I think we’re going to go camping. We decided that winter break we are going to plan out a full bucket list of everything we want to get done in the six months before we graduate.
SF: Is there any one thing that really jumps out that you’re already thinking about?
RW: We’ll get to go on trips. We’ll probably go to Southern California a little bit more, because we’ll have weekends off and won’t have to get back by a certain time. We want to go visit some alumni volleyball players who live in the city now. What else did we talk about? I still need to go to Hoover Tower, which is really sad and really embarrassing. I need to go do that. But nothing specific.
SF: I love to go up Hoover Tower. It’s one of my favorite places.
RW: I know. I can’t wait to go.
SF: I pretty much only go up there when there are people here who I need to give tours to. I actually once wrote a paper up there. There are these little alcoves that kind of look out. And you get Wi-Fi.
RW: I need to try that. There’s lots of paper writing for my major.
SF: Circling back to volleyball now. I remember in high school, I never used to believe the seniors saying how quickly it goes by and how much you wish you did this, wish you did that. And then I remember being one of those seniors giving those speeches. So what’s that been like for you? I know you have so much young talent on this team. That was you a few years ago. You’ve been playing pretty much your whole career. It really does go by that fast.
RW: I have said that exact story to so many people in the last three months. I remember being a freshman and Cass [Lichtman] and Gabi [Ailes] and Alix [Klineman] being like, “Don’t talk about the fact that I’m a senior. I’m not a senior. It’s not real.” And I remember, even last season, Carissa [Cook] being like, “Do not mention that I am a senior, because I don’t believe it and it’s not happening. I don’t want to leave yet.” Then, for us to move in for the first day of preseason I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is me now. This is what they were talking about.” And it actually goes by as fast as you think it is. As a freshman you’re like, “Oh, I have plenty of time. Four years, that’s like ages away.” And it’s not. It feels like each year went by faster than the last one. So that’s been strange. But definitely I would say that I have really emphasized making the most of the opportunities we have here because they’re amazing. And it’s easy to take them for granted because they’re a norm. Especially in the volleyball program we have so many resources and so many cool experiences that most people don’t get to have. And so taking a second to take it all in and realize how awesome our team is and how much fun we have together and that not every team is like that. And how much fun we have on the court together, that’s not common. Other players that we compete against have mentioned to multiple people on the team that we just look like we’re having so much fun when we play, and that’s something that we pride ourselves in. Because we are such a close group and we work on having fun together and enjoying the journey as much as working hard and getting to the end.
SF: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team that looks as loose as you do. Even traveling one time with your team to L.A. a few years ago, it’s a really good vibe.
RW: Very relaxed. Competitive and focused, but we know that we’re best when we’re relaxed and we’re just playing and not overthinking or overtrying.
SF: Do you have any plans for volleyball after this fall season ends or are you thinking of hanging them up?
RW: I’m going to try to play overseas, get an agent and go see what professional volleyball is like in Europe. Hopefully Italy, but that’s not based on anything. I got to go visit Alix Klineman in Italy last spring break and got to see what her life is like as a professional-level player. We went to Milan, Florence and Cinque Terra. So that was an amazing trip. Very compact. I went with Mary Ellen and Hannah [Benjamin], another volleyball alum. And talking to her and other players that have played overseas, I think it’s worth a shot. And I think it would be a cool experience to live in another country for a year or two. And they all say that you say a year or two, but you’ll play for five or six years. But I want to go through the process and see if I get a cool opportunity locationwise and with a team that’s comfortable and go from there. Otherwise it’s getting a job, which does not sound as much fun as playing volleyball in Italy. So I’m definitely going to try to do that, which means I’ll probably be training with the indoor team still in the offseason, on and off more at my leisure than at their regimented schedule but I’ll probably be in the gym quite a bit.
SF: That still sounds a little bit nicer than the recommended schedule.
RW: Yeah. I won’t have to come in at 6 a.m.
SF: How’s your Italian?
RW: Not good.
SF: That’s the idea for the class now that you’re looking for, the classes in winter and spring.
RW: Yeah. I should probably take Italian. That would actually be really helpful. Good idea. My dad will probably enjoy that. So yeah, I’m really excited. Nervous, because Stanford’s so comfortable and it’s home now. I can’t imagine leaving this place.
SF: Last thing before I let you go — we talked a lot about you and a lot about your team, but this has been a pretty remarkable senior class among a lot of sports here. I think the football team, the senior class is probably as successful as it’s been. You look at Chiney [Ogwumike] on the court right now with women’s basketball. A lot of men’s basketball guys, this is the class that people expect to break out. So as a senior, do you feel any special connection around the other sports of, “Hey, this could be a really special year for Stanford all-around”?
RW: Definitely. Our class has been pretty close to the other sports, I would say. Obviously not every sport because there are 36, but we are engaged with the other sports and pretty much always have been. Even this preseason, we were talking to soccer girls and saying how cool it would be if they won the national championship, we had the opportunity to win the national championship and football [could win the national championship]. Just to be like, “Yay fall sports. Go us.” But the fact that we all have a legitimate opportunity or chance to do so is really exciting and really inspiring, and just shows how much talent and focus and drive there is in the athletes here. So yes, I think this could be an exciting year, especially because it’s our senior year. But with the added emphasis that this is our last chance to do it, I think you’re going to see a lot of amazing plays and dedication from this class.
Contact Sam Fisher at safisher ‘at’ stanford.edu.