Class of 1992
50 Open Victories
In the 1970s, Kathy Gregory was leading in the finals of a mixed four-person tournament playing along-side the legendary and intimidating Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt was making errors. Gregory, with a voice that redefined "within earshot," told him loudly to "pick up his play." People driving on Pacific Coast Highway probably heard the verbal undressing Gregory unleashed and there's no doubt all 7' 2" of Wilt took exception to the criticism. But Kathy Gregory was not about to back down. She never backed down. She was, and is, a walking, talking, fire-breathing embodiment of volleyball passion.
Growing up before public schools offered sports for girls, Kathy cut her teeth competing against her older brothers. Female athletes had few role models back then – they had to blaze their own trail. In 1959, at age 14, she played her first beach event, a coed doubles open. Her adult partner, a man nicknamed "The Panther," said plenty to both sides of the net as he and Gregory dropped their first round match in the double elimination tournament. The Panther scolded the young Gregory without apology: "Suck it up. It's competition!" The words made an indelible imprint on the young girl and the duo clawed all the way back to the finals. She had learned the power of bravado and the landscape of women’s volleyball changed forever.
Kathy Gregory, and her oversized personality, went on to win 50 Open tournaments, ranking 5th all-time in tournament victories despite playing in seasons considerably shorter than today. In the 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1982 and 1983 seasons Gregory either went undefeated the entire season or lost only a single tournament. Her domination was unprecedented. Gregory was also a top indoor player, being named to the U.S. Nationals All-American team an amazing 15 times and playing in the 1968 Pan Am and World Games.
But it was her play on the sand that made her a legend. She was named the beach player-of-the year in five different seasons. She formed dominant partnerships with both Kathy Hanley and Miki McFadden, but won tournaments with a long list of players.
There were players who were quicker, who hit the ball harder, but there was no one with the hand-eye coordination of Gregory or the intense, overpowering desire to win. With her trademark bright sunblock on her lips and her nonstop chatter, she was an unmistakable presence throughout her playing career.
Following her playing days, Gregory coached at UC Santa Barbara for 38 years, amassing an amazing 882 victories, until her retirements last year. In 1989, she became only the third women inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame and was inducted into the CBVA Hall of Fame as part of the 1992 inaugural class.
There is, and always will be, only one Kathy Gregory
written by:: Brian Meckna