Kelly Wood had it all mapped out. This summer was to be the Summer of Volleyball. Her last one before starting a family.
She’d already quit her job, too. Freed up the whole schedule. And with the AVP throwing 16 tournaments this season, and AVPAmerica hosting events on both grass and beach nearly every weekend, Wood would make her finale as a full-time player a grand one.
Evidently, God heard of these masterful plans. As He is wont to do, He had a good wink and chuckle at them.
“We were planning on getting pregnant in the middle of summer,” Wood said. “But all of that didn’t actually go to plan all that well, because I’m pregnant now. I’m 17 weeks pregnant now.”
The Summer of Volleyball, then, has turned into the Summer of Growing a Baby – while also playing volleyball. Oh, yes, Wood still plans on playing volleyball. Just not as much as she would have liked, and certainly far less beach than was her initial plan.
A native of Yadkinville, North Carolina, Wood has played an exceptional amount of volleyball on surfaces of every type. She played indoor at NC State, where she graduated as the school’s all-time leader in digs. While she was still competing in Raleigh, “a guy I was dating at the time said ‘I think you’d actually be really good at grass volleyball.’ So I said ‘Ok, done' and then we made the finals and I couldn’t walk, it was great,” she said. “I picked it up right out of college.”
She played on the grass well, too, despite the week or so of soreness that makes simple tasks such as walking no simple task at all. In 2021, she won both the co-ed and women’s open in Chucktown, swept the women’s triples and coed at the Crown, made the finals of Grass Nationals in the triples division, and opened the 2022 season with a win at the Carolina CHAOS Charlotte Opener with Cadie Koppenhaver.
Yet for all her success on the grass, for how much it resembles the indoor game in which she has so many accolades, the beach still had a claim on Wood’s heart.
Beach wasn’t the colossal, swelling sport it is now when Wood was a youth being raised in small-town North Carolina. But her mother was still able to find a few beach camps to put her in, and, small sampling as it may have been, it was enough that Wood still describes beach as her “long-term love.”
“That’s what I was going to quit my job and focus on,” she said.
But in her second beach tournament of the 2022 season, on the weekend of April 9, in Panama City Beach, Fla., Wood was hesitant to dive with a 17-week-old baby growing inside of her. On the beach, there is no other option but to dive. But when Wood thought about that Carolina CHAOS tournament she won with Koppenhaver just a week prior, she had a minor epiphany.
“I was like ‘Cadie, I didn’t have to dive!’” Wood said. “So I’m definitely going to keep playing grass as long as I can.”
Next up for Wood, then, is the annual Clash, held in Lexington, South Carolina, a triples tournament in which Wood will be required to dive even less than she would in doubles. She’ll be playing, per usual, with Koppenhaver, as well as another former Duke Blue Devil, Amanda Robertson.
“It’s a really big local tournament, right? You get the grass volleyball players in North and South Carolina, you get the East Coast, that’s everyone’s jam, they love that,” Wood said. “It’s an opportunity to get together with the most high-level players, even some of the beach players come play grass. It just brings a big community together. That’s what makes it special.”
What the rest of Wood’s summer looks like will be written in pencil, with an eraser at the ready. She’s debating playing Pottstown, on June 24-26, though she isn’t totally sure just yet, as she’ll be six months pregnant – and absolutely not diving.
“I’ll play grass as long as I can,” she said. “I wanted to get pregnant in the middle of summer but that is what it is. It’s fine.”
It might look different than initially planned, but 2022 will still be a summer of volleyball. It will still be a reprieve from the corporate world that was slowly sapping her energy.
“Volleyball was my escape, and when the pandemic hit, I was working from home and I started training every day, every morning, and I started seeing improvement,” Wood said. “We were in a fortunate financial position where my husband said ‘This is what you’re passionate about, this is what lights you up, why don’t you pursue it now before we build our family.’”
The only difference, then, is that she just gets to do both: building her family while pursuing volleyball.
That volleyball, for now, just happens to be on the grass.
~ Travis Mewhirter: @trammew