By James Hemker
This article is part of a running series The Daily sports staff will be publishing on seniors.
A constant on the court for the Stanford women’s volleyball team the last three seasons, senior Meghan McClure has emerged as the team’s clear leader. As a starting outside hitter, McClure helped lead the Cardinal to three conference championships (2017-19) and two NCAA titles (2018, 2019). For her efforts on the court, she has earned All-America honorable mentions from the AVCA (2018) and VolleyballMag.com (2017-19). Her junior year, McClure was awarded the NCAA Elite 90 Award, which is presented to the athlete with the highest GPA who has reached competition at the finals site. An STS major, McClure carried a 3.965 through her junior year. The Daily’s James Hemker sat down with McClure to discuss the upcoming volleyball season, what it means to be a senior in the era of COVID-19 and her time both on and off the court at Stanford.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): How did you get into volleyball? What made you enjoy it so much?
Meghan McClure (MM): We were always a really big sports family. I was playing wiffle ball, kicking the soccer ball around for like, as long as I can remember. About when I was in fifth grade, I was playing softball and soccer. My mom and I would pepper a little bit like at my brother’s games and stuff, because she had played volleyball in college. So that year, she’s like, let’s just sign you up for volleyball. And so I played my fifth grade year, and was like, ‘Okay, this is fine’, but I’m really gonna play softball.
And then I played volleyball for a year or two more, and I was like, nope, never mind, definitely volleyball. I just loved it. Everything I hated about softball was the reverse in volleyball. I hated how slow softball was and how you could play a whole game and never have the ball hit to you. It would be really strange if I didn’t get a ball hit to me in volleyball. From then on I played club volleyball and stopped playing travel softball. I just love volleyball and I’m glad my mom and I started peppering on the sidelines.
TSD: At what point did it become clear you could play in college, and when did Stanford come into the picture?
MM: It became pretty obvious during high school that my career was going to take that path, which was super exciting. From the age of like five, I’ve wanted to go to Stanford, unrelated to volleyball. I had thought I would play softball there. I had heard it was the “Harvard of the West” and that it had good sports. My freshman year I contacted [former associate head coach] Denise [Corlett]. The old coaching staff, [former head coach] John [Dunning] and Denise, were just very cryptic. They’d say, ‘Oh we really like you, but we can’t say much more.’ So that was stressful, especially for my parents. I was putting all my eggs in one basket, and I felt that I knew I was going to Stanford. I’ve never been that way about anything in my life; I’m someone who stresses about everything, but I knew it would work out.
TSD: Do you remember your first practice and your feelings going into it?
MM: As I said, I’m a very stressed person in general, and I was terrified to be coming to a team that had just won the national championship. We coached camps during the summer, and at every session they showed the previous season’s highlight video. The first time I saw it, my stomach just dropped. I was like, ‘What am I doing here? This can’t be where I’m going.’
The first day of practice I woke up super early, my stomach was hurting from the stress, I was so scared. The practice was something simple like serve and pass, but I remember [teammate] Sidney [Wilson] coming up to and telling me to take a deep breath. It took a while my freshman year for me to calm down, I’m not going to lie.
TSD: Since that point, you’ve been an All-American and a two-time national champion. Does it feel like a blur?
MM: For the most part, it doesn’t feel like a blur, but it does feel like it’s gone by super quickly. I remember my freshman year well, especially how I was feeling. It’s crazy to me, thinking back and reflecting to when I was a freshman. I had expected a lot from Stanford; they had just won the national championship, so I knew we would be pretty good. Even still, all of my expectations have been blown out of the water. Two national championships? I could have never, ever, ever expected that. It’s been amazing. Everything else at this point is icing on the cake, and so I’m trying to keep that perspective in mind with everything that’s going on.
TSD: What are some of your favorite games or moments you remember?
MM: Freshman year, being at the Final Four was the coolest experience. That was my favorite Final Four, even though we lost. I feel like I was just wide-eyed and enjoying everything about it. I think I maybe didn’t realize the gravity of the situation because the next two Final Fours I was definitely more stressed.
Sophomore year I very much remember my Minnesota game because I think that’s my career-high-in-kills game. I also remember going 20-0 in the Pac-12 which was insane. And then the national championship. I blocked out a lot of it because it was such a stressful experience. I remember the last point very, very well, though. Jenna [Gray] set me and I pictured [head coach] Kevin [Hambly] in my head telling me to go for it. So I went for it and it worked.
TSD: Have you had any unanticipated challenges that you’ve had to overcome?
MM: I’ve had such an issue with confidence and stress on the court. I really struggled to feel like I belonged on the court. I felt like the worst player, which was probably true being a freshman with five All-Americans, but that didn’t mean I didn’t deserve my spot on the court. Merete [Lutz], our senior that year, was so awesome. She just wrapped me up and really helped me kind of get through that. She was really positive for me, which was so helpful in ways I don’t really think she knew.
Then last year, that’s what really came to mind. We had something like the number one recruiting class come in. We had people who were 6-5 to my 6-0 come in, and Kevin had told me at the end of my sophomore spring that they were going to at least try the incoming players at outside. That was heartbreaking for me, just devastating. That entire summer, every time I trained or practiced I felt like I was looking over my shoulder. Then the season came and we get to Nebraska. Kevin tells me I’m going to play only backrow, which was definitely a step down from what I had been doing the past two years. Obviously I wanted to be a good teammate and do what’s best for the team, but it’s hard to suck up your ego and pride. We played a few games and things aren’t going great, so I got switched back. But for the rest of the season I felt like I had to do everything right to make sure there was never a reason to take me off the court again. Then towards the end of the year, the team began to coalesce and everything after that was awesome.
TSD: I know a very important part of your life is your relationship with your sister Mandy. How has your relationship with her helped you and added to your volleyball experience?
MM: Going off what I just said, when Kevin told me I wasn’t going to be playing all the way around at Nebraska I was heartbroken. But my dad and Mandy came to that game, and I remember hugging her and all I needed was that hug. I needed someone there for me and she was the perfect person. Mandy has a great way of making you feel better even when you’re really sad. And that’s just one example of a time when I just needed Mandy and she was there for me.
I never expected the Stanford volleyball team to bring in Mandy the way that they have. I’ve never had a community just wrap her up in love the way that the team has. The first year she started to have her “main homies.” First it was just the freshmen, and then it was also Jenna, and then at some point everyone on the team was her main homie. I just feel so grateful that I’m on this team for so many reasons, but the girls and their families are the greatest people in the world. I couldn’t have been surrounded by better people for the past four years if I had picked them myself.
TSD: You entered Stanford as one of four freshmen on the team. Now you’re leaving as the only senior. I imagine this is not how you expected the journey to end.
MM: It’s so weird. I find myself all the time talking about stories and things from my freshman year and no one else was here. I feel like the old person retelling stories. It’s been hard to go from having all of my classmates to just myself. I was really close with the class above me too, so I knew that this year would be different since I would be losing six of my best friends, but I never thought it would be just me. I don’t want to say my plight is especially difficult, given the circumstances, but if there’s any year to have someone really understand what it’s like to be a senior with you, I feel like this is it.
There are some silver linings to it. I get a Senior Night which is basically just Meghan Night, which is what I’m calling it. I also have to pull up my leadership pants and be ready to go because there’s only me and the two juniors. I hadn’t gotten to be a vocal leader on the team the past couple of years, so it’s both cool and stressful.
I also just feel so old compared to the rest of the team. I don’t have a TikTok, I don’t understand TikTok, and the freshmen are all about TikTok. I definitely feel like I am just in a different stage of life than most of the team. I’m not that much older than them — I only turned 21 in August — but there is just a life gap. I feel like the big sister. They’re all my younger sisters. I love them so much, but they’re my younger siblings.
TSD: Alright here’s everyone’s favorite question: Do you have any superstitions?
MM: I was waiting for this one because I remember the team talking about [former teammate] Tami [Alade’s] answers in the locker room because they were so weird. But I don’t really have any. I always wear a ribbon in my hair, and I try to match it to the jersey color, but that superstition has been broken before. It really matters that I just wear one, but even then I’ve forgotten a couple of times and nothing terrible has happened. I always had a chocolate chip waffle every morning, but we can’t have those anymore either.
TSD: You said everything at this point is icing on the cake, but do you still have any specific goals for this season?
MM: Obviously I’d love to win the Pac-12 for the fourth time. That would be amazing. And I would love to win another championship. Those are the pretty streamline goals for us and our team. Other than that, I just want to have fun, which sounds dumb. But I stressed a lot about volleyball, and this is my last time. When I look back in five years I don’t want to wish I had enjoyed it all a bit more. I want to remember being happy my senior year and really take advantage of the extra time I’ve been given.
TSD: Do you have any plans to keep volleyball in your life after Stanford?
MM: I’m not going to play pro, so that’s out of the question. Coaching has never really been my favorite thing to do, but I think after my first year or so out of college I’d like to get involved in a club and help in some way or another. Or maybe running clinics, especially for people that might not be able to normally afford clinics. I think that would be really fun and meaningful. I love volleyball, and I’m sure I’ll play pickup and beach with people.
TSD: So what are your plans post-graduation?
MM: I’ve been accepted to the Teach For America Corps, which is an organization that places recent college graduates in high-need areas for education. I’ll be teaching for two years in Memphis, Tennessee. At some point during the summer I’ll head to Memphis and get my training. I’ll be teaching Special Ed, and I hope I’ll be in elementary school, but I’ll be certified for K-12. I’m planning on getting my master’s in education during that time as well. I don’t know if I’ll stick with teaching, but I am very interested in educational inequity and I definitely want to stay in the world of education.
This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.