Sept. 8, 2003
by Cory Walton
On the Sport Court of the Joyce Center this fall, it may seem to Notre Dame volleyball fans as if one player is digging, setting, passing and, in effect, doing it all for the Irish on the court. Upon closer inspection, however, it will become evident to those same fans that the all-around performance being turned in before them is the work of not one, but two players. Two players who happen to look exactly the same.
Those players are Kristen and Jessica Kinder, the senior co-captains of the 2003 Notre Dame volleyball team, and the program’s first set of twins.
For Kristen, one of the premier setters in all of college volleyball, the 2003 campaign marks the second in which she will serve as a co-captain, having held the honor during the 2002 season with departed seniors Keara Coughlin and Janie Alderete.
This season is the first as a co-captain for Jessica, a dominating outside hitter who has been called the best athlete on the team.
“It’s been a lot of work, but I’m really glad that I have this opportunity. It’s very rewarding,” she says.
That work started 2, 000 miles from South Bend, in Fresno, Calif., where the sisters grew up playing volleyball together. They were both members of the 1997 USA Volleyball Youth National Beach Team and the Fresno Volleyball Club, which they led to fifth place finishes at the 1999 and 2000 junior national championships. In high school, they teamed-up to lead Fresno’s Bullard High School to a four-year undefeated conference record of 40-0 and a national ranking as high as 11th.
When it came time to choose a place to continue their careers, both sisters say there was something about Notre Dame they just couldn’t turn down.
“It was sort of an offer I couldn’t refuse. It wasn’t a lifelong dream to come here or anything like that, but once I saw the place, I fell in love with it and couldn’t turn it down,” Jessica says.
While Kristen echoes her sister’s sentiments in that regard, she adds that there were other factors in the decision to attend Notre Dame.
“Coach (Debbie) Brown had a huge part in my decision because she has a reputation back home as an amazing coach and player. She’s a lot of what I want to be as a player, especially the competitiveness. I also wanted to come to a program where I could contribute, and I knew that coming in as a freshman I could do that,” she says.
In fact, both sisters were able to contribute for the Irish in reserve roles during their freshman campaigns. Jessica’s proficiency with the jump serve was an asset to the team, and she came off the bench to place among the team leaders with 12 aces. Kristen saw action in 20 games in her first year with the Irish. Her best effort of the season came against Samford, when she posted four kills, 15 assists, three aces and nine digs.
In 2001, as sophomores, both sisters saw a dramatic increase in playing time. Kristen burst onto the scene in her second campaign, starting all 29 matches and breaking the 1, 000-assist barrier en route to being named the 2001 BIG EAST Setter of the Year and earning all-BIG EAST second-team honors. Jessica played in 78 games during her sophomore season, including her first career start against Florida Atlantic. She tallied 62 kills on the year, and set a career high with five aces against Villanova.
Kristen Kinder surpassed the 1,000 assist mark during the 2002 season.
As a junior, Jessica moved into a starting role at outside hitter, playing in 107 games on the year. She led the team with 53 aces, and her 0.5 ace per game average placed her fourth in the Notre Dame single-season record book. Kristen also piled up big numbers in her third campaign, setting the team to a .271 hitting percentage and again surpassing the 1, 000-assist mark. For her efforts, she was selected to the all-BIG EAST second-team for the second consecutive year, and named the team Monogram Club MVP.
The team fared well in the sisters’ junior seasons, compiling a 25-7 record while winning the BIG EAST regular season and tournament championships. The squad’s run ended in the second round of the NCAA tournament with a 3-0 loss to Michigan State. The loss left both sisters, as well as the rest of the team, with a bitter taste in their mouths.
“It was frustrating. We know we could have gone further in the tournament, but it didn’t happen for us. Everyone was really upset about that loss,” Kristen says.
Following the end of their junior seasons, it was announced that Kristen would again be named a team co-captain. There was, however, the small matter of who Kristen would share the captaincy with.
In a twist of fate that both sisters simply refer to as “awesome,” it was announced that Jessica would be the one to share the captain’s honor with her sister.
“There’s no one else I would rather share this with. She deserves it because she’s worked so hard for a long time and I’m really happy,” Kristen says.
Jessica, on the other hand, is just as excited about sharing the honor with Kristen.
“I respect her so much as a leader, and having the chance to work with her and to help her make our team better is just something that I’m really excited about,” she says.
Both sisters are adamant that, as co-captains, they won’t let the team rest on last year’s accomplishments.
“My goal is to get to the Sweet 16, if not further, this season. It’s definitely attainable. We just have to work harder than our opponents and want it more than they do,” Jessica says.
Kristen, in agreement with her sister on the matter, adds only a small piece to the mindset that Jessica has adopted.
“We just have to believe that we can do it. We have the talent, now we just have to go out and get it done. We can rely on our experience, which is really nice. That experience gives us confidence,” she says.
While the sisters have both set high goals for this season’s Irish squad, as far as personal aspirations are concerned, both of them are a picture of humility.
“I don’t really have any personal goals. I feel like my defense has been lacking the past few years, so I really want to improve that aspect of my game, but my goals are focused on the team,” Kristen says.
Jessica dismisses the idea of harboring personal goals in a more matter-of-fact way than her sister.
“Personal goals just aren’t something that I devote a lot of time to thinking about,” she says.
Something that the sisters do devote a lot of time to is academics. Both girls graduated summa cum laude from Bullard, and their identical GPA’s of 4.32 were high enough to place both girls in the valedictorian’s spot upon graduation.
As a junior at Notre Dame in 2002, Kristen, a computer science and sociology double-major, earned the team’s Knute Rockne Scholar-Athlete award and was named to the BIG EAST Academic All-Star team.
“More than anything, I concentrate on academics because I just always want to work hard and do my best. No matter what it is, I’m really competitive, and I don’t want anyone else doing better than I am,” she says.
Not to be outdone by her sister, Jessica’s performance in the classroom also earned her a spot on the BIG EAST Academic All-Star team following her junior season. The pre-professional studies major credits volleyball for instilling her with a strong academic drive.
“I feel like you need the same attitude in academics as you do one the court. You have to be willing to give 100 percent and work your hardest to get anywhere,” she says.
Following the 2003 school year, and the sisters’ subsequent graduation from Notre Dame, both girls say that they would like to continue their volleyball careers in the professional ranks, although in a slightly different medium than they compete in now.
“Beach volleyball is something that my sister and I have talked about doing together after graduation. We’d like to get in touch with some trainers and some people who have played on the pro circuit and get a feel for what it’s like to play professionally,” Kristen says.
According to both girls, if a professional career in beach volleyball doesn’t pan out, the next step would be graduate school. At this point however, neither of the sisters have given thought to where that would take place or what course of study would be followed.
That is far off in the distance, though. In the here and now, both sisters are committed to one thing: making the Irish the best team they can. The senior co-captains of the 2003 Notre Dame volleyball team will go about doing that together, like they’ve done since they began playing volleyball altogether. The sisters exude so much confidence that the team will reach its goals that it seems as if this season’s real challenge will be for the people in the stands to figure out which sister happens to be dominating at any one moment.