Stanford's Oden Sisters Key To Cardinal Success
By Ann Killion
Kim and Bev Oden, despite their seven-year age difference, often get mistaken for each other.
"People confuse us as twins," Kim said.
And while there are critical differences in their collegiate legacies, when it came to selecting a college they had a nearly identical experience.
Neither one planned to go to Stanford. But both realized they wouldn't be happy anywhere else.
Kim Oden was the top volleyball recruit in the nation in 1983. She was a Southern California kid, coming out of Irvine High. She expected to go to UCLA - one of the powers in women's volleyball, which had only been a NCAA sport since 1981. Her father suggested she take a recruiting visit to Stanford, also.
"I wasn't very familiar with Stanford," Kim said. "UCLA was the place to go for volleyball."
But once Kim stepped on the Stanford campus, she fell in love, but still struggled with her choice. Now a guidance counselor at nearby St. Francis High School in Mountain View, Calif., Oden often reflects on the advice she was given by her high school coach.
"Mark McKenzie told me to live one day as if you're going to UCLA and see how you feel, and then one day as if you're going to Stanford," she said. "I fit at Stanford."
And she realized that was more important to her than the school's volleyball history. She loved the academic environment at Stanford, loved meeting people from all over the world, and appreciated what she describes as "a healthy tension between athletics and academics."
She figured the volleyball aspect would come.
"I thought it had the potential to be on top," she said. "My hunch was right."
Kim Oden helped build Stanford into a volleyball force. In her four years at Stanford, her team made the Final Four every year. Though the Cardinal never won the NCAA title - losing in the title game once to UOP, led by another of Kim's younger sisters Elaina - no one doubted Stanford's viability as a volleyball power by the time Kim graduated.
Then, in 1989, along came Bev Oden, another top recruit.
"Stanford was not the place for me," Bev said. "I did not want to live in my sisters' shoes. I wanted to go somewhere neither one had gone."
So when she got to Stanford, she found herself supremely annoyed. Because she was so darn comfortable.
"I was annoyed at the feeling of being at home there, that this was where I'm supposed to be," Bev said. "I knew it meant four more years of being Kim's little sister. But you can't deny certain things."
Like her sister before her, Bev was attracted to the eclectic student body.
"People were comfortable being themselves," Bev said. "Not everyone was trying to fit in."
But something about Bev's experience was quite different than Kim's. Because of her sister, Bev stepped into a school with a rich volleyball legacy.
"She led the way for sure," Bev said. "The players of her generation were mentors for me."
In the years following Kim's career at Stanford, the school had gained a new reputation. The Cardinal went from being a team that hadn't been a contender, to a contender that was considered cursed. A program that couldn't win the big one.
That legacy had started with Kim's class and had continued on. By the time Bev arrived in 1989, she heard about the "curse." Other schools even mentioned it in the recruiting process.
"I thought that was immature," she said. "They were supposed to be the adults."
When Kim was at Stanford, schools from California and Hawaii had dominated competition. By the time Bev arrived, the game had grown and become more national and the regional draws had become more difficult. The powerhouses in the Pac-10 had to fight each other just to get a shot at a national championship.
"We had to beat each other up just to get there," Bev said. "That helped build other programs from other parts of the country."
Other schools had a more direct shot to the Final Four, while Pac-10 schools were building fierce rivalries trying to get top seeding.
For three years, the naysayers about Stanford's ability to win were right. But in Bev's senior year, Stanford won a national championship. And the Cardinal beat archrival UCLA to do it.
"That was the pinnacle of my career," said Bev, who also played Olympic volleyball, as did Kim and Elaina. "That was my best moment of playing volleyball."
She felt she didn't just win it for herself and her team but also for Kim and others.
"I almost felt like we did that for them," Bev said. "For the great Stanford teams that didn't win that last game. And we did it for the future generations. We were able to stop the conversation about not winning a championship. I'm very proud of that."
Stanford has gone on to win six national titles, the most of any program in the country. The legacy was started by one sister, and passed to another who took it to the next level.
And they did it at a school neither expected to attend.
"When I go back to campus," said Kim, who lives half an hour away, "I still think, 'Gosh, I belong here.'"