Penn State women’s volleyball alumnae Haleigh Washington and Micha Hancock are Olympic gold medalists after the United States swept Brazil 3-0 (25-21, 25-20, 25-14) Sunday at Ariake Arena in Tokyo.
Washington had five kills, three blocks, and a dig in her eighth consecutive start of the Olympics at middle blocker. The dominant win over a previously undefeated Brazil (7-1) gave the U.S. (7-1) its first Olympic gold in indoor women’s volleyball.
Washington was named Best Middle Blocker of the tournament alongside Brazil’s Carol Gattaz and earned a spot on the Olympic “Dream Team” announced afterward.
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Hancock, Washington, and their U.S. teammates flooded onto the court in celebration following captain and eventual Olympic MVP Jordan Larson’s emphatic kill to close out championship point. The U.S. is the third team to win the gold medal match in straight sets, joining Japan in 1976 and China in 1984.
Hancock and Washington joined fellow Penn State alums David Taylor (USA wrestling) and Erin McLeod (Canadian soccer) in becoming the first Olympic gold medalists in school history since the 1988 Seoul Games.
Former Illinois star Jordyn Poulter received the starting nod at setter for the second match in a row after returning from an ankle injury suffered in the 3-2 win over Italy to wrap up pool play. Poulter’s presence in the lineup meant Hancock would spend the match cheering on her teammates wildly from the sidelines.
Hancock stepped up in the quarterfinals sweep of the Dominican Republic with a match-high 37 assists to ensure the U.S. continued on its journey to gold. When her number was called to begin the knockout stage, Hancock was more than ready to run the U.S. offense with precision, guiding the team to a .402 hitting percentage.
Prior to her senior season at Penn State in 2017, Washington and the Nittany Lions traveled to Brazil for the program’s most recent international trip, touring the country and playing some exhibition matches against local teams. Four years later, Washington and the U.S. won gold in decisive fashion after beating a Brazilian side that topped the Americans in the finals of the 2008 Beijing Games and 2012 London Games.
Washington was her usual efficient self against Brazil and executed the slide to perfection with Poulter, driving the ball into the ground with some extra mustard given the circumstances of playing in by far the biggest match of her volleyball career to date. After the win, Washington and head coach Karch Kiraly gave an excellent interview on the NBC broadcast.
“It’s everything we wanted it to be,” Washington said. “The hard work that we put in, the sweat, the tears, the blood, it’s been worth it. And I am so proud to have done it with this group of women. I am so honored.”
On top of being NCAA national champions, Hancock and Washington are now Olympic gold medalists, making history in the process. The next generation of volleyball players in the U.S. watched this team achieve new heights on the world stage and is no doubt inspired by their courageous play and incredible talent.