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? 


  1. She has so much class! What a treat to see another example of how cool she is.

  2. Great to see US earn that Olympic bid and am sorry I didn't get a chance to watch any of that. Courtney and Tama are two of my favorite characters - nice to see they are still having fun while competing at such a high level. Thanks for keeping us up to date Jack!


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