They cried as Jordan Larson‘s kill hit the floor to end it, they cried as they met in a dog pile, and they cried some more as they hugged and celebrated.
The coach, Karch Kiraly — as if there was any before — now an Olympics immortal, cried in his brief post-match TV interview.
Then they cried some more as the USA women’s volleyball team, in the new COVID protocols, placed their gold medals around each other’s necks as they stood atop the podium.
And then they cried throughout the Star Spangled Banner.
USA 3, Brazil 0.
A stunning 25-21, 25-20, 25-14 victory to cap the greatest moment in USA Volleyball women’s history.
A gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics.
“I don’t think I’ve ever cried this much,” setter Jordyn Poulter said.
“It’s a lot more wet than I had anticipated, but it’s everything we wanted it to be,” Haleigh Washington said with a smile as she wiped away tears.
“The hard work we put in, the sweat, the tears. the blood — it’s been worth it. I am so proud to have done it with this group of women. I am so honored.”
The USA had been so close so often.
They were there in the first women’s competition in Tokyo in 1964, finishing fifth. They won silver in Los Angeles in 1984, bronze in Barcelona in 1992, silver in Beijing in 2008, silver again in London in 2012, and then bronze in Rio in 2016.
And in those gold-medal matches in 2008 and 2012? Losses to Brazil.
Not this time.
“I thank the people that have come before us,” Larson said. “A lot of people had to sacrifice a lot for us to be here.”
Except for one late run by Brazil near the end of the second set, the USA dominated, capping an amazing summer for the top-ranked team in the world. The Americans won the Volleyball Nations League, losing only one match along the way, and in Tokyo won their pool, losing only to ROC (Russia) before beating, in succession, the Dominican Republic in the quarterfinals, Serbia in the semifinals, and then Brazil.
The USA swept all three matches, putting a punctuation point on an accomplishment celebrated in the American volleyball world on every level.
Now he has a gold medal for winning indoors, on the beach, and as a coach. Well, coaches don’t get medals, but the Mount Rushmore of American volleyball starts with Kiraly.
“I’m just so happy for this team and these amazing women and this program,” Kiraly said, fighting back tears.
“I told them not only are they bad-asses, but they are now,” and he screamed, “GOLD MEDALISTS!”
Annie Drews, who struggled terribly to start the match, led the USA with 14 kills.
The left-hander had two kills with four errors after the first set, but then caught fire. Drews, who took over at opposite when leading attacker Jordan Thompson went out with a sprained ankle with a match left in pool play, had 10 kills with just two errors in the second and third sets and finished hitting .417. She also had a block and an assist.
Larson had 12 kills, hit .333, and had five digs. Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, rock steady in all facets of the game all tournament long, had 11 kills, two blocks, three digs, two assists, and one of the USA’s two aces. The other was by Kim Hill, the serving specialist who filled that role with aplomb all Olympics long.
Washington had five kills and hit .556 and added three blocks and a dig, while the other middle, Foluke Akinradewo had four kills in six swings to hit .500 and had a block and six digs.
Poulter had 36 assists, a block, and six digs. Libero Justine Wong-Orantes had seven digs, five assists, and countless perfect touches and plays that don’t show up in the boxscore.
Brazil never could get it going. Gabriela Guimaraes and Fernanda Rodrigues led with 10 kills each and Rosamaria Montibeller had five and her team’s only ace.
At some point in these Games, everyone on the team contributed. Although they didn’t play in the gold-medal match, veteran Kelsey Robinson and newcomer setter Micha Hancock played key roles earlier. They and Chiaka Ogbogu were all engaged all match long and leading the cheers. The team talked all tournament about being 12 strong.
And after almost five decades, from those first volleyball Olympics in Tokyo in 1964, to being so close so many times, gold for the bad-asses.
“Indescribable,” Washington said.
“Just that feeling, that euphoria, that release — it was one of the greatest feelings ever.”
Worth the wait and worth crying over.