In the six years since Courtney Thompson graduated from the University of Washington, she’s traveled the world playing volleyball, both professionally and with the US National Team, including the London Olympics. Whenever possible, however, she returns home to Seattle, and makes a point to stop by Alaska Airlines Arena.
|University of Washington graduate Courtney Thompson will have her jersey retired November 3|
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann
“Every time I go back there,” Thompson tells us, “it’s a huge recharge for me. It’s where I grew up, it’s where I learned so much. Every time I walk in that gym I feel incredibly inspired.”
In particular, she says, she is moved by the sight of the purple and gold banner hanging from the rafters, the only national championship sign in the arena. Thompson was captain of the volleyball team that won the 2005 title, a resounding 3-0 victory over favored Nebraska.
“You see that banner,” she says, “and you remember what it represents: everything we went through as a team to get there. You just smile.”
On November 3, during Washington’s Pac-12 match against Colorado, another banner will rise to the rafters: Thompson’s #3. It will be one of the first two women’s jerseys (softball All-American Danielle Lawrie will be the other) to be retired by the University of Washington in more than a century of fielding sports teams.
|Courtney Thompson celebrates winning the|
2005 National Championship in San Antonio
“I’m incredibly humbled,” she says.
“It’s huge,” says Washington coach Jim McLaughlin. “It says a lot about the university that they hold Court in that esteem.”
Stretching back to the early 1900s, Washington has only retired six jerseys: football players Chuck Carroll (#2), George Wilson (#33) and Roland Kirby (#44), plus men’s basketball players Bob Houbregs (#25) and Brandon Roy (#3), and baseball player Tim Lincecum (#14).
Thompson’s choice of jersey number 3 is a story in itself.
“It started in high school,” she says. “My favorite numbers were 7 and 13. My brother, Trevor, was always 13, so that was my number at Kentlake High. But my sophomore year, the team’s number 13 jersey was way too big for me. So my coach made me switch, and I became number 3. We won a state title and then I was number 3 in everything (volleyball, basketball, softball) because it was good luck.”
When Thompson arrived at Washington in the fall of 2003, she was handed a list of available jerseys. “Thankfully, number 3 was on there, so I jumped at the chance.”
Thompson’s teammates from an era that included Pac-10 championships and three straight Final Four appearances were thrilled. “I couldn’t be more excited,” says Carolyn Farny.
“Everyone told her she couldn’t do it, she was too short,” Farny remembers. “She just proved that, if you work hard and believe you can do it, she had the entire team—and arena—believing.”
Two other teammates from that period—University of Virginia assistant coach Stevie Mussie and UT-San Antonio assistant coach Sanja Tomasevic—spoke about Thompson for the upcoming documentary, Court & Spark.
“You look at her,” said Mussie, “and you would think, This girl, I can kill her. Oh, my God, I’m gonna beat her every time. And then you play against her, she touches every swing, she sets every ball, she wills her team to win.”
“Courtney Is one of my favorite players of all time,” said Tomasevic. “She could make you feel bad in practice if you’re not feeling like practicing that day. Like, if you came out and tried to cruise through practice, she didn’t allow that. She never allowed that in the gym.”
“She is one of the most comfortable human beings in her own skin that I’ve ever met,” Farny adds. “It doesn’t matter where you are, who you’re with, she’s just fun to be with.”
Thompson says she’s particularly happy that young girls will be able to look up to the rafters and see the jersey of a woman athlete.
“It’s surreal,” she says. “It’s an honor to be in a position where you can impact people. I’ve always felt like, the more you’ve been given, the more you give back. This is really a great way to continue to do this as women and as athletes at UW.
“What I hope people can think about when they see my jersey, and even our championship banner, is how many people went into that. I think about the coaching staff, the ushers, the (training table) people at the Conibear Shellhouse, my professors, and my academic advisors—all these people who took time out of their day to help me one way or another or to teach me something or challenge me in a different way.
“If you work hard, and you surround yourself with the right people, and you do your best, a lot of wonderful things can happen and dreams can come true.”
- Thompson and three others—Lawrie, Lincecum and golfer Nick Taylor—will be honored during the September 28 Arizona @ Washington football game. Lincecum’s jersey was first retired a few years ago, but Washington’s Athletic Department has since formalized a new, more comprehensive policy for honoring it’s alums, and Lincecum is being acknowledged under that process.
- John Otness, director of Washington’s Big W Club, tells us that, technically, the players’ “jerseys” are being retired, not their “numbers.” Modern teams, college and pro, tend to acknowledge that retiring too many numbers might someday create hardships when assigning jerseys. That said, the football numbers #33 (George Wilson) and #44 (Roland Kirby) are rarely, if ever, assigned at UW, even as #2 (Chuck Carroll) remains a relatively popular choice for subsequent athletes.