VolleyVoice: Interview w/ Rebecca Harlow
Known as "the voice of Stanford Women's Volleyball" during the past four years, Rebecca Harlow enters her final postseason calling the shots on the airwaves. Known for her ability to bring the action alive for fans listening in from all across the country, the Stanford senior sat down with TheBootleg.com's Roland Hu for a quick chat and talked about her experience as the play-by-play announcer and color commentator for Stanford Women's Volleyball.
The Bootleg: How did you get your introduction into radio broadcasting?
Rebecca Harlow: "It was completely by accident! The summer before freshman year, I got in touch with someone at the Stanford Daily. I'm an English major and I've always loved writing and am a big sports fan, so I figured that was a good way to get into it. She told me that the volleyball beat was available. It turned out that Andrew Rogers was the returning writer, but she convinced him to share it with me because I was so enthusiastic about it. He was also the broadcasting director for KZSU that year and Aaron Levine had just graduated, so there was an opening and it was offered to me. My first game was the Arizona schools, which was during freshman orientation, and he said, "Just sit here and listen to see if this is something you would want to do." The end of the second game, he handed me the headset and I don't think I said one sentence at all!"
TB: Who was calling that game?
RH: "It was Brad [Burton] doing play-by-play and Andrew was doing color, but I think he was also calling basketball, so he wasn't able to do both sports."
TB: Did you have any experience with volleyball? You said you were a sports fan…
RH: "I played four years in high school and one year in club. I actually went to games when Stanford was at Cal and my senior year, it was the first time in 15 years that Cal had beaten Stanford. So I started going to a lot of Cal games because they were the local team. Mia Jerkov was playing that year and she was phenomenal."
TB: So you felt comfortable calling for Stanford Volleyball even though you didn't have any radio experience?
RH: "It took me a while to get comfortable, but I knew the game well enough that when I got my confidence up and was up to speed, I was able to come up with good comments when they were relevant."
TB: Now you said your first match that you called were the Arizona schools. Were you nervous?
RH: "They handed me the headset and Andrew said, "If you have something good to say, say it. If not, Brad can talk the whole time. And no cussing." Those were my instructions. I came up with one or two sentences and after the game, they said they were good. By the next night, I was saying five or six sentences a game."
TB: How many matches would you say did it take for you to get comfortable with being on the air and not worrying about what you would say or what people would think?
RH: "I think I got into it pretty quickly. I think by the next weekend, I just kept talking more. One of my first road trips, maybe a month in, was because of the travel schedule. Brad had to keep on missing classes and basically, it's impossible for one person to do all the road trips and still go to school. They basically said, "Hey, do you want to go to Washington next week?" They gave me some practice on play-by-play and I guess it sort of came naturally to me. Right away, I got really into the team. I was reading about the players and I was also writing for the Daily, so I had that experience with them. I don't really know why play-by-play was easy for me in the beginning, but it just was."
TB: But you are basically a one-woman show?
RH: "So far, pretty much. Well, Walter Foxworth, who is a sophomore, has done color for the first time this year for all the home matches since school started. I've also had Don Shaw come on a few times, so it's been rotating seats a bit, but Walter is the heir apparent and I'm trying to get him to take over next year."
TB: Did you turn to anyone for advice, or did KZSU just give you the radio equipment and just let you be?
RH: "It was mostly Brad and Andrew because the three of us did it together. Andrew was writing for the Daily and I was broadcasting with Brad. My sophomore year, we sort of experienced with a three-person broadcast time which kind of worked, but we were talking over each other. It took awhile to even get to know the other sports [broadcasters] because we didn't interact much. So I just learned from them. Brad was really good and so I mimicked him."
TB: Did you ever want to talk to Aaron Levine for advice?
RH: "You know, I don't think I even knew who he was for the first couple of years. Now I have a better idea. I mean, I had no idea what had gone on before I came. I hadn't even heard of KZSU before I got here."
TB: So before, you said that play-by-play came pretty natural to you. Were there any aspects that were difficult for you to grasp?
RH: "I think I actually found color to be harder, at least early on because maybe I was being self-critical, but I kept thinking, "Oh, that was stupid and there was no reason for me to say that." The thing with play-by-play, I've always been good with people's names and faces, so learning the other team's roster was pretty easy. At least now, I just go into a zone and I don't process what I'm saying. I just watch it, narrate it, and go."
TB: As long as there is no cussing, right?
RH: "Basically. The question that I get the most often is, 'How did you learn to talk so fast?' I have no idea. I just have a motor mouth."
TB: So turning to this year, what is your take on this year's volleyball team and how the season is shaping up?
RH: "I think the team is looking really good. They've had a couple of hiccups, but the talent is obviously there. Alix [Klineman] has lived up to her billing. She's a great hitter. Gabi [Ailes] is one of my favorite players to watch and is so much fun. Maybe it's because I am around the team and I am getting more comfortable with them, but being on the road and on the bus is a really fun atmosphere. They get along really well and mesh well, so I think that's important. It's been talked a lot, but Bryn Kehoe is one of the most competitive people ever. She's a senior and wants to win. I wouldn't want to be the one to try and stop her! I think that if we stay healthy and we don't have a repeat of 2005, I think we'll be in good shape."
TB: What improvements has the team made since last season that you can see?
RH: "I think the individuals who have come back are better. I think Cynthia, a year past her injury, is hitting harder than she did last year, which is saying something. I think Foluke just got more experience playing with the National Team and she's having the best hitting of her career. Losing four seniors, particularly Kristin Richards, there was a possibility of a drop-off, but the freshmen, especially Alix and Gabi in combination, have made it where they don't miss her on the court. I mean, they of course miss Kristin, but Alix is a great hitter and Gabi is great in the back row."
TB: Is there one match in particular that you called over the year that has stuck out as your favorite?
RH: "Washington in 2004 in Burnham. The national championship game in Long Beach was good, but it was a sweep and it was obvious two weeks before that Ogonna Nnamani was going to win the national championship. That game was fun to call because Stanford did well and it was easy, but the Washington match was just one of those things… there was no way Stanford should have won that match. I remember the first game was kind of close, but Washington won it. The second game was 30-11 [in favor of Washington]. Stanford came back to win the third game, and almost lost the fourth game. Kristin had this desperation, diving dig that went over the net into the corner for a kill on match point. Then, I think Jen Hucke won it on an ace in extra points. She was the least consistent server that year, so having her serve on match point was a little scary. It almost happened in slow motion. It was Sanja Tomasevic and Candice Lee diving for the ball, but it hit the 10-foot line and it was just crazy. Everyone stormed the court. Brad stormed the court and left me alone on the air, but I forgive him for that. I think that one was the most exciting, most exhausting, most exhilarating… yeah."
TB: In your years covering the team, who has been your favorite player to watch?
RH: "I probably couldn't pick just one, but as a pure athlete, Ogonna (Nnamani) was incredible to watch. She could just jump really high and hit so hard. She was also fun to watch because she was so happy. Talking to her off the court, you could see she was really enjoying herself. Foluke [Akinradewo] hits so smoothly and with so much power… her back one connection with Bryn is probably the best I've ever seen. I mentioned Gabi because she'll throw herself to the ground to get the ball, even if it's impossible. I think just in terms demeanor on the court, Bryn is would probably be my favorite because she can be so intense and will charge up the team. When she gets a block or wins the joust, which happens a lot, her face lights up and gets so excited."
TB: What about your favorite non-Stanford player, from a purely volleyball standpoint?
RH: "(Nebraska's) Sarah Pavan was good. I mean that's an understatement, but she's not as fun to watch as someone like Angie Pressey from Cal. Angie's sort of like Ogonna - she's tiny, but she can sky and hit the ball. She's always really good. She's the first one that comes to mind."
TB: Who has been your favorite player or coach to interview?
RH: "I think John [Dunning] has always been good. He thinks through his quotes and he'll answer carefully. As a writer, if you just write down what he says, you have the perfect quote because he constructs it that way. I don't think I've interviewed her for the Daily a lot, but in just talking to her, Nji Nnamani is just so funny. She's really personable and is just really fun to talk to."
TB: What has been your favorite part about covering the Stanford Women's Volleyball team?
RH: "I'm a huge volleyball junkie, so watching them is great. I really like road trips and especially since the longer I've been around the players and coaches, they have gotten to know me better and I feel more a part of the group. Just spending time on the bus, going to pre-game meals with team, and just hanging out with them… that's really good. Especially now that I'm older than most of the players, having them ask for class advice is amazing because I look up to them. I know they are also students and I've had classes with some of them, but for some reason, when they are on the court, they are people I look up to. The fact that they look up to me is really cool."
TB: What will be the thing you'll miss the most about covering the Stanford Women's Volleyball team?
RH: "I think that experience of being a part of it, but I also just love watching it. I am hoping wherever I am, I'll be able to keep watching and hopefully stick with Stanford, though I probably won't be here."
TB: Turning to your graduation in June, do you have any aspirations of going into sports broadcasting?
RH: "I am actually applying to law schools and recently got my LSAT scores. It's a little strange and a bit scary because it feels like I haven't been here for very long. The fact that I'm almost graduating is a little weird."
TB: Any last comments or thoughts?
RH: "I think when I came to Stanford, this was totally unexpected, but I am so glad I did it. It's been an amazing experience and I've grown from it. When I came to college, I was pretty shy and quiet and not the type of person who you would think would be on the radio. I think the stars were aligned and it all just worked out. I feel more confident and I talk more and faster… yeah, it's just been amazing."
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