Ronni Lewis follows in cousin Kerri Walsh Jennings' footsteps in volleyball
Living in the shadow of a successful athletic family can be stressful at times for Arizona junior Ronni Lewis.
It can be especially difficult to live up to those expectations when your cousin is three-time Olympic volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings.
But Lewis does not mind living under a huge spotlight.
“It’s exciting to have Kerri as my cousin, as I can obviously look up to her for motivation,” Lewis said. “I don’t care if many people know that I am her cousin. I am very proud of my family’s name and what my family has accomplished. I just want to resemble her attitude of being so committed to volleyball.”
Junior Ronni Lewis warms up before Arizona's 5-0 win over Tulane at Jimenez Field on March 15. Lewis is cousins with three-time gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings.
Lewis’ family’s list of accomplishments is extensive. Kerri Walsh Jennings’ father, Tim Walsh, played minor league baseball and semi-pro basketball.
Kerri Walsh Jennings’ mother, Margie Walsh, played volleyball at Santa Clara University and was named Most Valuable Player.
To add on to the impressive family résumé, Kerri Walsh Jennings’ husband, Casey Jennings, is an American Beach Volleyball player and captured the 2010 gold medal at the Swatch FIVB World Tour.
Kerri Walsh Jennings’ accomplishments may be intimidating to ponder, but Lewis’ teammate Rachel Rhoades said she thinks this has only had a positive effect on Lewis.
“She puts a lot of pressure on herself, but it’s only going to build her confidence and make her better,” Rhoades said. “If she didn’t have the pressure, she wouldn’t be as good as she is today.”
Lewis said that most of the Arizona campus doesn’t know Kerri Walsh Jennings is her cousin, but the volleyball community is well aware.
At first glance, Lewis and Kerri Walsh Jennings look nothing like cousins.
Kerri Walsh Jennings is a net player and stands at 6-foot-3, while Lewis is more of a perimeter and defensive player and is only 5-foot-5.
Despite their height difference, Lewis said she hopes to emulate Kerri Walsh Jennings’ determination on the court.
“Her attitude to really want to do well is so inspiring,” Lewis said.
Lewis added her cousin has a competitive but sportsmanlike approach to matches.
“I try to bring the intensity she has of never giving up on the play,” Lewis said.
Rhoades has seen that intensity on the court when Lewis finds a kill opportunity.
“She is very quick, like Kerri, in the sand,” Rhoades said. “She makes up for the height, though, by wanting … to just go out and spike the ball. It’s really good and impressive that she has a lot of power for [being] a small hitter and attacker.”
Resilience and toughness are attributes that head coach Steve Walker sees in the cousins.
“From a competitive standpoint, I will never count out Ronni, regardless if she is up or down in a match,” Walker said. “I think her mental habits will always carry her in either the indoor or outdoor game. I always feel her head is in the match, and with that, she can lift her partner up and play at a higher level.”
Lewis is still adjusting to the challenges of sand volleyball, and when her cousin is free, Lewis said she hopes she can address those challenges with her.
“I will ask about the rhythm between partners and how we can develop a better partnership,” Lewis said. “I’m not an outside hitter, though, so I can also ask her how I can improve in hitting and what kind of shots I can add to my arsenal of potential kills.”
—Follow Tyler Keckeisen @tyler_keckeisen