Wednesday, July 27, 2016

National Team | Which USA Olympians had the most collegiate success?

Two-time Olympians Akinradewo and Thompson telegraphed their later success
Court & Spark now available on Amazon and iTunes

Courtney Thompson (3) sets Foluke Akinradewo during a 2014 World Championships victory over Russia
-photo courtesy FIVB

Is there a correlation between success in college volleyball and future Olympic glory?

We took a look at collegiate national honors for all 12 members of USA’s Rio Olympics women’s volleyball roster. We tallied four categories: The Honda Sports Player of the Year (awarded to the nation’s best volleyball player across all collegiate divisions and organizations), the AVCA Player of the Year (for NCAA Division 1, where all the Olympians played), AVCA First-Team All-Americans and NCAA D1 National Championships. What did we find?

  • Two players—Stanford’s Foluke Akinradewo and Washington’s Courtney Thompson—took home more collegiate awards than any other current Olympians. Both were Honda Players of the Year, both were 3-time AVCA First Team All-Americans. Akinradewo was the AVCA Player of the Year, but never won an NCAA championship. Thompson’s Huskies won the 2005 title.
  • On the other extreme, Kayla Banwarth never won any of these four honors while at Nebraska. Liberos are crucial to the modern game, but still don’t get much respect.
  • Megan (Hodge) Easy of Penn State was easily the most honored player of her generation: 2009 Honda Player of the Year, 2009 AVCA Player of the Year, four time First Team AVCA All-American (2006-09) and three time NCAA Champion (2007-2009). Hodge was a member of the 2012 London Olympic roster, but battled injuries late in the Rio quad and was not selected for 2016.
  • Nicole Fawcett, also of Penn State, was just a hair behind Easy in national collegiate awards. She was the 2008 Honda and AVCA Player of the Year, a three time First Team AVCA All-American (2006-08) and two time NCAA Champion (2007-2008). Fawcett, an opposite, has been a key member of the National Team for the past two quads. She just missed making either the London or Rio rosters.
  • When it’s time to look forward to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the players with the most national collegiate honors of the next generation of National Team members are Washington’s Krista Vansant, Penn State’s Micha Hancock, Wisconsin’s Lauren Carlini and USC’s Natalie Hagglund.
  • So who were the other recent Players of the Year not on the Olympic roster?
    2005: Christiana Houghtelling, Nebraska (AVCA)
    2006: Sarah Pavan, Nebraska (AVCA & Honda) [Pavan is Canadian]
    2010: Blair Brown, Penn State (Honda)
    2011: Alex Jupiter, USC (AVCA & Honda) [Jupiter is French]
    2012: Alaina Bergsma, Oregon (AVCA & Honda)
    2013: Krista Vansant, Washington (AVCA & Honda)
    2014: Krista Vansant, Washington (Honda) & Micha Hancock, Penn St (AVCA)
  • Who is the most honored collegian of all time? Stanford’s Logan Tom, a four-time Olympian (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012) was Honda POY and AVCA POY in both 2001 and 2002, and a four-time First Team All-American (1999-2002). Stanford won the NCAA title in 2001, and was runner-up in 1999 and 2002.


We’re happy to report that Court & Spark, the one-hour documentary Courtney Thompson, and featuring many of her teammates and coaches, is now available for rent or purchase on both iTunes and Amazon. All proceeds go to Puget Sound Region of USA Volleyball, a nonprofit umbrella for female and male youth, adult, indoor, sand and sitting volleyball. A great gift idea for players who have just completed summer volleyball camp!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

National Team | Karch Kiraly says Rio “will be the best volleyball Olympics ever”

USA volleyball head coach says team is “preparing for uncertainty”

USA head coach Karch Kiraly
-photo by FIVB
The USA Women’s Volleyball Olympic roster was made public this morning (see: USA Volleyball reveals Rio roster.) This afternoon, we spent a few minutes talking with Head Coach Karch Kiraly, for a Seattle Times feature we’re preparing in advance of the Rio Olympics. We covered a lot of topics, including a few things that won’t be in the upcoming article. We thought we’d share a few of gems that we’ll have to leave out of the main story:

On the timing of today’s roster announcement
The USA Men’s Olympic team was announced three weeks ago, on June 21. Kiraly says he was advised to name the 12 members of the women’s team as early as possible. But, he says, injuries to one or more players made a delay inevitable. “We would have liked to reveal our lineup earlier,” says Kiraly, “but we didn’t really have a choice.”

While Kiraly declined to name the injured player or players, libero Kayla Banwarth missed several matches during the just-completed World Grand Prix. She returned, however, for the final two matches against Russia and Brazil, and seemed to be in good form. Although USC grad Natalie Hagglund filled in for Banwarth during her absence, Banwarth is the only libero on the Rio roster.

On players not selected to go to Rio
“It’s very difficult,” Kiraly says. “These athletes make incredible sacrifices, and it’s hard to tell them they aren’t on the (Olympic) roster.”

Few understand the years of often-lonely commitment it takes to be among the top 18 or so athletes in the USA gym in an Olympic year. I asked whether players bond over that shared isolation, similar to soldiers who realize no one but their platoon really understands what they’ve gone through. “Not exactly,” says Kiraly. “Soldiers take everyone in their unit to the battlefield. We don’t get to do that.”

On his team’s composure
One of the most impressive episodes of the recent 13-match, month-long World Grand Prix took place in a preliminary match against China in Hong Kong. USA served, and China appeared to win the first point of the set. But when the wrong Chinese player stepped up to the service line, the point was given instead to USA, and Kim Hill went back to serve. The match, however, was interrupted for a discussion between the referee, the scorekeeper and China head coach Jenny Lang Ping. One minute turned into two, then three, then four.

All the while, Hill remained calm and focused. Her teammates were likewise relaxed … no eye-rolling, no gesturing, no displays of irritation. The delay stretched to five minutes, six minutes. Kiraly was certainly not happy, but he never showed it. “We know things will come up that we’ve never seen before,” he told us. “But we will be the best we can be under whatever stress we face. Our job is to prepare for as much uncertainty as we can.”

Finally, after seven long minutes, the whistle blew. Hill served. An ace.

On playing in Rio
During our conversation, Kiraly was most excited when talking about competing in Rio’s historic Maracanãzinho Arena. “A volleyball cathedral,” says Kiraly. “That gym means volleyball to anyone who know about volleyball in Brazil.”

“Brazil is absolutely crazy about volleyball—indoor, outdoor, women’s men’s,” he says. “This will be the best volleyball Olympics ever.”

We’ll have much more from Kiraly—and USA players and coaches—in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned.


We’re happy to report that the Puget Sound Region of USA Volleyball will soon be releasing our documentary, Court & Spark, via several streaming services, including iTunes and Amazon. The hour-long documentary stars two-time Olympian Courtney Thompson, and features several players selected to the Rio roster, plus coach Karch Kiraly.

We’ll soon pass along details about how you can order your copy of Court & Spark. 100% of the proceeds go to Puget Sound Region of USA Volleyball and its many youth and adult indoor and outdoor programs.

National Team | USA Volleyball reveals Rio roster

Courtney Thompson is now a two-time Olympian as Karch Kiraly takes three setters on his roster

USA women are headed to Rio with a squad that includes four two-time Olympians
Courtney Thompson is returning to Rio.

Thompson, the most accomplished woman athlete in the history of Washington athletics, was one of 12 women who made coach Karch Kiraly’s final cut for the 2016 Olympic Games next month.

Here are the twelve women who will represent the USA in Rio:

  • OUTSIDE HITTERS: Jordan Larson (Nebraska), Kim Hill (Pepperdine), Kelsey Robinson (Tennessee/Nebraska)
  • MIDDLE BLOCKERS: Foluke Akinradewo (Stanford), Rachael Adams (Texas), Christa Dietzen (Penn State)
  • OPPOSITES: Karsta Lowe (UCLA), Kelly Murphy (Florida)
  • SETTERS: Alicia Glass (Penn State) Courtney Thompson (Washington), Carli Lloyd (California)
  • LIBEROS: Kayla Banwarth (Nebraska)

Courtney Thompson

Four players on the Rio roster were also on the 2012 silver medal team in London: Thompson, Larson, Akinradewo and Dietzen. Washington’s Tama Miyashiro, a libero, was also on the London roster, but was limited this Olympic quad by injuries.

Former Washington All-American Krista Vansant, an outside hitter, is one of eight players named as USA Olympic alternates.

Every player on the Olympic roster also plays professionally for top clubs overseas. During the past quad, Thompson has been a setter in Łódź, Poland, Zurich, Switzerland and for the top club in Rio de Janeiro.

Thompson was on the roster when USA won its first-ever World Championship in 2014. USA women have never won Olympic gold, earning silver in 1984, 2008 and 2012.

USA’s first match of 2016 Olympics is August 6 against Puerto Rico. Other teams in USA’s pool are Netherlands (August 8), Serbia (August 10), Italy (August 12) and China (August 14). Brazil and Russia are among the teams in the other half of the preliminary pool.

Monday, July 11, 2016

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