When Rachel Williams heard about an opportunity to witness a monumental moment in the sport she loved, there was no question in her mind - she had to find a way to see it firsthand. Earlier this month people from across the world traveled to witness the first-ever U.S. women’s volleyball Olympic qualifier in Shreveport-Bossier City, Louisiana, Williams and her family among them.
“Witnessing the Olympic qualifier was such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Williams said. “My family and I were so shocked that it was within driving distance, so we did a quick turn-around trip.”
The U.S. women’s volleyball team faced off against Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, and Argentina in a three-day tournament at the CenturyLink Center. Team USA, ranked third in the world, defeated No. 23 Kazakhstan in straight sets on Aug. 2, put down No. 16 Bulgaria in five sets on Aug. 3, and won over No. 11 Argentina on Aug. 4, securing their place at the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo.
Williams described the trip as eye-opening, as both an athlete and a fan. “During the game, there were a lot of different things that stood out to me,” Williams recounted. “After the USA dropped the first set to Bulgaria, the head coach was quick to make changes in the lineup.” These critical adjustments proved effective, as Team USA went on to defeat Bulgaria.
“The biggest thing to me was that the player who had the ‘hot hand' didn’t even play in the first set,” Williams explained. “She came off the bench and ended up leading with the most kills for that game. That was a true inspiration to me.”
That hot-handed player, Jordan Thompson, became a woman to watch for Williams, and she was thrilled to cheer for her as she started the first match against Argentina. “Her first three swings were all errors,” Williams said, “but her next attempt was a kill. I loved how her coach and setter trusted her to put a ball down.”
As an athlete and a student, a string of errors can be incredibly upsetting. Having the trust and support of leaders is critical to finding the strength to push through. “It can become very discouraging,” Williams explained. “You don’t want to make another mistake. You don’t want to get taken out of the game. And it was so good for me to see her grit. I know that’s what I should I do if I ever feel stuck in a situation like that.”
For the rest of the game, Thompson remained on top, powering through to double-digit kills and blocks and helping her team secure a trip to the Olympics.
“It was so refreshing to see such an exciting game the week before I move back into Fort Smith for volleyball preseason,” Williams beamed. “Words cannot explain how excited I am for this year’s team and the level of competition we’re facing in the Lone Star Conference.”
Lady Lions Volleyball opens their 2019 home season at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, versus Texas Woman’s University. All home games are played at the Stubblefield Center at the corner of Waldron Road and Kinkead Avenue.
The Lady Lions will also host a Blue and White Scrimmage this Tuesday at 6 p.m., at the Stubblefield Center, followed by an ice cream social.
For a full schedule go to uafslions.com. For tickets call the UAFS Box Office at 479-788-7300.