Jordan Larson played in her final college volleyball match for Nebraska in 2008.
While the native of Hooper, a small-town near Fremont, was once a Nebraska treasure, she’s now one of the most well-known volleyball players in the world.
After playing at Nebraska, her career has gone to another level. She’s played professionally in Puerto Rico, Russia and Turkey, countries where women’s professional volleyball is a big deal.
She’s also played for the United States women’s volleyball national team for nine years. That includes two trips to the Olympics. She came back with a silver medal from the 2012 London Games and a bronze medal from the 2016 Rio Games. If she keeps feeling well she’ll try to make the team again for the 2020 Olympics.
But, somewhat surprisingly, her international volleyball career also keeps bringing her back to Nebraska.
Larson and the U.S. women’s volleyball team are in Lincoln this week to begin tournament matches in the FIVB Volleyball Nations League. Two other ex-Huskers, Kelsey Robinson and Justine Wong-Orantes, are also on the team.
The matches begin on Tuesday at the Devaney Sports Center, with the U.S. team playing three consecutive nights.
This will be the fourth time in six years the national team has played in Nebraska, and the second time in two years the Americans are in Lincoln.
The 31-year-old Larson is surprised by how many matches she's been able to play in Nebraska since college. It’s somewhat rare for the team to play matches in the United States. And when they do it’s more convenient to do so in California, where the team is based.
“But it makes sense why we’re holding events there,” Larson said. “I think it’s the mecca of volleyball, and it’s so smart because so many people just love watching the sport there. So the more people we can have come out I think it makes our job that much more fun.”
Tournament officials are anticipating crowds of 6,000 fans each night, and tickets are still available.
In a Q&A session with the Journal Star, Larson shared what life is like when you play professional volleyball for part of the year in Istanbul, Turkey, and travel the world playing for the national team the rest of the year.
Question: How was your pro season that just ended?
Larson: It was a great year. It was a lot of fun. Plus we had a new coach. He was Brazilian, so it was interesting learning from him. We had a good experience. We won CEV Cup. Unfortunately we didn’t win the Turkish Cup or the Turkish League. We finished second in both. I just really liked our team. We had a good atmosphere. We probably played close to 35 matches. It seems like you’re playing every three days for about seven months.
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Q: It can be confusing to keep track of all the different tournaments the national team plays during a four-year cycle. How do you rank your favorite events?
Larson: All of the major events are fun. Obviously the Olympic Games is top. This year we have World Championship coming up at the end of the summer, and that and the World Cup are equally the most difficult. I don’t know the schedule this year, but I know last World Championships it was like 11 matches in 15 days. At the level we’re playing at, to recover is pretty difficult. This year that tournament is held in Japan, so we’re in a different city every four days I think. So not only are you playing at that high level, you’re also making trips around Japan.
Q: So let’s say Bob from Beatrice is trying to decide if he wants to come and watch a match this week. What reasons would you give him to come?
Larson: We have a lot of returning Olympians, so I think it’s a great way to see some of the girls who played in Rio, and also get to see some new girls to the team, and see what our team is about. What we try to do is have a lot of fun and make it fun to watch by running our fast offense and being able to pass the ball and ball control well. So I think the fact that we’re playing at such a high level is something different than what maybe college is. College is just a different level. As a college athlete I didn’t think that transition was going to be as difficult as it was, but there is a significant transition into that level.
Q: What are your favorite countries to travel to, either with your pro team or with the national team?
Larson: I really enjoy Turkey, where I live. Istanbul is an unbelievable city, just really beautiful and the people are really, really nice. I really love my club team and everybody that’s there. I got really lucky. Then also another place, which is where we’re going after Lincoln, is Japan. Japan is one of my favorite places to play. Not just because they love volleyball, but the people are so nice and they’re so clean and organized. It’s an amazing country.
Q: Do you speak other languages?
Larson: No, I wouldn’t say that. But I can understand probably more Russian than I can Turkish, just because in Turkey they speak more English, but in Russia I think one or two of my teammates only spoke English, and my coach spoke a little bit so I had to learn more Russian in order to get by, where in Turkey they coach in English and everybody speaks fluent. This year I’ve learned more Turkish than I had the past couple of years.
Q: During an average year, how many weeks are you off from volleyball?
Larson: Right when I got back (from Turkey) I took 2 ½ days, and then I practiced for two days. And then I was off for about four days and went to Hawaii for a couple of days. It’s probably three full weeks off. Maybe. If that’s a good year. Otherwise it’s a couple of weeks.
Q: Do you wish there was professional volleyball in the United States, or does it work best that the pro leagues are all in different countries?
Larson: I wish it was here. I understand why it’s not. I think there is just a lot going on here. There are other valued sports here. I also think that we’re in a unique situation in the fact that we get to go to all of these different countries and learn what other countries do and then we get to all come back together and are excited to be back together and excited to share what we learned. It’s a fun thing to get back together again. As much I wish it would be in the states, I think that we make the most of the situation that we have.
Q: What are the moments when it hits you the most that you’re playing for your national team?
Larson: I was actually just at a high school volleyball game in California the other day and the announcer before the national anthem kind of listed off some of the reasons why we stand and pledge our allegiance to the flag, and it gives me chills now just thinking about it, and all the men and women that sacrifice for us and the opportunities that we have because of that. Living overseas half of the year, and then coming back and seeing how awesome our country is and what it means to be from here, and just hearing our national anthem and those things really get me going, and get me excited to be able to wear the flag on my jersey.