The Whitmarsh Legacy – VBAmerica

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Little girl on the beach smiling playing volleyball.

The Whitmarsh Legacy

The Whitmarsh Legacy

Kendall and Jaden Whitmarsh are daughters of Mike Whitmarsh, an American volleyball player who won a silver medal in the men's inaugural beach volleyball tournament at the 1996 Summer Olympics. Inspired by their father’s decorated career, the Whitmarsh sisters give credit to their dad for creating a true passion to play the game of beach volleyball.

The Whitmarsh sisters are from San Diego, California and grew up going to Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) events with their family. Though Beach volleyball has always been a part of the family dynamic, being surrounded by volleyball their entire life did not stop them from entertaining other sports throughout their childhood. Like their dad, both Kendall and Jaden were multi-sports athletes growing up. They played competitive soccer, indoor volleyball and beach volleyball, but at the age of 13, Jaden decided to solely focus on beach volleyball. Shifting her focus from multiple sports to a single sport was a difficult decision due to the comradery and friendships she built across different teams. However, with the community she had already established in volleyball and her family’s longtime commitment to the sport, volleyball seemed like the perfect fit. Kendall Whitmarsh, who is the youngest out of the two sisters, followed in Jaden’s footsteps shortly after, choosing beach volleyball as her main sport during her 8th grade school year. 

The sisters may play the same sport, but their journeys to where they are today are very different. Kendall, who just wrapped up her freshman year at Arizona State University, remembers how tough the recruiting process was. The Covid-19 pandemic changed the typical course of recruitment because she was not able to attend camps or play in the big BVCA tournaments that college coaches attend every year. Coaches and recruiters used film to recruit Kendall and she got the opportunity to make ASU Beach  Volleyball her new home. 

Jaden, on the other hand, stated that the toughest part of her journey has been balancing all that comes with being a student-athlete --school, practice, weights and a social life. After wrapping up her 5th year at UCLA (and coming back for one last ride!), she recalled how hard it was to adjust during her earlier years of college. She had to learn how to prioritize time for herself because of her instinct to put everything before herself, resulting in little time left to do things that she enjoyed. 

While both sisters had their individual struggles as student-athletes, there were several highlights on their journeys. With a smile on her face, Kendall talked about the opportunity to play the sports that she loves and is passionate about is worth everything she has been through. She spoke fondly of the many connections and friendships she’s made over the years as a result of playing volleyball.  Jaden reiterated how her teammates, who are also her best friends, helped her along the way, stating “Going to college and being on a team you are already surrounded by people with common interests and that is the easiest and most special thing about it.” The sisters also spoke about the transferrable skills they gained through volleyball that can be applied in any area outside of the sport. The sisters remain grateful through the ups and downs of their careers and credit their gratitude for getting them through college. 

The opportunity to play beach volleyball in college has been nothing short of amazing for Kendall and Jaden Whitmarsh. When asked who their inspiration was to continue on in their career they both answered, “My dad is my inspiration.” The late 1996 Olympian is someone they hold close to their heart and Kendall mentioned how she always feels a connection to her father when competing. The siblings talked about how special it is to carry out his legacy and make him proud. Jaden added that what keeps her going is when officials see her last name on the clipboard at games and ask, “Are you related to Mike Whitmarsh?” She said it makes her feel good and ultimately helps her be the best player she can be. Besides their dad, both sisters talked about their mom, brother and step-dad as their other motivators. They mentioned that their mom is at every game and, “screams her head off.” Jaden said. Making her proud is super important to both of them. Kendall added with a laugh, “Oh I guess my big sister is my inspiration too.” Jaden answered with a big smile, “Oh that's nice of you Kendall!”. 

Family is what has kept both of them going in their careers, but if you were to ask them about what about the most rewarding part of their journey so far they both talked about freshman year. Kendall, who will enter her sophomore year in the fall, looked back on all that she had done and learned in only one year which “made her more thankful for the opportunity at ASU”. She’s looking forward to continuing to learn, build, and grow relationships and skills as her career progresses. For Jaden, she said it's amazing to look back on how far she has come as a person. “The experiences from my time at UCLA have shaped me into who I am today”, she said. She added that a lot of it is volleyball, but also her coaches, teammates and roommates. She also credited her family as an integral part of her journey throughout college. In the end she said, “Growth is the most rewarding thing.”

Now that her 5th year is competed at UCLA, the question of what Jaden’s favorite memory was is something we all want to know. Was it the championships? The awards? No, it was the memories she created outside of the sport with her teammates. She talked about the traveling and retreats they were all a part of and how spending time together was better than any win or any national championship she was ever a part of. She did mention that being at the Pac-12 Tournament this past year with her sister was huge. She stated that her family was in attendance and mentioned that her grandfather was also their take in the experience. 

Both sisters had previously talked about how the beach volleyball community is close knit and they were asked what being connected to VBAmerica meant to them. Kendall discussed how having a company that can bring outsiders in because it is a lifestyle brand is huge. She said it brings more awareness, but also there is more support and more people which in the end will expand the community. They both applauded Kate Fitzgerald, Founder and CEO of VBAmerica, on the work she is doing despite being a young student-athlete and how she is going to bring more fans to the sport of beach volleyball. 

More opportunity awaits with Kendall as she enters her sophomore year as a Division 1 beach volleyball player and can take full advantage of NIL. She talked about her plan to use Open Dorse, a NIL deal platform for student-athletes, and looking for other opportunities out there. She mentioned that she is open to reaching out to people and accepting anything that comes her way. She understands the number of positives that come with NIL and plans to take advantage of it all. She is going to continue to build off the feelings she had during the Pac-12 Tournament weekend, after upsetting a few teams, like UofA and building a connection with her partner. She said, “The feeling is indescribable and very visible to those watching about the love her and partner have for the sport of beach volleyball.” She hopes to continue playing with confidence as she continues on in her career. 

As for Jaden, with her collegiate career almost over she had some advice for the young athletes. She stated that it is key to remember that your identity is not just an athlete. “You’re so much more than your sport”.  Throughout her career she was able to balance and understand who she was because she left whatever happened during a game or practice where it was at. Jaden was and still is grateful that her roommates were pole vaulters for track and that coming home was easier because she got to talk about “different things and not just volleyball”. Looking back on her career at UCLA and being a part of such a dominant team, she reiterated that it's important to surround yourself with people who make you want to work harder. Jaden talked about being at the bottom during her freshman year and how she was not playing, but she was pushed to be better which was a huge part of her development at UCLA. She understood that going from high school to college was a big step and looking around to see high level athletes wherever she turned only challenged her to be the best she could be. She echoed how it's about going the extra mile to improve for yourself and your teammates. This past year at the Pac-12 Tournament, Jaden and her teammates took home the championship title. Special was the word she used to describe the feeling. She talked about how it was the first tournament that her and her partner got the green light to be in the line up and compete together, which they talked about in previous years. She credited her other teammates for stepping up and helping each other through the bracket after losing to Stanford. Overall, she was proud of the way her teammates competed and came together to win it all. 

Kendall and Jaden want every athlete out there to remember why you're doing what you’re doing and to stay grateful throughout the process.  This is something that has helped both of them on their collegiate journey. Their hope for themselves and others is that, even when you are doing something everyday and you may find it hard to stay motivated, to keep the love and passion that you have for the game close and remember your “why”.