Growing up in a volleyball family, Kendall Kipp tried her best to rebel against the established order.
Nearly from birth, she found herself at club volleyball tournaments. Her oldest sister, Kasey, went off to play volleyball for UC Santa Barbara when she was just 6 years old.
Kipp said she was determined not to play volleyball. She played soccer and swam early on, but as middle school approached, Kipp finally relented. She told her mom that she wanted to play volleyball, and a couple of clinics later showed up to tryouts for the Corona del Mar middle school team.
“I fell in love with the sport so fast,” Kipp said. “I was literally obsessed. I would stay outside by the wall by my front door and just pass the ball for hours or pepper with my sisters [Kasey and Conley] whenever they came home.
“It’s just funny how I never thought I would play.”
A four-year varsity member of the Corona del Mar High girls’ volleyball team, Kipp has blossomed into one of the best players around. She had a phenomenal junior season, earning all-CIF Southern Section Division 1 honors in propelling the Sea Kings to the semifinals. A berth in the CIF State Southern California Open Division regional tournament followed.
After all the team success of last year, Kipp, who committed to Stanford in June, came back as one of two CdM returning starters. It appeared that the Sea Kings had sustained too many losses, as their record dropped to 9-11 overall following a five-set defeat to Laguna Beach at home.
Kipp was born two weeks shy of Christmas, and she says the holiday is her favorite. The height and athleticism of the 6-foot-4 outside hitter are gifts that any volleyball team would be happy to accept. And Kipp never lost faith in her team.
Since the loss to the Breakers on Sept. 12, CdM has won 13 matches in a row. The Sea Kings clinched the Surf League title outright on Thursday night with a 25-20, 25-15, 17-25, 25-22 win over Huntington Beach.
“I’m very optimistic,” Kipp said. “I knew that we had a lot more potential than we had already reached. I knew that we weren’t playing the best that we could. I think it was such a new group of girls that we had to figure out how we played together.
“I saw [the winning streak] coming, I guess. I was just kind of waiting, and I knew that if we kept working hard, we could be really good and surpass everyone’s expectations.”
Kipp has averaged 22 kills per match in Surf League play, helping CdM take its record to 22-11 overall and 5-0 in league.
While Kipp prefers to lead by example, Sea Kings coach Steve Astor says that she comes with the intangibles of impeccable character.
“She is pretty unparalleled with her combination of integrity, work ethic, humility and teamwork,” Astor said. “She has all of those things, and she is 6-4. It’s a lethal combination.”
Kipp said she learned from great leaders that came before her, including Ashley Humphreys, who set for Kipp at CdM and with the Laguna Beach Volleyball Club before heading to USC this year.
Astor added that Kipp has a foundation made on stone. She became the rock the Sea Kings needed with so many new faces in the fold. Senior middle blocker Karly Recker, junior libero Michelle Won and junior outside hitter Nikki Senske were the three other returners with any significant rotation time on varsity last season.
“Leadership is not about giving giant speeches,” Astor said. “It’s about the day-to-day relationships. No one has been better than her at the day-to-day relationships with each kid.
“No one is intimidated. No one is scared of her, which is hard to do when you are that tall, that athletic and have Stanford on your résumé. Kids would be naturally intimidated. Not by Kendall because she’s so humble and so selfless.”
Somehow, it does not seem that the opposition would be in total agreement. Huntington Beach junior middle blocker Xolani Hodel had just finished a second-place showing in the Beach Volleyball Clubs of America national championships in July when she was asked about the new-look Surf League.
Specifically, Hodel was asked about the challenge of blocking Kipp, one of Orange County’s most imposing hitters. Hodel called upon the memory of her team’s second-round defeat at CdM in the Division 1 playoffs last year.
“They had some really amazing hitters,” Hodel said. “I think I got hit in the head from trying to block three times in that game.”
For her part, Kipp said she felt bad when reminded of those swings, but it goes to show the kind of unstoppable force that she can be.
As fearsome as she is to opponents, Kipp has a calming influence on her teammates.
“There will be times in matches where I will call timeout, and I’ll just say, ‘Kendall, you got them,’ and just let her talk,” Astor said. “They respect her, and she’s really smart, too.
“She’s not just smart Stanford-wise, but she’s really intelligent in a volleyball sense. I know if she takes the huddle, that’s better than what I can say, probably.”
Kipp has worked tirelessly to make herself a must-start player at the next level, as well as a player that the Sea Kings can trust in all rotations.
“I’ve been trying to work on my defense, just to become a better all-around player,” Kipp said. “Serve receive and passing, too. I’ve played outside, middle [blocker] and opposite. Once I get to college, I want to be able to play back row if needed and find my way on the court.”
Born: Dec. 12, 2000
Hometown: Newport Beach
Height: 6 feet 4
Weight: 175 pounds
Coach: Steve Astor
Favorite food: Sushi (California roll)
Favorite movie: “Elf”
Favorite athletic moment: The Battle of the Bay matches hold a special place in Kipp’s heart. She will play in the rivalry match for the final time on Thursday when the Sea Kings host the Sailors.