US women’s volleyball wins its 1st Olympic gold medal

Before every competition for the past five years, the U.S. women’s volleyball team has formed a gratitude circle in which each player states her motivation for the day.

Setter Jordyn Poulter joined the circle ahead of Sunday’s gold medal match and offered thanks for her teammates. The youngest member of the squad, Poulter — a former University of Illinois standout — was simply grateful for the chance to make history with the athletes she had grown up idolizing.

“I have watched all these people their entire careers in different phases and at different levels,” she said, tears filling her eyes at the memory. “Just to be able to stand beside them and go to battle with them to do something that we’ve never done … that’s what I’m so grateful for.”

The U.S. women’s team won its first Olympic gold medal by defeating longtime rival Brazil in three straight sets at Ariake Arena. The victory, in no small part, was due to stellar play by Poulter and fellow U. of I. alumna Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, who was credited with 14 points. Poulter was ranked the tournament’s second-best setter, and Bartsch-Hackley was tied for the team’s top scorer with three-time medalist Jordan Larson.