Blue White Illustrated

September 2021

Penn State Sports Magazine

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S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 1 51 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M BY MATT HERB M A T T @ B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M D avid Taylor wasn't the only former Penn State athlete to bring home a gold medal from the Summer Olympics. A few days after Taylor made history by becoming the first Nittany Lion wrestler ever to win gold, two other former Penn Staters — Haleigh Washington and Mi- cha Hancock — played key roles in help- ing Team USA capture its first Olympic championship in women's volleyball. Washington had five kills, three blocks and a dig in the Americans' 3-0 sweep of Brazil in the gold medal match. The for- mer Penn State All-American finished the tournament with 42 kills and 20 blocks, ranking sixth among all players in the lat- ter category at the Tokyo Games. Hancock, meanwhile, played an im- portant part in helping Team USA reach the final. An All-America setter at Penn State, she stepped in against Italy in pool play after Jordyn Poulter suffered an ankle injury and guided the U.S. team to a 3-2 comeback victory. She also was the starter in the quarterfinal match vs. the Domini- can Republic, helping engineer a sweep. With its victory in Tokyo, Team USA avenged championship-match losses to the Brazilians in 2008 and 2012. In a post- match video clip that began going viral shortly after NBC tweeted it out, Wash- ington and coach Karch Kiraly first choked back tears then let out a joyous scream. "I'm just so happy for this team, and these amazing women and this program," Kiraly said. "I told them that not only are they badasses, but they are now gold medalists!" Asked shortly afterward if the moment was everything she had hoped it would be, Washington wiped away tears. "It's a lot more wet than I had anticipated," she said, "but it's everything we wanted it to be. The hard work that we put in, the sweat, the tears, the blood — it's been worth it." Washington, Hancock and Taylor spent their collegiate careers training and com- peting in Rec Hall. Taylor and Hancock mostly overlapped, while Washington arrived in 2014, the year after Taylor's graduation. The Lions also brought home a silver medal from the Games, with Joe Kovacs finishing behind his American teammate Ryan Crouser in the shot put. The duo had finished 1-2 in Rio de Janeiro four years earlier, and they did the same in Tokyo. Kovacs had a throw of 22.65 meters, but Crouser was untouchable, topping the Olympic record three times and winning the competition with a 23.30-meter throw. Kovacs' silver medal performance was not unexpected given that Crouser had finished ahead of him at the U.S. trials. But another Penn Stater was part of a sur- prise storyline at the Games, with former Nittany Lion basketball star Tom Hovasse guiding the Japanese women's team to a silver medal. Hovasse had been an All-Atlantic 10 forward for the Nittany Lions in the late 1980s and still ranks 12 th in school history with 1,459 career points. After college, he spent a decade playing in Japan, enough time to learn the lan- guage and immerse himself in the coun- try's basketball culture. He took his first Japanese coaching job in 2009 and was an assistant on the staff of the women's national team that finished seventh in the 2016 Summer Games. The following year, he was named Team Japan's head coach, becoming the first foreign-born coach in the squad's history. Before the Tokyo Games, Hovasse brashly predicted that his team, ranked 10 th in the world, would play for the gold medal. With only two players over 6 feet tall, both of whom stood 6-foot-1, the Japanese seemed like longshots. But they made good on their coach's words, and they did it, appropriately, by firing up long shots. Japan was brilliant from three-point range, hitting 41 percent of its attempts going into the gold medal game. It wasn't until the final vs. the U.S. that the Japanese went cold. Team Japan shot 25.8 percent from three-point range and 36.4 percent overall, while Team USA used its height advantage to shoot 53.6 percent from the floor in a 90-75 victory. After the final, Hovasse told reporters that he was proud of what his team had accomplished at the Games. "Seeing the players with a silver medal and a look of pride on their faces was worth everything that we've been through," he said. "This is a new era of women's basketball in Japan." Another Penn Stater, Alyssa Naeher, won bronze. Naeher was the starting goalie for the U.S. women's soccer squad, whose coaching staff included current PSU head coach Erica Dambach. Naeher didn't see action in the bronze medal match against Australia after suf- fering a right knee injury in a 1-0 loss to Canada in the semifinals. But before her injury, she had played a starring role, stopping three penalty kicks against the Netherlands to propel Team USA into the semifinal round. Canada went on to win the gold medal in women's soccer, and it, too, had a Penn Stater on its roster. Erin McLeod was the Canadians' third-team goalie and didn't see action in the tournament. An SMU transfer, McLeod played at Penn State from 2004-05. ■ AMERICAN DREAM Penn State women's volleyball duo helps Team USA claim Olympic gold medal Haleigh Washington (left) and Micha Hancock, both for- mer All-Americans at Penn State, helped the U.S. team win its first gold medal in women's volleyball. PHOTOS COURTESTY USA VOLLEYBALL OLYMPIC SPORTS

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