Jordan Larson finds a much-needed safe haven the moment she walks into the office of longtime U.S. volleyball coach Karch Kiraly.

She can breathe deeply and knows that she can count on his support in all of life's challenges.

Larson never thought she would be wearing a volleyball uniform again at age 37. She retired after leading the Americans to a long-awaited gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. But after a divorce and some serious self-reflection, Larson now finds herself back on the national team and competing in her fourth Olympics.

Kiraly is a big reason. Larson knows she wouldn't have been on this path without him after both started with the women's team in 2009.

“Karch and I have now walked this path together. … He knows my entire professional career and everything that has happened in between,” she said. “I think there is obviously more to coaching than that – he is a friend, a mentor, he is just the epitome of everything.”

Kiraly helped her through two divorces and after the death of her mother Kae from breast cancer 15 years ago.

Larson praises Kiraly for his “impact without judgment.”

“Life can be hard, but he was always there for me and always helped me,” she said.

Kiraly, himself a decorated beach and indoor Olympic champion, helped Larson and the Americans to a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics. Four years later, with him as head coach, they took bronze in Rio de Janeiro and then won their first gold in Tokyo.

Larson then left, ready to leave behind a sensational volleyball career as an Olympic champion.

She was remarried and looking to start a family. She was looking to start a new life. She no longer wanted to travel the world for an international season before returning home to play domestically. Coaching had become a nice option, and Larson liked the idea of ​​mentoring the next generation of American players.

Until that plan completely fell apart.

“I got married right after the Tokyo Olympics and was living my dream, ready to retire, start a family and life goes on,” she said. “I travel a lot, so I think sometimes it's just hard. I learned some things and had to retire and figure out what I really wanted to do.”

The volleyball court slowly lured her back. Kiraly welcomed her with open arms as always.

Larson calls it “finding blessings” in the most difficult times.

“The girls really showed me that I belong here, and every day since then I've been reaffirmed that even more,” she said. “Thanks to Karch for even opening the door for me.”

Kiraly is thrilled that one of the world's best outside attackers is back in the United States uniform.

“Jordan withdrew from our U.S. team after the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, so she was not with us for the 2022 season,” said Kiraly, himself a three-time Olympic champion, one of those gold medals he won in beach volleyball. “So she thought her life was taking her in a direction that could lead to marriage, family and coaching.

“But her life took a turn and she started playing volleyball again a little. She realized that she enjoyed it, her body felt much better than she had thought, and that she missed and enjoyed the game much more than she had thought.”

Larson spent part of 2022 in Texas volunteering with the volleyball program before returning to her alma mater Nebraska as an assistant coach last year.

Coaching has given Larson a new perspective. She appreciates having traveled the world with her sport, but also recognizes how much Kiraly and the U.S. rely on the continuity of college volleyball to build a foundation.

“When you come back in, you have a different perspective. Now I see the national team and where our athletes go next after college and that it took us 60 years to win a gold medal. It shouldn't take that long,” she said. “Now I see how we can make sure all of our athletes are successful at all universities.”

Kiraly knows how important it is for Larson to learn the coaching side and is flexible with her schedule. She was one of the Americans' two outside attackers during qualifying in Poland last September.

Larson is competing in her fourth Olympic Games, trailing Danielle Scott's record of five appearances – from 1996 to 2012. And Kerri Walsh Jennings played for a U.S. indoor Olympic team and then competed in four beach Olympics, winning a total of three gold medals.

“In my opinion, Jordan is the best player to ever play for the U.S. women's team. If I had to attribute that to one person, it's really hard because there are so many successful players,” Kiraly said. “But she's done it at such a high level for so long. Really impressive.”

Whatever happens next, Larson will walk away knowing what legacy she leaves behind and what this sport has given her.

“I look at these girls in college that I coach now and I'm like, 'I used to be that,' and I just dreamed of being an Olympian,” she said. “I thought I was done in Tokyo and I really felt like I was in a good place, and I still feel like I'm in a really good place. If something happens and I have to step away, I know what I've accomplished in this sport and I can walk away with my head held high knowing that I gave it my all, and I'm grateful for that.”


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