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Rio de Janeiro is the mecca for the 2016 Olympics, and if you’re a Nebraska fan who learned Tuesday the Huskers represent 25 percent of the world’s top-ranked Olympic volleyball team, you can’t help but think of a legendary line from Al Michaels – Do you believe in miracles?
Michaels, a famous and highly respected television commentator, asked that proverbial question when a heavy underdog USA hockey team upset the Soviet Union in the legendary Miracle on Ice in 1980's Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Belief in miracles, however, is multi-faceted in nature, especially if you’re Kayla Banwarth (Dubuque, Iowa, libero), a former Husker who was so far under the radar that she never even earned all-conference honors during her entire Husker career.
Now the starting libero on the USA women’s volleyball team, Banwarth obviously dreamed big and kept refining and improving in her skyrocketing pursuit of excellence.
Kayla Banwarth: I've Learned Individual Stuff Not as Important as Team Stuff
A classic example of an ultra-devoted athlete, Banwarth must have asked not what her teammates could do for her, but what she could do for them.
How do I know? Because Banwarth isn’t into individual accolades. “If I’ve learned anything in my college career and my career with USA Volleyball, it’s the individual stuff isn’t as important as the team stuff,” Banwarth said.
Making team stuff special is the ever-accelerating life and times of being a libero, the only player on the court not limited by the regular rules of rotation.
U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said Banwarth has “worked hard to improve and contribute to our performance in as many ways as possible. She anchors our offense as one of the elite passers in international volleyball.”
John Cook on Jordan Larson: 'A Small-Town Girl from a One-Stoplight Town'
The Huskers’ other two Olympic volleyball team members are proof that champions set high goals and never stop striving to get better and better.
Two-time USA Olympian Jordan Larson, pictured above (Hooper, Nebraska, outside hitter) is "a small-town girl from a one-stoplight town,” Nebraska Coach John Cook said Tuesday. Larson continues to elevate her game. “Jordan has never played better volleyball or been physically stronger than she is right now,” Kiraly said. “Combined with her vast success and experience at the highest levels of volleyball, the total package she brings for USA will be big in Rio.”
Kelsey Robinson (Bartlett, Illinois, outside hitter), the third Husker Olympic volleyball team member, is not a starter but she’s a mission critical contributor who “reinvented herself when she transferred (from Tennessee) to Nebraska,” Cook said.
Karch Kiraly Raves about Kelsey Robinson's Competitive Fire, Ball Control
Kiraly likes the improvements Robinson has made. “Kelsey is pumped to help this team in any and every way she can, and she gives USA a ton – competitive fire, ball control, speed at the net, galvanizer under duress…the list goes on.”
All three players had “incredible journeys and stories on their paths to making the Olympic team,” Cook said. “Husker Nation is very proud. I have no words to describe what it means to be the coach at Nebraska and for three of our former players to represent the USA in the Olympics."
The three Husker Olympians never measured themselves by what they accomplished in high school or college. They measured themselves by what they could accomplish at the highest level with relentless improvement in their overall abilities.
Three Huskers on Same Olympic Team a Reflection of Nebraska's Commitment
"The Olympics is the greatest sporting event in the world,” Cook said. “It happens once every four years and it impacts how countries feel about themselves. For three Nebraska volleyball players to make the U.S. Team is a great reflection of the commitment that Nebraska has made and the support that we give to our student-athletes.”
The reigning National Championship coach's point describes why Nebraska volleyball has the longest consecutive home sellout streak in the history of NCAA women’s sports.
All three 2016 Husker Olympians are proof that things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.
Congratulations to all three and here’s hoping Team USA comes home from Rio with 12 gold medalists, so the world’s greatest volleyball fans can fill a venue to the brim.
If and when that happens, the Bob Devaney Sports Center would – at the very least – need to double its size before being brave enough to open the doors.
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