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Kentlake High graduate Thompson ready for Olympics in London | Sports commentary
Years ago when Courtney Thompson, a 2003 Kentlake High graduate, was playing club volleyball she watched the US National womens indoor volleyball team.
Thompson was in awe.
“It was really motivating for me,” Thompson said. “It was like they weren’t human. I wanted to be there with every ounce of me, so, it was pretty cool to be able to come full circle.”
Now she is a setter for the national team, having been with the squad since 2010 in between professional contracts, but one of the highlights of her storied career came recently when she was named to the Olympic team.
When Thompson told me how she reacted when her coaches delivered the good news I couldn’t help but be amused. I’ve spoken with her three or four times over the past nine years and have watched her play sports since she was a senior at Kentlake.
“I couldn’t say anything,” she said. “I usually have a lot to say but there were no words. I think I told my coaches to shut the hell up. But, for the first minute, I just stared at them. I can’t even articulate what it felt like. It’s like winning a title, there’s so much that goes into it that you can’t control. There are 25 women who trained their hardest for the past four years and they only pick 12. It was overwhelming and I wanted to cry and I wanted to scream and I couldn’t do either.”
Two years ago, when Thompson and I spoke last, she told me she had her sights set on making the Olympic team. I believed she could do it and wasn’t the least bit surprised when the news broke July 3 that Thompson would be heading to London.
I wasn’t surprised because she won three state 4A volleyball titles at Kentlake. When I first interviewed her, it was her freshman year at the University of Washington, and I remember very clearly her telling me one of her main goals for her time as a Husky was to win a national title.
Then the Huskies did just that when Thompson was a junior. I know she would give credit to the phenomenal hitters she set to as well as the coaching, particularly head coach Jim McLaughlin.
Now she’s a member of a team that is ranked No. 1 in the world. I didn’t ask her if she wants to win a gold medal but I bet that’s the plan for the team. And with Thompson a part of that group I would be surprised if she didn’t add an Olympic volleyball gold medal to her multiple championships — she also won a league title last year with her pro team.
It’s no easy thing to make the team, Thompson said, to be one of the best 12 women playing indoor volleyball in the United States.
“We’ve just been training our butts off and working really hard,” she said. “I didn’t make every roster that I wanted to with the national team, but, I knew there were specific things I had to improve to make the team.”
As a student at Kentlake, it’s something she wished for but kept to herself, especially when people were telling Thompson she wasn’t going to be able to play in college.
“I thought it would be amazing,” she said. “But, it was a little bit too embarrassing to say out loud.”
Once she proved her doubters wrong at UW, I can’t say that I’ve heard anyone claim Thompson couldn’t play at a high level, which is smart.
Thompson is quick to share the credit for her success, though, I’d say her sheer determination and hard work hasn’t hurt, either.
“I’ve been so fortunate my entire life, from the beginning really great coaches and really great teammates,” she said. “If anyone looked at my record there’s no denying that and we’ve all been invested in the process if you enjoy what you do and you take it one day at a time and working your butt off… there’s no telling what you and your team can do. That’s what I’ve done at every level, just taking it one day at a time and investing.”
Right now there’s a pretty serious investment of time for the team in preparation for the Summer Games which start July 27.
Thompson said the team, which is training in Anaheim, Calif., leaves July 20. Opening ceremonies are July 27 and the womens indoor volleyball tournament begins the next day. The plan is to be there until Aug. 13, the day after Olympics end.
“It’s a really cool experience,” she said. “It’s like the first national championship, you enjoy the experience. But, when it comes to international volleyball you have to treat it like any other volleyball game. It’s a different feeling and a different magnitude which makes it awesome. When you wear the red, white and blue it’s a pretty amazing experience but once the first whistle blows you just have to side out and take it one play at a time.”
Then once the Olympic experience is over, Thompson said, she plans to take some time off.
“It’s been quite the grind the past few years,” she said. “I signed a contract to go play in Poland. I’ll leave in the middle of September and go back to work. It’s nice to have that out of the way, it’s a good opportunity for me and it’s a good volleyball league and I’m excited for it.”
Thompson loves playing volleyball and she’s made a living at it for the past six years. She played in Austria two years ago and Puerto Rico last year. It’s been a great ride and the Olympic team is another great opportunity she’s thrilled to be part of.
“It’s been awesome, man, it has been awesome,” she said. “It’s a unique lifestyle, there are plusses and minuses, but at the end of the day I never would have thought that volleyball would take me this far. It’s great to compete with other women who are wired the same way I am every day. Growing up I was always a little bit more competitive. For someone into sports this is about as cool as gets.”