Thursday, July 14, 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 | Courtney Thompson is a two-time Olympian

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: ThompsonLarsonAkinradewo 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.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

“Jam the Gym” blog features Courtney Thompson

“Court & Spark celebrates volleyball and showcases Courtney’s effervescent personality”

This week’s Jam the Gym blog features an interview with Courtney Thompson. As co-producers of Court & Spark, we’re grateful for the nice shoutouts.

A few excerpts:
  • You can't win without a Courtney Thompson. Courtney is the volleyball equivalent of the hockey "grinder", not afraid to go into the corner and take a hit to make a play, not afraid to take a beating in front of the net to screen the goaltender.

  • She was also the subject of a beautifully filmed documentary called "Court and Spark". "Court and Spark" celebrates volleyball and showcases Courtney's effervescent personality.  It has been passed around our team this year to rave reviews!

  • Ellen and I are huge fans of Court and Spark!  We just love how it was shot and how it celebrates volleyball and life.

Please see the entire interview at Jam the Gym.