BOSSIER CITY, Louisiana — Sarah Wilhite Parsons was, understandably, deflated.

“It was hard,” she admitted.

She learned a year ago, coincidentally during the Volleyball Nations League, that she didn’t make the cut and wasn’t going to the Tokyo Olympics.

So after coming home, Parsons and husband Jameson did the logical thing: They went to Hawai’i.

“It was like the first time I was able to go on a vacation in a really long time,” she said. “But also I watched every single game. I felt very much a part of it even though I wasn’t there. I thought the team did a really great job of including the people who were part of the program but weren’t there in person.”

The USA, of course, won the Olympic gold medal for the first time.

“We had a great culture on our team where the girls on our team who did make it, they didn’t make us feel less than in any way,” Parsons said. “My goal was to try my absolute hardest and if it was short, it was short. That’s just how the cards were drawn. We had four really, really good outsides ahead of me.”

Sarah Wilhite Parsons blasts through the Dominican Republic block/Volleyball World photo

Fast forward to this year’s Volleyball Nations League as the USA got off to a strong start with a 25-21, 25-17, 25-18 victory Tuesday over the Dominican Republic. Earlier, Brazil grinded out a 29-27, 23-25, 27-25, 25-21 victory over Germany inside a nearly empty Brookshire Grocery Arena. Georgia Tech’s Julia Bergmann led Brazil with 18 kills. For the USA-DR match, there were perhaps a couple of hundred fans, including the USA women’s U21 national training team.

Jordan Thompson led the Americans with 13 kills, six digs, a block and an ace. Parsons had 10 kills, three blocks, 10 digs, and two aces, and VNL newcomer Ali Frantti had 15 kills, six digs and two blocks. 

Parsons, the 6-foot-2 product of Minnesota, where she was the 2016 Big Ten and AVCA player of the year, just looked like she’s having so much fun.

“I am,” she said with a smile. “Honestly, it feels so good to have the USA jersey again. It’s a really special group.”

And even though they’ve only been together a short time, “we’re enjoying each other so much and that makes it fun.”

At almost 27 — her birthday is next month — she’s one of the veterans.

“Stepping into that role, maybe we do need a little bit more and I want to be everybody’s biggest fan and show them that. Not that I didn’t have that role at Minnesota, necessarily, I just feel like here that’s my goal, to welcome them and make them feel comfortable on the court.”

“She’s doing some really nice things,” coach Karch Kiraly said. “She played in Japan this year and they used her in a different way and we like to use her in a way that really takes advantage of all of her talents. 

“Among other things, we love having her come to the (serving) line early. She’s a wicked server and she put them in lots of trouble. And when you start somebody serving, you often get a third turn for her and she got a third turn in each of the sets and that’s a bonus for us when she puts a team on their heels like she did.” 

Parsons who previously played in Turkey, played last season for the NEC Red Rockets in Kawasaki, Kanagawa.

“My year in Japan was pretty up and down,” said Parsons, who is from Eden Prairie, Minnesota. “In Japan there was COVID and it was pretty locked down the whole year and that affected my play a little, unfortunately, but I did grow a lot. I learned a lot from the Japanese players, their ball control, and that’s something I’ve always wanted to get better at, my defense and reception. They taught me a lot so it was a big place to be.”

Thompson, the Cincinnati product who hurt her ankle in the Olympics, got better as the match went on. That was particularly pleasing to Kiraly, who talked the day before about Thompson finally being completely healthy for the first time since August.

“It’s been a long time coming for JT,” Kiraly said. 

Tori Dixon had six kills and the other middle, Dana Rettke, had six and three blocks. Libero Morgan Hentz led with 15 digs and setter Lauren Carlini had three kills, 23 assists, and 12 digs. 

Ali Frantti attack against the Dominican Republic/Volleyball World photo

Frantti, the former Penn State star from Spring Grove, Illinois, has been all over the map as a pro. She played in Slovenia, France and Poland and has been in Italy the past two years.

Frantti was admittedly nervous Tuesday before her first VNL appearance. 

“Of course, if I wasn’t nervous it mean my heart was not in the right place. It’s good to have those pregame butterflies.”

She certainly didn’t show it, especially not with a blast that ended the first set. 

“She responded well, made some nice adjustments and just plays with a lot of ferocity,” Kiraly said. “She comes down from a kill and she’s got this really strong, confident look on her face. You might not expect that from somebody who was playing on the world stage for her very first appearance. Well done.”

The USA is off Wednesday and Thursday before playing Canada on Friday, Brazil on Saturday, and Japan on Sunday.

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Lauren Carlini twists her body to make the set against the Dominican Republic/Volleyball World photo


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