Musician, scholar, athlete: Vandermeer's story | News | Palo Alto Online |


Musician, scholar, athlete: Vandermeer's story

Swimming with sharks and other tales from the water's edge

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The possibility seemed remote at best. Even Jake Vandermeer wasn't convinced. But he sent the e-mail anyway.

Sure, there was trepidation that his request to try out for the Stanford men's volleyball team would be rejected, or perhaps worse, ignored. But he didn't like the alternative: a lifetime of regret.

So, he clicked "send." And waited.

It's one thing to star for a club team, as Vandermeer, a 6-foot-5 hitter, did at Stanford as a freshman. He helped the Cardinal to the club nationals and was named to the all-tournament team. But it's quite another to use club ball as the vehicle to a major-college program with national title aspirations.

Vandermeer was talented; there's no question about that. But that talent was more apparent in music and academics. He was the principal cellist for the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra and the Grand Prize Winner in musical composition. His piece, "Farewell," for piano and strings, was played by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

"It's a hobby," Vandermeer said of music. "I absolutely love it. But if it gets too serious, it becomes a chore. Volleyball is the game I love."

But was that enough? That Vandermeer grew up in the volleyball-parched outback of Dallas, Texas, didn't help. In fact, his high school recruiting DVD was discarded, along with hundreds of others, when Vandermeer tried to get Stanford recruiters to notice him.

At St. Mark's School of Texas, Vandermeer was captain of the volleyball, tennis and junior engineering teams, as well as the president of the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Club. In May, 2008, he was selected among 139 students around the nation as Presidential Scholars.

But at Stanford, the future chemical engineering major (4.16 freshman grade-point average) still pined for big-time volleyball.

His club coach, Theresa Carey, first planted the idea, but assistant coach Ken Shibuya had already gotten word about a talented player from Andy Price, Stanford's volunteer assistant coach who also was involved in the club program. And Shibuya eventually got back to Vandermeer and invited him to a meeting in his office.

Stanford has had few walk-ons. Brett Cravatt graduated from Cal-Berkeley and was enrolled at Stanford Law School when he played one season, winning the 1997 national championship, as a defensive specialist. Brian Lindberg caught the coaches' eye during Junior Olympics and played at Stanford from 2004-07. And current junior Max Halvorson joined the team after winning two Hawaii state championships alongside top Stanford recruit Spencer McLachlin.

But Vandermeer was in uncharted territory, trying to come on board midway through his college years and without a high-level pedigree.

Shibuya told Vandermeer the odds were long, but the Texan was undaunted.

"I'd like to try out," he said. "I'll do anything I can."

During the summer, after his day job doing medical research at Dallas hospital, Vandermeer lived up to his promise, conditioning for three hours and playing open-gym volleyball twice a week.

When Vandermeer reported to Stanford's first team meeting this fall, he felt like an outsider.

"I was so nervous," he said. "They had no idea who I was. But I don't think there was a single person on the team who didn't come over and shake my hand."

During the two-hour weekly individual sessions with the coaches, Vandermeer made an impression. He had size, he could hit, and he hustled. During open gyms, he made a similar impact on Stanford's players. Still, Vandermeer didn't know where he stood.

"Whatever happens," he thought, "happens."

At the end of an individual workout on Thursday, coach John Kosty gathered the team together. It was their final session before official practice was to begin Monday.

"I've got three announcements," Kosty said. The first had to do with finding a ball that was thought to be lost. The second was similarly forgettable in nature. Not the third.

"Jake, here you go," Kosty said, unrolling a Stanford jersey. "Welcome to the team."

To great applause and hugs from his new teammates, Vandermeer was stunned.

"It was awesome," he said.

"You know you made the right decision when the team likes the decision," Kosty said. "It's a rare occasion when somebody takes advantage of an opportunity."

You can still find Vandermeer playing his cello in the music building until it closes at 11 p.m. But some nights you may have to look at little harder. Check the gym and look for No. 20.

Men's swimming

Former Stanford All-American Peter Marshall found a way to take the edge off while competing in high-caliber international meets: swim with sharks.

While on the World Cup tour in South Africa last year, Marshall met Mark and Gail Addison, who run a diving business and are world-renowned shark researchers. Marshall spent an afternoon with them on a shark dive, surrounded by 20-30 black tip reef sharks.

"It was one of the most exciting things I've ever done in my life," Marshall said in an e-mail. "After surviving the shark dive, the rest of the World Cup circuit should be a breeze."

Upon his return to Durban, South Africa, it was. Marshall set World Cup and American records in the 100-meter back Friday, and the swimmer he beat was former Stanford teammate Markus Rogan.

The two finished 1-2 at the FINA World Cup in Durban, with Marshall finishing with a scorching 49.40, just off the world record of 49.20. Rogan's 50.52 broke his own Austrian record.

"It's been fun swimming with Markus again," Marshall said. "It's crazy that we go all over the world searching for the best swimming competition and when it comes down to it we're still racing guys we went to school with at Stanford.

"We've raced each other for years and we basically know what to expect from one another. There aren't too many surprises anymore. All the travel involved with the World Cup competitions makes having a friend a definite advantage in sustaining focus for a straight month of racing. With swimming being more of an individual sport at this level it's nice to travel with a friend to all five stops around the globe. I've done it before by myself and it's not nearly as fun as it is with a friend."

The time was a breakthrough performance for the 27-year-old Marshall.

"It was the fastest I've ever swum in my life, and it sets me up extremely well for the World Cup circuit this year," he said. "If I can continue to post times like that one then I should be in the running for the grand prize at the end of the meets. Last year, I continued to improve as the meets went on, so I hope the same thing happens this year. I'd love to improve enough to edge out that world record."

And how was Marshall planning to celebrate his American mark?

"We're headed back in the water after the meet is over for another dive with sharks," he wrote. "The Addison's are hoping we'll find some tiger sharks this year."

Women's swimming

Summer Sanders, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and six-time NCAA champion while at Stanford, will try to win the favor of Donald Trump on the reality show, "Celebrity Apprentice," airing in March on NBC.

According to the New York Post, Sanders will take on former major-league baseball player Darryl Strawberry, singer Cyndi Lauper, former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, 1980s television star Sinbad, Poison's Bret Michaels, Sharon Osbourne, actress Holly Robinson Peete, Seinfeld writer Carol Leifer, WWE wrestlers Maria Kanellis and Goldberg and Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone.

— Dave Kiefer, Stanford Sports Information

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Like this comment
Posted by Theresa Carey
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 22, 2009 at 10:18 am

I was THRILLED to hear that Jake made the varsity volleyball squad at Stanford. He is one of the most coachable and most athletic players I have ever had the pleasure to meet. His play at the national club tournament last year was a huge factor in our run to the championship match.

Congratulations to Jake -- and way to go, John and Ken, when it comes to recognizing talent, hustle, smarts, and drive. Good luck this season!

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