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Jenna Gray: The story of a multisport athlete

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Jenna Gray walks into her interview with her hair in a tight bun and her workout gear on, a big bottle of water in her hand. She’s wearing a red shirt that says “Stanford Women’s Volleyball” in block letters.

Had Gray come in on another afternoon, her shirt might have said “Stanford Track and Field,” or – had it been last school year – “Stanford Beach Volleyball.”

There are other athletes in the school who compete in two varsity sports that are quite similar, may it be track and field and cross country or volleyball and beach volleyball. But very few compete in two sports that are completely unrelated.

Gray is one of a select few athletes that participate in more than one sport. Last year, as a freshman, Jenna took on the extensive task of playing three sports, two of which had partially overlapping seasons. The additional sport was beach volleyball.

This year, as a sophomore, she is playing two: volleyball and track and field, where she throws the javelin. Her choice to drop beach came this year because she feared that it was too much time committed solely to playing sports.

“School-wise, last year wasn’t too difficult because I took a lighter load in the spring because I knew that I was going to be busy, but this year is the HumBio core which requires you to take 10 units already, and then I have my language, which is five units of sign language, so that’s an automatic 15 units built in,” she explained. “So this year that was kind of my decision in not doing beach this year, because obviously school comes first, so that’s been a big factor in choosing to do just track and volleyball, because it’s been a lot heavier this year.”

Gray loves having the opportunity to play multiple sports, and she has learned a lot from each one. The sophomore in college played volleyball all four years of high school, captaining her team junior and senior year. Her school team was extremely successful: It won the Kansas state championships three times (2012, 2013, 2015) and got second place in 2014. Gray as a player also won recognition as an Under Armour All-American, a Max Prep All-American, a PrepVolleyball All-American and more.

This extensive resume got Gray recruited to play volleyball on the Farm. Her freshman year with the indoor team led to personal and team honors. The team itself won the NCAA Championships, while Gray was selected into the NCAA Final Four All-Tournament Team. The freshman setter played in all 34 matches and started 20 of those matches.

What Gray has learned most from playing indoor volleyball is “the complexity of all the moving parts and getting to direct a lot of different things, and the strategy is a lot different in that I get to run my own offense and go to different people.”

She says that it remains her favorite due to its emphasis on teamwork. Pick-ups in times of need or the excitement of winning, Grey thinks, are better done with a larger team.

Gray’s career with the javelin was a bit different. Once done with her volleyball season during her junior year of high school, Gray began looking for another sport to do that would fill the gap between volleyball seasons without taking up too much time. Both her cousin and one of her best friends threw the javelin, and they convinced her to try it out, saying it was “’super social, you practice for like 45 minutes a day, it’s going to be so laid back.’”

Gray ended up trying it out and going on to win the state championships that same year. She decided javelin was something she enjoyed and continued to throw in her senior year. Throwing at Stanford was not necessarily planned out, since Gray had already been recruited for the volleyball team.

When asked whether she considers herself a recruit for the javelin throw, she responded that she always calls herself a track “walk-on.”

“I don’t know how I got in contact, either the track coaches saw my throws or my high school track coaches contacted them saying ‘Have you seen her throws? She’s already going to Stanford, you don’t have to work on the admissions process.’ But, then we got our new coach and I asked if I could do track and he said he didn’t care. So then I started practicing the next week.”

Track for Gray is a completely different experience than the loud, boisterous team sport that is indoor volleyball: “I’d say the biggest thing with track is that I’ve always done team sports, and so when you win or do well it’s just yourself, so that is the one thing that has been the biggest change for me.”

But track has also taught her things that volleyball has not.

“In track I would say the biggest thing is that it’s the same thing over and over again, so I learned a lot about smaller movements and how to use my body; that was the biggest thing. It’s like, it requires a lot of focus. You only get three or six throws at each competition, so focusing on the really small details.”

Despite her love for the sports she plays and the people she plays them with, Gray does sometimes feel that she is missing out on the Stanford experience. She admits to sometimes feeling “FOMO,” or fear of missing out, especially when the weather is nice. Having to bump around from one practice to the other, she realizes that she is not able to go tan or go to the pool with her friends who are not as busy.

Sports commitments also make academic work harder to fit in, since Gray’s calendar is chock-full with conditioning, practice, games and more.

Still, Gray loves having the opportunity to participate in multiple sports.

“I would go from a full team sport to a pair sport to an individual sport, so it was really interesting and fun seeing the different dynamics and the different amount of focus you had to have for each sport,” she says, laughing. “Also having three sets of teammates was really fun.”

 

Contact Laura Sussman at laura111 ‘at’ stanford.edu.