USA Hockey’s Savannah Harmon blazes unexpected path to Olympic debut

Defender Savannah Harmon #15 of Team United States celebrates with her team after scoring a goal at the Beijing Olympics.
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U.S. defender Savannah Harmon heads into the women’s hockey gold medal game vs. Canada on Wednesday with two goals and five assists in six games at the 2022 Winter Olympics. But while the 26-year-old is one of just three American players to record seven or more points in Beijing, she’s the only one making her Games debut.

Joining Harmon with seven points so far is three-time Olympian Amanda Kessel (two goals, five assists), while four-time Olympian Hilary Knight has nine points (five goals, four assists).

“Just to be able to celebrate and be alongside these women that are on this team – they all inspire me every day and I’m just so incredibly honored to be with them and be their teammate,” Harmon told On Her Turf prior to leaving for Beijing.

Harmon has quickly proven she belongs, too, even if she didn’t follow the typical path for the U.S. national team.

While the majority of Harmon’s teammates competed for the U.S. at the U-18 level before joining the senior national team, Harmon never got those call-ups.

“I wasn’t invited to any camps; I wasn’t really a part of the USA program,” explained Harmon, who played all four years at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., and won back-to-back NCAA national titles her last two seasons.

“That was always a goal, in the back of my mind. But how I envision[ed] myself getting there was being really good for Clarkson and helping the team the best way I [could] there. And then hopefully [making the U.S. team] comes after, which it did.”

Upon graduation from Clarkson, Harmon stayed in New York and headed to Buffalo, where she joined the Buffalo Beauts of the National Women’s Hockey League (later rebranded as the Premier Hockey Federation). She played while earning her master’s degree in legal studies, with an emphasis on sports law and business, through a virtual program at Arizona State.

Those were definitely lean times, but Harmon never let go of the dream that began before she was in kindergarten, growing up in Downers Grove, Illinois. The town, located just outside Chicago, is the same hometown as Hockey Hall of Famer and 1998 Olympic gold medalist Cammi Granato, and Harmon was a fan. She attended Granato’s all-girls youth hockey camps at just 4 years old and grew up with a picture of the 1998 U.S. team captain on her bedroom wall.

“She was always my favorite player growing up, and because of that visibility, I was able to attend her camp,” she remembers. “I’m so thankful my parents put me in it because at that time, and for years after, I really only played on the boys teams, and this girls camp was just so fun. …I was definitely starstruck and definitely just inspired by her.”

In 2019, Harmon finally had a chance to put on a USA jersey when the then-23-year-old was invited to participate in the final three games of the 2018-19 USA-CAN Rivalry series.

MORE WINTER OLYMPICS: USA-Canada hockey gold medal preview, rivalry history

Fellow teammate and rookie Olympian Hayley Scamurra is another rarity among the American squad, never having represented the U.S. team internationally at the youth level. But she grew up close to the world of professional hockey thanks to her father, Peter Scamurra, who played for the Washington Capitals for four seasons from 1976-80.

The 27-year-old Scamurra, from Getzville, N.Y., played four years at Northeastern University, where she was teammates with Kendall Coyne Schofield. Prior to college, she played three seasons of junior hockey in Canada’s Provincial Women’s Hockey League, and after graduation, Scamurra was the 10th overall pick by Buffalo in the 2016 NWHL draft.

“I think I’m able to come into the USA Hockey scenario with a different kind of perspective,” Scamurra told On Her Turf in October. “Not everyone’s going be at their best in their college years… We need that time to build as a player, build the confidence, whatever it might be, and I think it was really beneficial for me.”

Harmon and Scamurra are also encouraged by the expansion of this year’s Olympic women’s hockey tournament, up from eight teams to 10 in 2022. As members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) – Harmon plays for Team Adidas, Scamurra for Team Women’s Sports Foundation – they hope the spotlight the Olympic Games provides will translate into growth for the women’s game.

“What we’re all fighting for is just bigger visibility, and that’s where it starts: The more teams and more people in hockey, [the more women] wanting to play and continuing to play as long as they can,” said Harmon.

She also hopes that young players will be inspired by her and her teammates’ various journeys to Beijing.

“Everyone’s path to get here is just so different,” she said. “And I think that’s what’s so awesome about this team, specifically. … I think it’s trusting your own path and just working hard and never giving up on your dreams, whatever they are, however big or small they are.”

On Her Turf editor Alex Azzi and NBC Olympics Research team contributed to this report. 

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Women of Team USA lead the way at 2022 Winter Olympics

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
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The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.


How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.


Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

YEAR WINNER SCORE MARGIN RUNNERUP
2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.


More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.