US women win second straight gold in sitting volleyball

The US women's sitting volleyball team celebrates a point during the gold medal game against China
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On the final day of the Tokyo Paralympics, the U.S. women’s sitting volleyball team won gold, defeating China 3-1.

The Tokyo gold medal match marked the fourth straight time the U.S. and China met in the women’s sitting volleyball final at the Paralympics:

  • 2008 Beijing: China def. United States 3-0
  • 2012 London: China def. United States 3-1
  • 2016 Rio: United States def. China 3-0
  • 2020 Tokyo: United States def. China 3-1

“Every Games has been really different. In Beijing and London we knew (China) were a better team, but we wanted to come after them,” U.S. captain Katie Holloway told Olympic Information Service (OIS) after winning gold. “This Games, we have literally not seen China for five years, we had no idea they were gonna show up like that… Taking on China this time was all about being resilient.”

Earlier in the Paralympic tournament, the U.S. lost to China in group play (3-0). The Americans regrouped with a three-hour sports psych meeting, and assembled a perfect record in their remaining games.

In today’s final, the U.S. opened with a massive 25-12 first set, and then took the second 25-20.

“The American team put a lot of pressure on us in the first and second set and we weren’t able to perform what we should,” China’s Tang Xuemei told Olympic Information Service.

China came back with a strong third set (22-25) before the U.S. won the fourth (25-19) to secure the gold medal.

“Today, we did a really good job of refocusing ourselves, especially after we lost that third set,” Heather Erickson told USA Volleyball. “Knowing that’s not the end. We just have to refocus and play our game.”

U.S. women’s sitting volleyball team amasses tournament awards

In addition to winning gold, the U.S. squad collected a variety of individual accolades:

  • Katie Holloway: MVP of the Paralympic tournament
  • Bethany Zummo: Best Libero and Best Receiver
  • Kaleo Kanahele Maclay: Best Setter
  • Monique Matthews: Best Blocker

Three players – American Lora Webster and China’s Lyu Hongqin and Zhang Xufei – also continued an impressive streak. All three players have now won medals at every Paralympics since women’s sitting volleyball debuted in 2004.

Webster, the only five-time Paralympian on the U.S. team, competed in Tokyo while 20 weeks pregnant with her fourth child. Webster, an Arizona native, was also pregnant when she won silver at the 2012 London Games.

“People need to know that as long as you’re healthy, and I’m not trying to give medical advice by any stretch, it is possible to remain active and a pregnancy doesn’t have to derail your goals,” Webster said ahead of the Tokyo tournament.

U.S. overcame last minute roster changes and Covid scare

The U.S. women’s sitting volleyball roster saw some last minute changes after two players tested positive for Covid-19.

Just days before the U.S. team’s first game at the Tokyo Paralympics, USA Volleyball confirmed that Nicky Nieves and Tia Edwards – both members of the initial 12-person U.S. roster – had been replaced by Annie Flood and Nichole Millage.

The final U.S. women’s sitting volleyball roster included:

  • Lora Webster (MB, Point Lookout, New York)
  • Bethany Zummo (L, Dublin, California)
  • Lexi Shifflett (S/L, Waseca, Minnesota)
  • Katie Holloway (OH, Lake Stevens, Washington)
  • Heather Erickson (OPP, Fayetteville, North Carolina)
  • Monique Matthews (MB/OH, Ardmore, Oklahoma)
  • Whitney Dosty (OH/OPP, Tucson, Arizona)
  • Jillian Williams (MB/OPP/OH, Odem, Texas)
  • Emma Schieck (OH, Statesville, North Carolina)
  • Nichole Millage (OPP, Champaign, Illinois)
  • Kaleo Kanahele Maclay (S, Edmond, Oklahoma)
  • Annie Flood (S/OPP, Salem, Oregon)

The team was led by head coach Bill Hamiter and assistant coach Michelle Goodall.

Sitting volleyball team completes trio of gold medals in women’s volleyball

The U.S. claimed gold in every women’s volleyball event at this summer’s Olympics and Paralympics, with the sitting volleyball team building on the Olympic success of the U.S. indoor volleyball and beach volleyball duo of April Ross and Alix Klineman.

“Women can do anything they put their mind to, and USA Volleyball has the strongest women in the world,” Holloway said on the NBCSN broadcast. “It is incredible to be in that place. We are so grateful to be among the most powerful women in the world in volleyball.”

READ MORE: U.S. women successfully defend sitting volleyball Paralympic gold over rival China

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
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PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP COVERAGE: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
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PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.