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John Cook is a loyalist to the nth degree, so much so that the more Nebraska’s volleyball coach described Jordan Larson realizing her Olympic dream, the more he wanted to boil it down to something that had some snap, crackle and pop. Finally, after pointing out that achieving dreams is the foundation of Nebraska's program, Cook had a creative surge. “Impossible is nothing,” Cook said. “Jordan’s journey to London is just like the adidas slogan. For her, impossible really is nothing because she’s done everything humanly possible to achieve her dreams, and she’s a great example of what we teach and believe at Nebraska.”
When Larson was asked last month if making the Olympics was a goal of hers or if things just fell into place, one of Cook’s biggest-ever dreamers had an immediate answer. “The Olympics has always been a dream of mine,” Larson said. “I sat down with my parents at the age of 12 and wrote down three goals: 1) I wanted to start on my varsity team; 2) I wanted to play volleyball in college; and 3) I wanted to play volleyball in the Olympics. Many people thought I was crazy, but I sacrificed a lot to be in the position I am today.”
No wonder Larson ends the blogs she writes for a key USA Volleyball sponsor and partner with a John Cook-like mindset: “Dream Big & Never Settle. Jordan”
Sacrifice is a benevolent word for what Larson has been willing to go through. “She’s been playing in Russia – about halfway between Moscow and Siberia,” Cook said. “Talk about impossible being nothing. You really have to be tough to do that. I mean, I hear NBA players and major league baseball players complaining about being on the road. Well, these women have been playing more and training longer than anyone in the world, and they’re doing that in all kinds of different time zones. Jordan’s league in Russia is as professional as you can get. There’s a lot of pressure to win over there, and coaches get fired when they don’t. When you play every day against the best players in the world, it prepares you to be one of the best players on a USA team that’s now ranked as the No. 1 team in the world.”
First 'Foreign Player' with Back-to-Back Titles
Larson accepted the challenge of competing five straight months in Russia, where her team won a third championship since she left Nebraska in 2009. Cook points out that Larson became the first foreign player in the world’s top women’s volleyball league to win back-to-back titles in Russia.
Cook knows what question is coming next because it’s the same one everyone in his inner sanctum asks when they hear that Larson, a girl from tiny Hooper, Neb., actually chooses to spend her winters next door to Siberia. “Everybody asks why the heck would anybody do that?” Cook said. “People have no idea what these women go through because it’s just not publicized that much. Even I wondered why the best professional volleyball league in the world would be in Russia. The truth is it’s a fascinating political story as much as anything else. When (Vladimir) Putin came into power the first time, he had the backing of the oil, gas and mineral business. When he came into power the second time, he counseled those guys to fund the best training in the world and bring it back to Russia, so Americans and Russians can both get better. Remember, the USA and Russia were the two countries that dominated the Olympics before China emerged.”
Cook points out that Nancy Metcalf, one of Nebraska’s former Olympians and an alternate for the 2012 USA team, also played in Russia. “Russia allows a couple foreign players to play on each Russian team,” Cook said. “We all remember how Russia was a sports machine back in their Communist days. When they had the revolution in 1992, that machine kind of fell off because the economy was down and the government no longer supported the Olympic effort. Once Russia’s sports program went downhill, they’re trying to do everything they can to bring it back. It will be interesting. The USA may be the No. 1 volleyball team in the world right now, but everybody will tell you that Russia’s the team you have to beat to win the gold.”
It won’t be easy, “Our women’s team has never won a gold medal in indoor volleyball,” Cook said. “We’ve won two silvers (in 1984 in Los Angeles and in 2008 in Beijing) and we’ve won one bronze (in 1992 in Barcelona). The thing about the Olympics is there’s so much pressure. First, you have to get out of your pool, and the USA is in the toughest pool in London. Then it’s single elimination in the quarters, semis and finals. That means you have to be great each and every night. The USA definitely has its work cut out for them. But a lot of times, you want to play the tougher teams in your pool and then the easier teams in the crossover. I think the USA has a great plan, and they’ve been preparing for this for two years. I expect the USA to play very, very well in the Olympics.”
Cook: Larson One of USA’s Top Six Olympians
During those two almost non-stop years, Larson has used the Russian experience to sharpen every competitive asset in her arsenal. “Over the last two years, she’s proven that she’s one of the six key players on that team,” Cook said. “She brings a skill set the USA really needs. One of the big reasons why the USA’s become the top team in the world is because you have to have great left-side players that can pass, play defense, block and hit. They have to do everything, and I think they’ve been missing that the last couple of Olympics. With Jordan and Logan Thom and then Megan Hodge, they have it now.”
Obviously, everyone close to Larson wants to be in London to experience this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “I am excited to say my husband (Luke) will be attending,” Larson told Megan Kaplon of Volleyball Magazine. “My immediate family and friends will also be attending and supporting the team in London. The first person to support my Olympic dream was my mother Kae, but sadly she lost her battle with cancer nearly three years ago. However, I wear her necklace while I play and I know she will be there in spirit cheering me on as she was – and is – my biggest fan.”
Because the Olympics would complicate Cook’s preparation for Nebraska’s 2012 season, the Huskers’ head coach will be following Larson’s experience in London via her personal blogs, interactive Facebook and live television just like every other Big Red fan. Cook has enjoyed the keen insight coming from that small-town Nebraska girl who cares so much about everyone who watches her play or follows her on the Internet.
Four Husker Olympians: 1992-1996, 2000, 2004, 2012
According to Cook, there's a reason Larson always has and always will “Dream Big & Never Settle” for anything short of a championship.“We really do believe that impossible is nothing,” Cook said. “Our program has always been about trying to be the best you can be and setting your goals as high as you can.”
Cook has no idea how much Olympic volleyball players influence Nebraska’s recruiting efforts, but the “kind of kids who look at Nebraska have the same dreams and the same goals,” he said. “That’s why we have their pictures on the wall every year. That’s why we have the Olympic Trophy Case and their Olympic jerseys framed in our Ready Room (before the Huskers take the floor in the Coliseum).
“They’re the ones who have proven that you can do this at the very highest level in the world. Lori Endicott (1992, bronze, Barcelona, and 1996 Atlanta), Allison Weston (2000, Sydney), Nancy Metcalf (2004, Athens) and Jordan Larson (2012, London) have shown everyone that if you can dream it and really go for it, you can achieve it. A lot of great athletes really look at Nebraska in our recruiting process, and I just think those four women are good role models and examples of what can happen when you come to a place and learn first-hand that impossible really is nothing around here.”
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Voices from Husker Nation
I really enjoyed reading your article on Jordan Larson and her Olympic Dream. Having grown up only 20 miles away from her (West Point) and watching her play in high school, it really is pretty cool to see her performing at the highest level. Thanks for the good read. Brian Abrahams, Omaha, Nebraska