Last ride ends in bronze medal for resilient U.S. volleyballers

Published 6:02 am Sunday, August 21, 2016

Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO — Before they took the court and won bronze, they gathered in the locker room one final time. Each player on the U.S. women’s volleyball took a turn to speak.

Jordan Larson told her teammates she loved them and would fight for every one of them.

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Alisha Glass made sure they all knew there was nowhere she’d rather be now than right here in Rio.

Captain Christa Dietzen? She didn’t need an Olympic medal. She already understood what this tight-knit team was all about, and she also knew it sure would be nice to wear one home as she heads into retirement and prepares to start a family. They thanked one another for the time and effort over four hard years.

Beach star Kerri Walsh Jennings sent a note of her own: Go get a bronze. Just as Walsh Jennings and April Ross did.

“I’m just really proud to be a part of this program,” Larson said. “It’s come a long way. I’m just really happy because there are a lot of good people who deserve this. A lot of people just gave their hearts and soul to this.”

Player-turned-coach Karch Kiraly, the only person to win Olympic volleyball gold as a beach and indoor player, addressed each woman. He spoke of his admiration and acknowledged those players back home who didn’t make the cut.

Just by stepping on the court Saturday, Foluke Akinradewo showed how this squad stuck together. She returned from an injury to her left leg that forced her out early in the semifinal loss to Serbia. The star middle blocker took charge as the top-ranked Americans bounced back two days later to beat the Netherlands 25-23, 25-27, 25-22, 25-19 on Saturday.

After Kim Hill’s ace on match point, the U.S. women fell into an embrace. Kiraly hugged his coaches and brought the women into a huddle for one last cheer.

“In a way, selfishly, I wanted a gold medal to almost prove the way this culture is, or the way the culture has grown and the foundation that we’ve built, almost to prove it right — that the way we did it was right,” Dietzen said. “A medal’s not going to prove that. A medal doesn’t define this team. It will never define this team.”

Reserve setter Courtney Thompson, the Americans’ inspirational motivator, joined Dietzen in announcing immediately after the match that her volleyball days are done. Then they joked about meeting for a crack-of-dawn spin class later in the week.