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From Logan View to London, Larson is living out the course she charted

redwinghusker

All Big 10
5 Year Member
Published Saturday July 21, 2012

VOLLEYBALL

From Logan View to London, Larson is living out the course she charted
By Sam McKewon
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER


* * *

Jordan Larson hatched a plan at 12 years old.

The girl from Hooper, Neb., population 830, wanted to play college volleyball at Nebraska. And, after that, she wanted to play for Team USA in the Olympics.
John Cook remembers hearing that plan, too, when the Husker coach started recruiting Larson. By then she was 15 and starring at Logan View High School.
“Here's a small-town kid who set goals and had big dreams,â€￾ Cook said.
Larson had the athleticism, ball skills and the unforgettable jump serve to play at NU and become one of the school's all-time greats. A national title in 2006. First-team All-America spots in 2006 and 2008. The memorable Final Four run in 2008 as a captain. A Husker career record in service aces.
And after she graduated, she'd have more than three years to vie for one of 12 Team USA spots in the 2012 Olympics.
“You come out of college and you're like ‘Man, I know everything,'â€￾ Larson said. “Like it shouldn't be that much of a difference.â€￾
You're reading this because she made it. Larson, now 25, will start in London for Team USA, the world's No. 1 team, which has its best shot ever at a first gold medal.
“I'm getting chills thinking about it,â€￾ Larson said. “Everything we've worked for — this is it. All the components are there.â€￾
But what Larson would learn — and many casual volleyball fans don't know — is that the bridge from college to the Olympics doesn't cross just the Atlantic Ocean. It crossed the Pacific Ocean. And the Indian Ocean. The road led just about anywhere but here.
For it's in South America, Europe and Asia where the best pro and international players compete. And if the Americans want to hang with Brazil, China and Russia, they have to play there. Join their pro leagues, when the best players are taller, leaner, faster and different, often playing with heavier balls than the ones colleges use.
So, for six months in the winter and spring, Larson plays for Dynamo Kazan in the Russian Volleyball Super League. Kazan is a city of more than one million, “halfway between Moscow and Siberia,â€￾ Larson said. In 2011, when Dynamo Kazan won the league crown, the team celebrated, in part, by riding on top of a Russian tank. In 2012, Dynamo Kazan beat Dynamo Moscow in a best-of-five series in April for another league crown.
“The living conditions are OK,â€￾ Larson said. “It's kind of what you think of living in Russia. It's very, very cold. The people are very, very kind. I've had no problems. It's been an all-around very good experience.
“And I'm thankful, because overseas volleyball is sometimes sketchy. You may not get paid or you'll have drama on the team. Most people will change clubs or change countries. But I've been very lucky.â€￾
Nancy Metcalf — another former Husker who played in the 2004 Olympics and narrowly missed a spot on the 2012 team — played in Puerto Rico, Italy and Turkey, among other countries. Then, in the summer, she, Larson and other Americans would turn around and play international tournaments for Team USA.
As the Olympic team prepares for London, in fact, Metcalf and former NU libero Kayla Banwarth helped lead the U.S. alternate squad to a gold medal in the Pan American Cup on July 20.
The grind never stops.
“We're away from home more than 11 months out of the year,â€￾ Metcalf said. “That's tough. You're away from home, life goes on and you're missing a lot of it.
“People see the romanticized version of it. ‘Oh, you get to travel! How wonderful!' What they don't realize is that we see the gym, we see the hotel and we see the airport. We're not there to sight-see. We're there for business. Our job is volleyball.â€￾
Larson said expensive prices on airline tickets prevent her from getting home much. She keeps tabs on Nebraska's program as best she can, but travel and matches and practice make it hard.
But, yes, she's better at volleyball. A “whole new player,â€￾ in her words. Cook said Larson's honed as a pro what she was already good at in college: serving and passing. She's an effective blocker, too, on top of being a slow-to-tire hitter.
“She's focused, she's determined, she's really disciplined,â€￾ Cook said. “She's one of the premier international players right now.â€￾
And Team USA has slowly become the world's top squad according to the International Federation of Volleyball, supplanting Brazil in the last year and cementing that No. 1 spot by winning the 2012 FIVB Grand Prix this summer.
It's a young team — seven of the 12 members are first-time Olympians — with recent college foes familiar to Nebraska fans: Destinee Hooker (Texas); Megan Hodge and Christa Harmotto (Penn State); and Foluke Akinradewo (Stanford). Larson said the players watch tape of three years ago — getting “served off the courtâ€￾ by Germany, or falling prey to Brazil's raucous fans — and laugh. Because they're beating Germany and Brazil now.
“We just have to be us,â€￾ Larson said. “That'll be good enough. We've proven over time we deserve to be in the No. 1 spot. We just have to maintain that.â€￾
Their six-team group — which begins play July 28 — is stacked with 2008 Olympic champ Brazil and 2004 goal medalist China. Should Team USA advance to the medal round, it's a single-elimination sprint to the finish. The American women have reached the gold medal match only in 1984 and 2008. And they've won just one set in two gold medal match appearances.
“Four years comes down to one night,â€￾ said Cook, who served as an assistant on the men's team in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
And yet the pressure is worth it, Cook said, for the sheer size of the stage. He said it's the greatest sporting event in the world. Metcalf agreed.

“You soak it all in — in awe of the grandness of the Olympics,â€￾ she said. “To be something that big and on such a large scale, it's humbling and exciting.â€￾
It's about to be Larson's experience. After more than 30 months of playing volleyball in just about every place but Hooper, Nebraska — “How many countries have we played in?â€￾ she asks a roommate during the phone interview — there's a spot on a London court with her name on it.
“I think about where I came from at 12 years old. And all the coaches who helped me along the way,â€￾ Larson said. “And now it's here. It's actually here. And I'm totally present. And I'm excited to see what's going to happen.â€￾
 

BGRed

Starter
15 Year Member
Volleyball game times

Pool B (World Ranking): USA (1), Brazil (2), China (5), Serbia (6), Turkey (11), Korea (15)

July 28: Algeria vs. Japan, 9:30 a.m.
July 28: China vs. Serbia, 11:30 a.m.
July 28: Great Britain vs. Russia, 2:45 p.m.
July 28: Italy vs. Dominican Republic, 4:45 p.m.
July 28: USA vs. Korea, 8 p.m. (noon PT)
July 28: Brazil vs. Turkey, 10 p.m.

July 30: China vs. Turkey, 9:30 a.m.
July 30: Serbia vs. Korea, 11:30 a.m.
July 30: Dominican Republic vs. Russia, 2:45 p.m.
July 30: USA vs. Brazil, 4:45 p.m. (8:45 a.m. PT)
July 30: Italy vs. Japan, 8 p.m.
July 30: Great Britain vs. Algeria, 10 p.m.

Aug. 1: Dominican Republic vs. Japan, 9:30 a.m.
Aug. 1: Algeria vs. Russia, 11:30 a.m.
Aug. 1: Serbia vs. Turkey, 2:45 p.m.
Aug. 1: Great Britain vs. Italy, 4:45 p.m.
Aug. 1: USA vs. China, 8 p.m. (noon PT)
Aug. 1: Brazil vs. Korea, 10 p.m.

Aug. 3: Brazil vs. China, 9:30 a.m.
Aug. 3: Japan vs. Russia, 11:30 a.m.
Aug. 3: Turkey vs. Korea, 2:45 p.m.
Aug. 3: Great Britain vs. Dominican Republic, 4:45 p.m.
Aug. 3: USA vs. Serbia, 8 p.m. (noon PT)
Aug. 3: Algeria vs. Italy, 10 p.m.

Aug. 5: Algeria vs. Dominican Republic, 9:30 a.m.
Aug. 5: China vs. Korea, 11:30 a.m.
Aug. 5: Great Britain vs. Japan, 2:45 p.m.
Aug. 5: Italy vs. Russia, 4:45 p.m.
Aug. 5: USA vs. Turkey, 8 p.m. (noon PT)
Aug. 5: Brazil vs. Serbia, 10 p.m.

Aug. 7: Quarterfinal Matches at 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 7 p.m., 9:30 p.m.
Aug. 9: Semifinal Matches at 3 p.m., 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 11: Women’s Bronze Medal Match, 11:30 a.m.
Aug. 11: Women’s Gold Medal Match, 6:30 p.m.
Aug. 11: Women’s Gold Medal Ceremony, 8:20 p.m.
 

BGRed

Starter
15 Year Member
Our first game is Saturday...2 PM Nebraska time. Regular NBC Channel.

July 28: USA vs. Korea, 8 p.m. (noon PT)


 
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