Tuesday, March 15, 2016

National Team | Olympian Courtney Thompson featured in New York Times

Profile of USA setter as she wows Brazilian teammates and fans in Rio
Thompson also featured in Volleyball Magazine story 

The American setter Courtney Thompson, rear, trains in Rio de Janeiro under Bernardo Rezende, left, who coached Brazil’s national women’s team for a decade.CreditAna Carolina Fernandes for The New York Times

Today's New York Times features an extended profile of USA Olympic setter Courtney  
Thompson. A must-read for volleyball fans. An excerpt: 

“Walking around the streets, it’s very different than the U.S.,” Thompson said. “People will say: ‘Hey, Courtney! You’re the American! How’s it going?’ I sat down at a restaurant the other night and the guy across from me, a Brazilian guy, said: ‘Courtney, good to see you. How’s the season?’ You don’t get that ever in the U.S. And the level of play? I’m playing with half their national team.” 

And don't miss our latest Volleyball Magazine feature: Karch's big dilemma. We profile the three women fighting for the two opposite hitter positions on this summer's Olympic roster. Courtney is a big part of the story, as you'll see.

Monday, February 1, 2016

National Team | Courtney Thompson adds another volleyball medal to her collection

Updates on former Washington stars Thompson, Miyashiro, Hagglund, Sanders, Barfield, Vansant, Nelson and Perry 

[02.12.16 7:15AM PT |CORRECTS previous team for Jesse Mahoney; 02.01.16 6:20PM PT | CORRECTS teams and teammates for Jenna Hagglund and Krista Vansant]

Courtney Thompson (3) celebrates with her Rexona-Ades teammates
In the decade since she first turned pro, Courtney Thompson has earned more medals and trophies than she literally knows what to do with. With so much success playing with teams in Eastern Europe, Western Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America, she once intentionally left an oversized award behind to lighten her load on her busy international schedule. 

Even so, each accolade offers further evidence that Thompson is the best female athlete the University of Washington has ever produced. Her latest gold medal hung around her neck over the weekend, as Thompson and her Rexona-Ades (Rio de Janeiro) teammates won the Brazil Cup, defeating fellow Superliga powerhouse Beach 3-0 (25-19, 25-23, 25-18). 

Everywhere she goes, Thompson brings success. She's proved herself in Switzerland, Puerto Rico and Poland, and continues to make a mark in Brazil, easily the most volleyball-mad nation on earth. In the pressure cooker of the city hosting this year's Olympics, and playing for Brazil's legendary Bernardinho, Thompson has led her team to the top of Brazil's premiere pro league standings. 

Most Brazilian star athletes go by just one name. What's on the back of Courtney Thompson's jersey? (see below)
Just as foreign nationals are big stars in American leagues like the NBA, WNBA, MLB, MLS and NHL, Thompson is among those American stars whose name is better known around the world than at home. She's overcome unimaginable challenges—relentless competition, globe-trotting tournaments, aching homesickness—to become one of the world's elite in sport played by more American girls than any other (yes, more than soccer, more than basketball.) 

How does she do it? Ask almost anyone whose been Courtney's teammate, all the way back to Kent, WA youth sports in the 1980s. They'll tell you she is about the best teammate they've ever had. Passion. Energy. Competitive fire. Empathy. Fun. 

Courtney will be among three setters competing for two spots on the USA Olympic roster this summer. She already knows how to win medals in Rio. 

... and there you have it: COURT


Thompson is one of four former Huskies on the current US National Team roster. Krista Vansant is playing professionally this winter with Thompson's old team, Volero Zurich, (where her fellow National Team members Foluke Akinradewo and Natalie Hagglund are also on the roster.) Team USA's Jenna Hagglund is with Busto Arsizio in Northern Italy, paired with National Team opposite Karsta Lowe. Olympian Tama Miyashiro is not currently playing professionally as she rehabilitates an injury suffered with the US Team last summer. 

In Berlin, Germany, Kaleigh Nelson and Lauren Barfield are playing for Kopenicker SC, while Becky Perry is with MKS Dabrowa Gornicza in Poland. 

So far this season, 253 American women (and 99 American men) have completed the paperwork to play professionally overseas. How many sportswriters pay attention to how many Americans make money playing volleyball? 


Evan Sanders was a sophomore and the starting setter when her Colorado State team upset heavily-favored Washington in the second round of the 2009 NCAA tournament. 

In 2011, Sanders transferred to UW, splitting her senior season setting duties with Jenni Nogueras in the Huskies' 6-2 offense. She played professionally in France and Greece before becoming a volunteer assistant last season for NCAA finalist Texas. 

Last December, Colorado volleyball coach Liz Kritza was abruptly fired, quickly replaced by Denver University's Colorado State's Jesse Mahoney. Mahoney had been an associate head coach at CSU during Sanders' three years with the Rams; she left Colorado State when Mahoney became head coach at Denver U. 

Last week, Mahoney hired Sanders as one of his two assistant coaches. She joins a growing roster of former UW players now working as collegiate assistant coaches, including Stevie Mussie (Penn State), Sanja Tomasevic (Miami), Danka Danicic (UTSA) and Brie Hagerty Brenner (Defiance, OH College.) 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Olympics | Courtney Thompson called "such a good leader" as USA qualifies for Rio Olympics

Thompson and teammates surprise a former Washington Olympian 

[UPDATED 5:00PM (Pacific), 01/11/16]

Team USA, including Courtney Thompson (front row, left) celebrate earning an Olympic bid by winning the NORCECA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Lincoln, Nebraska
-USA Volleyball

Six Olympians from 2012—Courtney Thompson (Washington), Tama Miyashiro (Washington), Jordan Larson-Burbach (Nebraska), Foluke Akinradewo (Stanford), Christa Dietzen (Penn State) and Megan Easy (Penn State)—have a chance to repeat the feat later this year in Rio. 

Five of those athletes—Thompson, Larson-Burbach, Akinradewo, Dietzen and Easy—were on the roster in Lincoln, Nebraska over the weekend as USA defeated CanadaPuerto Rico and Dominican Republic to earn the NORCECA (North and Central America) bid to the 2016 Games. The one missing Olympian—Miyashiro—was stuck in Anaheim, tied to an important doctor appointment as she rehabs an injured knee. 

But after winning the first two matches, Miyashiro's teammates decided they missed her. "The night before the last game," says USA setter (and Miyashiro's former Washington teammateCourtney Thompson, "a bunch of us in the back of the bus were talking about Tama and how we wish she were there. We decided to surprise her and fly her out (to Lincoln.) And so, we called her and said, 'Hey, pack your bags. We got your ticket. We want you out here.' It was really neat for us. We're a family, and it meant a lot for us to have her there." 

"It would have been so easy for them to think only about what they had to do in Lincoln," says Miyashiro. "But they wanted me there, too. It was very, very cool."

Carolyn Farney, Candice Lee Viring, Tama Miyashiro and Tayyiba Haneef-Park cheer on
Team USA at the NORCECA Olympic Qualifier in Lincoln, NE
-Tayyiba Haneef-Park

With Miyashiro in the stands, along with Washington alums Carolyn Farney and Candice (Lee) Vering, Thompson and Team USA swept Dominican Republic 3-0, earning the team tickets to Rio in August.  

Thompson was on the roster as USA won the World Championships in 2014 and the World Grand Prix in 2015. She was left off the roster last summer when USA failed to claim an early Olympic berth in the World Cup 

"Obviously, I was super-disappointed last summer, how things ended up," says Thompson. "This is a family. I'm competitive. I want to be part of it. It's important for me to do everything I can to be part of it." 

US National Team members play professionally in nations across the globe. Last fall, Thompson signed with Rexona-Ades of Rio de Janeiro, one of the world's premiere professional teams. Last month, she came back to Anaheim as one of 22 USA athletes seeking 14 slots on last week's Lincoln roster. As Thompson prepared to return to Anaheim from Rio, she sent a personal email to each of her USA teammates. 

"Let's do this," she wrote. 

Middle blocker Rachael Adams told the Associated Press that the email made a difference. Thompson, she remembers, told the team, "`Hey, as soon as we step into this gym when we return to California, we need to be on. We don't want to waste days trying to get comfortable with each other or trying to figure things out.'" 

"She's such a good leader," libero Natalie Hagglund told AP about Thompson. "She kind of came out right off the bat and was like, `Let's do this, we only have two weeks together, let's figure it out quickly, let's have some fun. 

"That's exactly what we did. I'm really proud of this team for being able to dominate that so quickly." 

During the NORCECA tournament, Thompson teamed with former UCLA opposite Karsta Lowe in coach Karch Kiraly's double-substitution offense. The system gives Thompson and Lowe limited playing time, but both made a huge impact. Only once did USA lose points during their three rotations per set. More typically, USA made big runs with Thompson at the controls and Lowe pounding from the right side. 

"I felt really good about how I was playing," she says. "I was really motivated to compete and be my best and do my best.  And I think I did. I was happy about that." 

Thompson is already back in Brazil, where she'll complete the rest of her pro season before making a final push to be one of two setters on the 2016 12-person roster. There are no guarantees, and there will be stiff competition from oft-injured veteran Alisha Glass and much younger Molly Kreklow. Thompson is determined to make the final cut, but says the best way to do that is to focus on helping all of her teammates. 

Courtney Thompson sets against Puerto Rico
-USA Volleyball
"Support for each other is such a big part of our team," Thompson says. "It's who we are. It's what we're about. We feel that. The reason so many of us were motivated to come back in this quad was to do it the right way, as a family. 

"That's who we fight for. We fight for something larger than us. A large part of that is each other. We hope that when people watch us, that's what we see. 'Cause that's what we feel. For sure, we lived that in these three matches." 

Saturday's NORCECA final was broadcast on NBC Sports Network and drew 10,213 fans in Lincoln's Pinnacle Bank Arena. Not many US cities could draw that kind of crowd for an international match … except, perhaps, HonoluluMinneapolis and Seattle. With former Washington All-American Krista Vansant expected to be in serious contention for a spot on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic roster, isn't it about time for the Seattle Sports Commission and the University of Washington to start preparing bids to host international matches during the next quad? 

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