Nebraska is the reigning national champion in NCAA women's volleyball, and the U.S. Olympic team will have a strong Big Red component, as well.
USA Volleyball on Tuesday announced its 12-woman roster for the Rio Games, and it includes three former Huskers: outside hitters Jordan Larson and Kelsey Robinson, and libero Kayla Banwarth.
Larson, a native of tiny Hooper, Nebraska (population 830), was a star on the 2006 national championship team for the Huskers, who won their fourth NCAA title this past December. Larson is also one of just four Olympic veterans who will be going to Rio de Janeiro, along with middles Foluke Akinradewo (Stanford) and Christa Dietzen (Penn State) and setter Courtney Thompson (Washington).
Coach Karch Kiraly is taking a fairly youthful squad to the Olympics; the team's average age is 27, and Thompson, 31, is the only player over age 30. The youngest on the roster is opposite hitter Karsta Lowe, 23, who actually started her UCLA career as a walk-on and was part of the Bruins' 2011 NCAA title team.
Along with Lowe, Robinson and Banwarth, the rest of the newcomers are outside hitter Kim Hill (Pepperdine) and opposite hitter Kelly Murphy (Florida); middle Rachael Adams (Texas), and setters Alisha Glass (Penn State) and Carli Lloyd (Cal).
(And if you're wondering, yes, there really are two Carli Lloyds going to Rio for the United States -- the volleyball and the soccer versions.)
While only four players have previous Olympic volleyball experience, 10 of the 12 were on the 2014 FIVB World Championship team. That squad was the first to win gold for the U.S. women in the 62-year history of that event. However, unlike their counterparts in basketball and soccer, the U.S. women's volleyball team has never claimed an Olympic gold medal. Now, they'll be trying to dethrone two-time defending Olympic champion Brazil in its home country.
Brazil beat the United States in the 2008 and 2012 finals by 3-1 scores; the U.S. women have three silver medals and one bronze in Olympic volleyball competition, which began for both women and men in 1964.
As a player, Kiraly won gold in indoor volleyball in 1984 and 1988, and in beach volleyball in 1996. He was an assistant for the U.S. women's indoor team at the 2012 London Games, and then took over as its head coach after those Olympics.
Under Kiraly, the U.S. team has ascended to the No. 1 ranking in the world, winning six of their past eight tournaments dating back to the 2014 World Championship. However, the Americans just lost in five sets against Brazil in their most recent meeting, Sunday's final of the FIVB World Grand Prix in Thailand.
The U.S. women open Olympic play Aug. 6 against Puerto Rico. The Americans also will face the Netherlands, Serbia, Italy and two-time Olympic champion China in pool play.