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After Olympics gold, USA’s top women’s volleyball players disperse to pro teams

After a tremendous 2021 for USA Volleyball that included dominating the VNL and Tokyo Olympics, the top Americans are now reporting to their pro teams around the globe.

Many have risen to the best teams in the world, some have remained with their teams from last season, and there are new faces joining their professional teams.

Jordan Larson, the MVP of the Olympics, will return to China to play for Shanghai for a fourth season. After the Chinese league finishes, she’ll return home to play in the Athletes Unlimited league.

Many leagues will begin this weekend, and the Italian SuperCoppa and the Turkish Kupa Voley already have started trophy matches.

In the Italian SuperCoppa, Imoco Conegliano, featuring Olympic alternates Megan Courtney-Lush and Kathryn Plummer, won 3-1 against an Igor Gorgonzola Novara team that included gold medalists Micha Hancock and Haleigh Washington. Courtney-Lush was named MVP of the match, her debut for arguably the best club team in the world.

Courtney-Lush moved to Imoco after establishing herself as one of the best receivers in Europe, and Plummer is returning to Italy after a highly successful season in Japan. Both will use their talents to try to replace Kim Hill, who retired this past summer after many years with Imoco and the national team.

Hancock will unleash her serve for the third consecutive season with Novara and will be joined by fellow Penn State alum Washington. As the Olympics proved, Washington has established herself as one of the best middle blockers in the world.

Elsewhere in Italy, Jordyn Poulter, named the best setter at the VNL and Olympics, returns to Busto Arsizio. Poulter led the Butterflies to the Champions League semifinals in her first season with the club last year. She’ll be joined by Canadian and ex-BYU All-America Alexa Gray, who proved herself to be one of the most dynamic attackers in Europe last season.

Ali Frantti and Rhamat Alhassan (Chieri), Khalia Lanier (Bergamo), Madi Bugg (Roma), August Raskie (Trentino), Sonia Newcombe (Vallefoglia), and M’Kaela White (Casalmaggiore) also will play in Italy this season.

The Turkish League starts with the Turkish Kupa Voley, a clash of Turkish titans. Vakifbank will face Eczacibasi in the first meeting of many for the clubs this season.

Leading Vakifbank is Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, in her third year with the club. Joining the MVP of the VNL will be Olympic teammate Chiaka Ogbogu, who makes the move from Eczacibasi. There is talent across the board at Vakifbank with Isabelle Haak and Gabi rounding out the foreign players.

They will meet new faces from Eczacibasi, which is coming off one of its most disappointing seasons. Jordan Thompson remains with the Tigers, who brought in McKenzie Adams (ex-UTSA) as reinforcement after her highly successful season with Imoco last year. The biggest headlining move of the summer might be Maja Ognjenovic’s return to Eczacibasi. The Serbian setter is one of the best in the world and will again play alongside Tijana Boskovic.

Elsewhere in Turkey, Lauren Carlini and Madison Kingdon-Rishel return to THY, with high ambitions after qualifying for the Champion’s League for the first time. They are joined by Tori Dixon, who will compete in Turkey for the first time. Dixon originally was supposed to play for Beijing BAIC Motors in China.

There also will be a strong American presence in Japan.

Annie Drews returns to Japan to play for JT Marvelous and will try to lead the team to a third consecutive championship. Sarah Wilhite-Parsons is coming off her best club season and was rewarded with a highly sought move to Japan. She will join the NEC Red Rockets. Kelsey Robinson has been a mainstay for elite European clubs for several years but will make her first venture to Japan, joining Toyota Auto Body Queenseis. She will be tasked with trying to elevate the team after a finish near the bottom last season. Merete Lutz moves to Japan after winning every trophy last season in South Korea and will join Kurobe AquaFairies. Hannah Tapp returns to play for Hitachi Rivale, and Foluke Akinradewo-Gunderson is back with her team from the past four seasons, Hisamitsu Springs.

Danielle Cuttino, coming off captaining the USA national team at the NORCECA championships, will return to Brazil to play for Itambé Minas, and Rachael Adams will play for rival Osasco.

Justine Wong-Orantes will try to continue the best year of her career, after being named best libero at the VNL and Olympic Games. She will return to VC Wiesbaden in Germany.

Morgan Hentz will return to the USA to play in Athletes Unlimited, which is scheduled to begin in March 2022.

Germany will once again have a strong American presence. Jenna Gray and Madeline Gates won the German championship with Dresdner SC last season and will return to defend. Several other Americans have rising stocks in the elite German teams. Lindsey Ruddins and Symone Speech are joining league giant SSC Palmberg Schwerin. Madison Lilley will make her highly anticipated pro debut with SC Potsdam and will be joined by Lauren Page and Hungarian Anett Nemeth, the former Coastal Carolina star.

Simone Lee returns to Germany to play for Stuttgart, alongside Krystal Rivers, who has established herself as one of the league’s best players. Jacqueline Quade was supposed to transition from the beach to indoors for Dresdner but tore her ACL in a preseason match. She will remain in Germany for rehabilitation. Cori Crocker and Tiffany Clark, coming off their Team USA debuts, will play for Rote Raben Vilsbiburg.

France will be a host to many rising talents, several of whom appeared for the USA National Team in the NORCECA Championships and Pan Am Cup. Micaya White, Carli Synder, and Jaali Winters will all suit up for RC Cannes. Kendall White returns to Terville-Florange and will be joined by Ashley Evans. Sherridan Atkinson will make her debut in France for Volero Le Cannet.

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