The first indoor volleyball Olympic gold medal in U.S history was a Colorado accomplishment.
Last month, in the championship round from Tokyo, two-of-six Americans on the floor to clinch the final match point over Brazil were in-state products: setter Jordyn Poulter (Eaglecrest ‘14) and outside hitter Haleigh Washington (Doherty ‘13).
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) August 8, 2021
Both gold medalists returned to Colorado in recent weeks to celebrate at their home schools in hopes of inspiring the state’s next generation of volleyball players.
“Haleigh and I are both so grateful we get to come from a state that isn’t necessarily as big volleyball-wise comparatively to some of the midwestern states,” Poulter said. “To have two of us out of the 12 on a roster for an entire country, to represent Colorado, that’s extremely special. We’re really proud to come from the Rocky Mountain region community for girls’ indoor volleyball.”
Washington, as told to CHSAANow.com, added: “Often in life, especially after everything with COVID, people get really anxious and really nervous. That whole idea of being present really resonated with me so I wanted to say to that to the girls.”
Their success comes as little surprise to Jim Miret, the longtime head coach at Front Range Volleyball Club based in Englewood where Poulter is an alum. Miret said that Colorado — unlike California or Texas — might not be considered a traditional hotbed for youth volleyball development. But plenty of in-state products have gone on to do big things.
“We definitely have a pretty good number of Division-I players coming out of Colorado depending on the year,” Miret said. “We’ve always got between two and five top kids going to really good Division-I programs.”
The stars were on display in last year’s Class 5A final between Grandview and Rampart with at least three major Division I signees: Addison O’Grady (Iowa basketball), Riley Simpson (Baylor volleyball) and Anjelina Starck (Penn State volleyball). Colorado’s elite club programs have also gained widespread recognition. Poulter played for Front Range 18 Black in 2014 when it was ranked No. 11 in the nation.
“Maybe at first glance people might not think of (Colorado) as a hotbed, but there is actually a lot of really great activity in the world of volleyball,” U.S. women’s indoor volleyball coach Karch Kiraly told The Denver Post. “It’s not that much of a surprise.”
The sport’s popularity across the country has soared in the past decade, according to the annual NFHS participation survey, with volleyball surpassing basketball as the second-most played sport among high school girls.
Aspiring volleyball Olympians from Colorado now have an example to follow.
“Haleigh and I were exactly where a lot of those girls were. We were in those shoes,” Poulter said. “I hope that it’s in inspiration and a little bit more within your grasp to see that someone from a situation very similar can achieve their dreams of going to the Olympics and winning a gold medal.”
10 to watch
Haleigh Washington (Doherty) and Jordyn Poulter (Eaglecrest) are the latest elite volleyball talents to come out of Colorado. Here is a breakdown of the top players in the state this year with CHSAA’s fall season now underway.
Carter Booth — Cherry Creek
Senior / 6-7 / MH
Notable: Committed to the University of Minnesota and considered the top recruit in Colorado.
Katie Gallery — Pueblo West
Senior / 6-1 / S
Notable: Earned Class 5A second-team All-State honors as a junior.
Emerson Reinke — Ralston Valley
Senior / 5-9 / S
Notable: Ranked inside the Top 10 for Class 5A in kills, assists and blocks last season.
Izzy Starck — Rampart
Sophomore / 6-0 / S
Notable: Won the Class 5A state volleyball championship last season.
Quincey Coyle — Mead
Senior / 6-0 / OH
Notable: Finished second in Class 4A last season with 209 kills.
Kinley Lindhardt — Frederick
Senior / 5-7 / OH, RS
Notable: Committed to play beach volleyball at Cal State Northridge.
Karlee Pinell — Cheyenne Mountain
Senior / 5-11 / OH
Notable: A University of Rhode Island volleyball commit.
Allison Waller — Berthoud
Senior / 5-11 / L, DS
Notable: Led Class 4A with 55 aces last season.
Sydney Dunning — Lamar
Junior / 6-0 / OH, MH
Notable: Earned Class 3A first-time All-State honors as a sophomore.
Rylee Martin — Eaton
Junior / 5-8 / S, OPP
Notable: Ranked atop Class 3A for assists last season with 595.