Class of 2004Active: 1988 - 1999
110 Open Victories
No player rode American beach volleyball's crest of success in the 1990s faster and higher than Kent Steffes. The days of playing scattered open tournaments for a six-pack of beer and a pair of trunks long gone, Steffes was the brightest young star in a prosperous new era and achieved feats his predecessors could scarcely have imagined. Kent won 110 professional tournaments – including an astonishing 53 from 1992-94 – earned nearly $2.5 million in prize money, won the first Olympic gold medal awarded in men’s beach volleyball and became a poster boy for the shimmering sport, gracing the pages of Sports Illustrated and People magazines.
So staggering were the numbers and the hype, they sometimes obscured a simple truth: Kent Steffes was one of the greatest beach volleyball players ever. A baseball scout would call him a five-tool player, because he performed each of the sport's essential skills at an elite level. Serving, blocking, defending, setting and siding out – Kent's game didn't have a weakness. A basketball fan and tour rival likened him to Magic Johnson, one of the NBA's most gifted and versatile players. And when paired with the legendary and equally versatile Karch Kiraly, Steffes completed a “Dream Team” that dominated the pro circuit throughout their partnership.
Kent was an extraordinary physical talent, but much of his greatness sprung from his mental toughness. As a teenager, he learned the beach game at Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades, California and played indoors on the boys’ team at nearby Palisades High School, where he adopted the brash and aggressive style that was long part of the program's culture. After joining the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) pro beach circuit in 1988, he was not intimidated by the tour’s veteran players and didn’t hesitate to return their on court "trash talk". Not even the muscular legend Randy Stoklos could intimidate Steffes, as evidenced by a shouting match-turned-shoving match the two players engaged in during a Fort Lauderdale tournament. On the biggest stages, like the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Steffes was a rock. In one of the most intense and pressure-packed matches in beach volleyball history, he helped carry an uncharacteristically struggling Kiraly to a thrilling 17-15 quarterfinal victory over rival Sinjin Smith and his 6'7" partner, Carl Henkel. Karch and Kent went on to win the gold medal two days later.
Steffes' physical preparation was another key to his success. Beginning his career at a time when players trained for volleyball mostly by playing volleyball, Kent hired a strength and conditioning coach to craft a regimen specific to his sport. His training program included plyometrics, track workouts, weight training, jumping and stadium work, and he committed to a 12-month schedule that was carefully calibrated down to the day. Even Kiraly, whose training and dedication are legendary, was awed by his young partner's fanaticism toward fitness. Steffes also took nutrition more seriously than most of his competitors, and in 1992, that helped launch one of the sport's greatest streaks. After Kiraly cramped in the finals in New Orleans because there was no suitable food for him the players’ tent, Steffes sent out for healthy fare before the tour’s next stops in Texas. Munching natural grains, oats and honey, the duo won easily in San Antonio then completed a Sunday marathon through the losers bracket to win the following week in Fort Worth. The victories were the first two of an eventual 13-tournament winning streak that equaled the record streak of Jim Menges and Greg Lee in 1975-76.
Steffes' legacy shines and his accomplishments rank among the greatest in the game’s history.