This isn’t about Jordyn, but about Lorrin Poulter and her Denver University women’s volleyball team.
But it’s hard not to begin with Jordyn, who happens to be Lorrin’s big sister and who just won an Olympic gold medal.
They’re from the Denver suburb of Aurora, Colorado, and both played at Eaglecrest High School. Jordyn, four years older, went on to be an All-American at Illinois and quickly joined the national team.
From there, Jordyn’s career skyrocketed, culminating with the big victory in Tokyo.
Families couldn’t go to the Tokyo Olympics, so the Poulters had a watch party for the USA’s first match, and then the family — dad Bob, mom Rhonda, and Lorrin — even went to Orlando for one of the Team USA-organized watch parties.
“It was awesome,” Lorrin said.
“We were there when Jordyn rolled her ankle,” Lorrin said.
Jordyn, of course, stepped on her middle’s foot and sprained her ankle, but only missed one match before returning for the semifinals and final to set the team to gold.
But seeing her get hurt?
“I was on the verge of tears,” Lorrin said. “I was so sad for her that that happened.”
Jordyn spoke to the family the next day and told them she was up every three hours doing rehab.
“And then a couple of days later, she was like, ‘I think I’m playing tonight. Be ready.’ And she did. And she had one of her best matches when she came back.”
For the gold-medal match, when the USA swept Brazil, the Poulter family had another watch party in Aurora.
“We had a lot of family friends over, a lot of coaches who coached her and me in the past, and you just tell everyone was really excited and nervous about the game,” Lorrin said. “My mom was pacing back and forth around the house. She can’t stay still for a game, ever, so she was a nervous wreck. But the atmosphere was so fun.
“After we won the first set, everyone kind of calmed down a bit and we went on a roll in the second set and I think in the third set everyone was like, we’ve got this.
“When they won it was crazy. Everyone was cheering. My mom started crying. Everyone was hugging, my parents were hugging, I went to hug them. It was an awesome feeling.”
It was actually days after that Lorrin finally spoke with Jordyn, but there were texts.
And Jordyn, back home in Colorado, made a visit last week to a Denver practice.
Jordyn’s connection to that team goes even deeper than just with Lorrin, because Denver coach Tom Hogan was once her coach.
“A neat connection I have is that on this current USA Olympic team is that I coached the oldest players, Foluke (Akinradewo) and Jordan (Larson) on the youth national team way back when, and then I’ve also coached Jordyn Poulter, who is the youngest player on the team. That was on the junior national team in 2014 and 2015.”
Hogan, 41, who was an assistant on the USA Olympic team that won silver in Beijing in 2008 — he said he still can’t bring himself to watch a replay of that four-set loss to Brazil — served as an assistant to Jesse Mahoney at Denver for three years and then got promoted six years ago when Mahoney took the job at nearby Colorado.
Hogan, of course, went to that gold-medal watch party at the Poulter home.
“They’re the nicest family and so supportive,” Hogan said.
Lorrin is 5-foot-11, while Jordyn is 6-2. They don’t look alike, although they sound similar, and Hogan noted that Lorrin is more reserved. Because Jordyn is four years older, they never got to play together, which has left Lorri to make her own path.
So far it’s worked pretty well.
Lorrin considered a few other schools, including Northern Colorado and Stony Brook — she even made a visit to that school on Long Island — but finally got a call from Denver assistant Katelin Opitz, who, like Hogan, had also coached Jordyn.
“I came for a visit and I loved the campus, we were good friends with Tom, so it was kind of relieving to know that Jordyn had been with him. The coaching staff was great, the atmosphere was really good here, and I thought it would be a good fit.”
Hogan was sure of it.
“I’ve told this to Lorrin and I’m honest when I’m saying this, but I tell her ‘You have just as much potential or more than your sister.’ And everyone always looks at me like I’m crazy when I say that,” Hogan said with a laugh.
“But I really believe that. I believe she has this tremendous amount of potential and for her, it’s just developing that potential. That’s our job as well, but I think Lorrin is an amazing all-around player. She’s great at setting, she’s great at attacking, she’s great at blocking, she’s just a great all-around athlete. She has the ability to play at a really high level.”
She got a chance to prove that last season.
Poulter was the other half of a 6-2 her freshman year in 2019 when Denver went 13-3 in the Summit League and 23-9 overall, including a loss to eventual-champion Stanford in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
But last year, before an exhibition with Colorado, one of the pin hitters got hurt.
“Tom came up to me and said, ‘Lorrin, what do you feel about hitting?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m down to do it.’
“I hadn’t hit in practice at all before that game. I went in cold and it was good to get back to hitting, for sure.”
Of course, she hit in high school and hadn’t forgotten how. Last spring, Poulter was second on Denver’s team in kills with 138 (2.38/set), tied for third with 20 aces, and was fourth in digs at 1.86/set, and third in blocks with 38.
“One of my goals was to be a six-rotation player here at Denver and Tom and I had a couple of conversations about it my freshman year. My freshman year I wasn’t physically there, but last year I felt ready and it was really exciting for me to do both and be out there the whole time.”
Lorrin was coached by coached by Steve Colpus at Front Range, recent AVCA hall of fame inductee Jim Stone at NORCO Volleyball Club, and she was also coached by her father.
“I appreciate everything they did,” Poulter said. “The training was awesome.”
Hogan, who grew up in Cincinnati and played boys volleyball, actually started coaching girls freshman high school volleyball while he was just 17.
Nothing prepared him for last year, one that many coaches say was their hardest ever.
“By far,” Hogan said. “It’s not even close.
‘I’ve been a coach on the national team, I’ve coached collegiately for a long time, I’ve been the head coach of youth national teams, international youth teams, but last year far and away was the hardest year. I think it was the different layer, whether it was the not knowing, especially for a long period of time just not knowing what was going to happen.
“Not knowing how serious the virus was, not knowing the implications if you get it, and the uncertainty of our season. Everything. It took a really heavy toll on head coaches, because our main job is to take care of the kids on our team and our staff. Their health is of the utmost importance.”
Lorrin Poulter certainly agreed.
“It was definitely an adjustment and our team did a really good job of being flexible. Things were always changing. COVID rules changed for DU and travel things were changing, but I think that we handled it really well and it’s just cool that we managed to play through it.
“We made it to the Summit League championship, so I’d say we did pretty good with it.”
Indeed. The Pioneers went 13-2 during the regular season, losing once each to Omaha and South Dakota.
Denver finished a half game ahead of South Dakota and Kansas City, which tied for second in the Summit League at 13-3, and Omaha was fourth at 12-4. All four teams should be in the conference mix again.
In the spring conference tournament — with the Summit’s automatic NCAA bid on the line — the Pioneers swept Omaha before losing to South Dakota in one of the most gripping, exciting sporting events you could imagine 19-25, 26-28, 27-25, 26-24, 19-17.
As it turns out, Hogan can’t bring himself to watch that match, either.
“We had so many points to win the match over sets three, four, and five,” Hogan said.
What was tougher, watching the USA play in the gold-medal match or playing in the Summit final?
“Both were very nerve-wracking,” Lorrin Poulter said with a laugh, “but I think it was tougher for us.”
It was tough, too, because it broke a string of six NCAA Tournament appearances in a row for Denver.
The good news is who’s back for Denver. The group of four graduate students includes outside Lydia Bartalo, a 5-10 outside from Colorado Springs who led the Pioneers with 150 kills last spring (2.59/set). She was a VolleyballMag.com honorable-mention All-American.
“We recruited her as an outside when a lot of Power 5 programs recruited her as a libero,” Hogan said. “I think she kind of had that chip on her should that she wanted to prove those people wrong. She’s worked her butt of to achieve the level she’s at right now. She’s amazing, one of the leaders on our team, and one of the top all-around players in our conference.”
Bartalo had a team-high 38 aces, was second in digs at 2.83/set, and had 28 blocks, three solo.
“Lydia’s just a great leader to have on our team. She brings a really good energy that all of us feed off of very well,” Poulter said. “She’s a great presence, she leads by example, and she leads vocally.”
Another of those grad students is Ellie Anderson, with whom Poulter shares setting duties. She averaged 6.53 assists, like Poulter had 20 aces, and averaged 2.02 digs.
Middle Tina Boe is a graduate student from Plymouth, Minnesota, who was third in kills (131, had 15 aces, and led with 68 blocks, seven solo.
Junior outside Ari Winters, a 6-1 outside from Ankeny, Iowa, had 92 kills and 29 blocks.
Italian graduate student Erica Andrich came to America in the middle of the pandemic and the 6-1 outside played in more than half the team’s matches and averaged 2.11 kills and 1.78 digs.
“She more comfortable with not only being here but also in our system,” said Hogan, who has high hopes for Andrich.
Denver’s libero, Macy Carrabine, graduated and transferred to Texas A&M, so the libero this season will be Bartalo’s younger sister, Gianna, a 5-7 sophomore. The only other player not returning is outside Katarina Marinkovic (82 kills), who was a fifth-year senior, graduated and went back to her home in Serbia.
Denver opens the season Friday at USC when it plays CSUN and USC and then the Fighting Camels of Campbell on Saturday. The Denver Invitational is the next weekend when Northern Colorado, Mercer, and Northeastern visit DU.
Lorrin Poulter, for one, is ready.
“I’m real excited to get going,” she said, “and actually have a normal season after last year.”