What kind of impact has Jordan Larson had on the sport of volleyball during her career?
Karch Kiraly, who himself has had an enormous impact on the game as the greatest player of the 20th century and a world championship coach, has a story to tell in answer to that question.
It came during the NCAA Tournament semifinals in Omaha last month, so many of you were there for the moment he’s referring to.
During a break in the Nebraska-Kansas match, former NU and current USA players Kayla Banwarth and Larson were interviewed and shown on the videoscreens. The U.S. had won a world championship in 2014, something the Americans had never done.
The crowd gave the former Huskers a standing ovation. When Larson spoke, it was said that you could have heard a pin drop. Her USA teammates watching around the world on the Internet posted on social media that "The Governor" (Larson’s nickname) was speaking to her fans.
“My wife was one of the people who was (at the Final Four), and she said it was absolutely awe-inspiring, because the master of ceremonies asked Jordan a question, and within a half-second, the 17,551 people went dead-silent and sheer reverence for her, and for Kayla, and for what they’ve meant to both the Nebraska program, but as least as importantly, to USA and the whole country and to women’s volleyball,” Kiraly said.
One person on social media that night wrote that Larson was her inspiration when she played volleyball.
That scene at the Final Four was just one piece of evidence for the impact Larson has made, Kiraly said. Larson is well-respected for the way she competes so fiercely and consistently and how she sets high standards for her teammates.
“Jordan and the rest of her teammates, we have a really special group of women in this program who are intelligent, and powerful and dedicated and hardworking and are great role models for just how to be a good woman,” Kiraly said. “She’s had an impact on lots of levels as a role model for girls all over the country, both on and off the court.”
This week is a rare treat for the fans to get to see Larson play again in the city where she was a star for the Huskers and lives in the offseason. Larson and Team USA are competing in the NORCECA Olympic Qualification Tournament on Thursday through Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
And while this has been a rare stretch for Team USA, having played in Omaha twice in three years, international volleyball events still belong to the world, and not just Nebraska.
You shouldn’t assume that you’ll get to see Larson play in Lincoln again, at least at this high a level, with the top-ranked team in the world playing its best lineup seven months before the Olympics. Think of it like Alex Gordon bringing the Royals to Haymarket Park for a three-game series.
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Larson, 29, doesn’t know long she’ll continue to play. Maybe she’ll be in the Olympics in 2020, but maybe she won’t. Danielle Scott played in the Olympics when she was 39.
Larson is in the final year of her professional contract in Turkey, and says she’ll re-sign or consider new contract offers.
She’s one of the faces of volleyball. During the Final Four, she made appearances for both USA Volleyball and Mizuno, which she endorses. She also helped hand out awards at the All-America banquet, a job that’s previously gone to volleyball megastar Kerri Walsh.
Larson's appearances range from a Relay for Life event in Fremont to a recent photo shoot in California for Eastbay.
She tries not to let the appearances and autograph requests be a burden, knowing her career will be short.
“I’m not going to play volleyball until the retirement age,” Larson said. “I’m trying to make the most of it, and enjoy the process. There are some times, like around the holidays, when I just want to be with my family, but I also know I’ve been in a position where I’ve looked up to people who are now us — volleyball players on the USA team — so I know what kind of impact it would have had on me if they would take the time, so I really try and remember that and try and give back.”
What impact does Larson hope she's made on the sport?
“Just that anything is possible,” she said. “I grew up in a small town (Hooper, Nebraska). I had big dreams and my parents allowed me to travel and go to these traveling teams, and to make it known to kids that if you really put your mind and your heart into what you want to do, that anything is possible.”
Larson is a star in Nebraska, but Banwarth has also seen that other places.
“Jordan is regarded as one of the best outside hitters in the world, so anywhere she goes she’s receiving high praise, and it's well-deserved,” Banwarth said.
Larson was named the 2015 USA Volleyball Female Indoor Player of the Year, and it came during a season when she had to deal with injuries.
“She fought through a number of challenges and then got to the World Cup and had, by our measures, the best tournament she’s ever had for USA, and she continued that at the NORCECA Tournament in October,” Kiraly said. “You put that all together, the resilience of coming back from some challenges, to go on at a major and have the best tournament she’s ever had and help the team in the most ways that she’s ever been able to help before … that made for a very strong year.”