COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (Dec. 1, 2016) – Outside hitter Jordan Larson (Hooper, Nebraska) has been a model of consistency leading to success since joining the U.S. Women’s National Team in 2009.
For her contributions this past year, Larson has been selected as the 2016 USA Volleyball Female Indoor Player of the Year for the second consecutive year.
Middle Rachael Adams (Cincinnati, Ohio) was tabbed as the 2016 USA Volleyball Female Indoor Most Improved Player of the Year.
“I feel so honored,” Larson said upon hearing the news of being selected for the honor a second year in a row. “These past two years have been both challenging but so rewarding at the same time. I am so thankful to be surrounded with such great teammates, coaches and people who make me and allow me to be the best version of myself every single day. I couldn’t have done this without them. I am so grateful.”
Larson averaged 3.35 points per set over the course of three tournaments resulting in podium finishes each time. She converted 40.6 percent of her attacks with a .292 hitting efficiency and 2.78 kills per set. Larson added a 0.24 ace average (18 aces) and 0.32 block average (24 blocks) in 74 sets played – third most on the team in 2016. On defense, she provided Team USA with 1.72 digs per set. Larson handled 410 service receptions – over 70 more receptions than the next closest teammate in the category – leading to a 63 percent in system passes and a .419 first ball side out efficiency.
During the 2016 Olympics, Larson averaged 2.69 kills, 0.34 blocks and 0.28 aces per set with an overall 3.31 points average. She converted 41.5 percent of her attacks into points with a .295 hitting efficiency.
U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly was impressed with Larson’s ability to become a more dynamic player by adding additional skills and tools to her arsenal of volleyball talent.
“The longer one plays this game, the more difficult it is to add new skills and tools, which makes it all the more remarkable that Jordan probably had her best year ever in a USA uniform,” Kiraly said. “Everything she set her mind to improving – her physical power, her already solid leadership and teammateship skills, her offensive efficiency – became reality. All of that, plus her stellar all-around game, helped guide USA to another strong Olympic medal finish.”
Adams played in 60 sets during 2016 with averages of 3.37 points, 2.23 kills, 0.82 blocks and 0.32 aces per set. She converted 57.0 percent of her attacks into points with a .455 hitting efficiency. Competing in her first-ever Olympic Games, Adams averaged 3.00 points per set with 2.11 kills, 0.68 blocks and 0.21 aces per set in Rio de Janeiro. She held a .457 hitting efficiency in starting all eight matches at the Olympics.
“I had many setbacks during the summer of 2015, and during those moments I was left with a choice to make: to either let the setbacks defeat me or keep pushing, trust my process and hold my vision of where I want to be. One of my favorite quotes says, ‘I am thankful for my struggle because without it, I wouldn’t have stumbled upon my strength.’ These times weren’t easy, but they shaped me into the person I needed to be and gave me strength I needed to have in order to be the player I was for my team in Rio.
“So, in short, this award means a lot to me because it represents the journey I’ve been on, the determination I’ve had to have to get to where I want to be and that was to be a complete player so I could help the team in any way that I could during the 2016 Olympics. This award makes me extremely thankful for all the support I’ve had along the way that believed in me and reminded me to working hard and to keep going.”
Adams, who had not played in any FIVB events in 2015 and struggled to make rosters, turned in a remarkable transition into a starting middle by the Olympic Games. Upon returning to the U.S. Women’s National Team with an Italian league title during her 2015-16 pro club season, Adams was impressive in her improvements and desire to make those around her better.
“Three years ago, Rachael could barely hit a one-footed slide,” Kiraly said. “One year ago, she struggled to make USA travel rosters. Knowing that, Rachael surprised more than a few people by not only earning a spot on the Rio Olympic roster, but earning a starting role as well. All of which is a strong tribute to Rachael’s ability to put in the ‘hard yards,’ to fight through the discomfort of learning in order to build a better game – and to make USA the best it can be.”
Jordan Holds Special Memories from 2016
Larson was a steadying influence on the U.S. Women’s National Team in 2016, starting with a gold-medal performance at the NORCECA Olympic Qualification Tournament in early January in her home state and college roots of University of Nebraska. After being named Best Spiker at the Olympic qualifier, Larson helped Team USA through a challenging FIVB World Grand Prix schedule that culminated with the silver medal after falling in a heartbreaking five-set match to Brazil in Thailand. The Americans finished the Olympic Games with the bronze medal, coming up just short of their goal of first-ever gold medal after another heartbreaking five-set loss to Serbia in the semifinal round.
Yet, the thrill of standing on the Olympic podium a second time with her teammates was a great experience for Larson.
“It was amazing,” Larson said. “It made me thankful and grateful. It allowed me to reflect on all the sacrifices it took to get to that point. It has definitely been challenging. It was so much fun to be a part of this group of teammates. I have been blessed to be a part of some very talented teams, but when you have both talent and heart it makes it that much more sweeter. This team had both talent and heart. We played for each other and found a way to bring out the best in one another. I was so proud.”
Larson will look back on 2016 with many memories playing with her teammates.
“I have had some great memories in 2016,” Larson said. “I think the first memory that sticks out to me is the fact that the first three weeks of FIVB World Grand Prix were probably the most difficult travel schedule we have ever had. We took three round trip flights to Hong Kong (for three different competitions in China, Hong Kong and Thailand). It was rough, but our team found a way to be successful every single week to qualify us for the final round in Thailand. We came up short with winning, but I felt like that helped narrow our focus for what was to come at the Olympic games. I was so proud of my team for dealing with some adversity and coming out stronger.”
Another memory for Larson developed from the disappointing loss to Serbia in the Olympic Games semifinals, but turned into an unforgettable team moment that would develop over the next 48 hours.
“The second memory was probably losing in the semifinal against Serbia at the Olympics,” Larson said. “It was rough. It hurt because of what and how far this group had come in the past four years. We created an environment that allowed everyone to be who they are and compete at the highest level. Unfortunately, that day it just wasn’t good enough. We came up short. It wasn’t because we didn’t deserve it, but Serbia was just better on that day. The coolest part in this all was the next match we had to come out and play a very talented Netherlands team. They were not just going to give up or hand it over. We had to go out and earn it. We came out with the bronze, which was just as meaningful to me if not more than winning a silver medal.”
Larson, who is playing for Eczacibasi in the Turkish professional league for the second consecutive winter club season, acknowledged that one of her fondest memories in 2016 happened while sparking Eczacibasi to the 2016 FIVB Women’s Club World Championship in the Philippines in October. Larson has now won the prestigious title three years in a row, the last two with Eczacibasi after winning the tournament with Russia’s Dinamo Kazan.
“My third memory would be winning the FIVB Women’s Club World Championship,” Larson said. “We have a much different team than last year with a lot of foreigners with many different backgrounds. We had about a month to prepare for this tournament. We had a to figure out a way for us all to mesh together. It was definitely challenging to work through those growing pains, but without those pains I’m not sure we would have won. We were still grinding away through our season learning about one another, but it’s been fun to learn about each individual and their strengths.”
While often playing so far from home, Larson was right at home this past January playing in Lincoln, Nebraska, as Team USA won the 2016 NORCECA Olympic Qualification Tournament. She was named Best Spiker in the event that took place not that far from her hometown of Hooper, Nebraska, and in the same town she played for the Nebraska Huskers and leading them to the 2006 NCAA title in nearby Omaha.
“It was so indescribable,” Larson said of playing in Lincoln and Team USA earning its berth into the 2016 Olympic Games. “Lincoln did an amazing job of hosting and it was so much fun to play in front of so many Husker fans. When they say, ‘There is no place like Nebraska,’ it is so true. It made me so proud of where I grew up and where my career started.”
The Future for Jordan
Larson has now played in consecutive Olympic Games, winning two medals (silver in 2012 and bronze in 2016). She has also won countless other international medals and enjoyed a successful professional career predominantly based in Turkey and Russia. So what is in store for Larson for the next four years with the U.S. Women’s National Team?
“I have not decided yet,” Larson said. “I plan to take a small break this summer and evaluate where I am at both physically and mentally. I still feel really good physically, so we will see.”
Rachael’s Memories from 2016
Adams’ game plan to be her best wasn’t about concentrating on all the things she does well, but rather to be a well-rounded player by attacking her own weaknesses.
“To elevate my game I had to approach my weaknesses head on,” Adams said. “It’s so easy to go into practice and stroke my ego and only work on the things I was good at. So instead, I challenged myself, as did my coaches, to focus on my weaknesses so I could become a complete player and be the best I could be in order to be ready to help my team in any situation in Rio.”
A part of Adams’ strategy was to become multi-dimensional on the attack.
“I was always known for playing very well in front of the setter and so throughout my career the need to improve hitting off of one foot behind the setter was overlooked because I was very skilled in front. So I made it a goal to not be limited and also become a slide attacking middle blocker. It was a frustrating process, but our USA coaching staff wants us to ‘be comfortable being uncomfortable.’ As uncomfortable and frustrating as it was doing things I wasn’t good at in the beginning, I embraced it and trusted the process.”
Along with working with the Team USA staff this past summer to work on developing her weaknesses, Adams credits her time spent playing for Italian club team Imoco Conegliano last winter as an important part of her journey to reach the Olympics. She, along with Team USA setter Alisha Glass and outside hitters Kelsey Robinson and Megan Easy, claimed the Italian Serie A1 title in May days before re-joining Team USA.
“Playing in Italy in 2015-16 was very important for me for many, many reasons,” Adams said. “Not only did I get to play with the starting National Team setter, Alisha Glass, for an extra eight months outside the National Team, but Davide Mazzanti and his coaching staff had created a really great environment and atmosphere for my teammates and I to develop and grow. I was able to come into the gym and focus on improving my skills each practice and every weekend in high level and challenging Italian league matches. It was exactly where I needed to be.”
Playing in her first Olympic Games, where just a year ago many thought was a long shot, has yet to sink in for Adams.
“It was a collection of incredibly surreal moments that honestly still haven’t sunken in yet, so maybe many years from now will I realize I have become an Olympian, played in the Olympics, and am an Olympic Medalist. So crazy!” Adams said. “But, it was an obviously exciting time and I am so thankful to have been able to contribute and fight alongside my teammates and to have been on this journey till the end with this team.”
That thrill of playing with her American teammates ranks among the top memories Adams will remember from 2016, and the team culture will impact the future of the squad.
“This program, especially the older girls, took charge and built something we can all be proud of and it’s only the beginning,” Adams said.
And during the current 2016-17 professional club season, Adams has re-united with Larson to play for Eczacibasi in the Turkish League. Both played key roles in Eczacibasi winning the 2016 FIVB Women’s Club World Championship in October.