Foster grads go for gold at Rio Olympics

The Olympic Games are off and running in Rio de Janeiro, and a pair of Foster graduates are in the hunt for medals.

Veteran setter Courtney Thompson (BA 2006) is the heart and soul of the USA Women’s Volleyball team, currently ranked number one in the world and working for its first Olympic gold medal. Hans Struzyna (BA 2011) powers the men’s eight of the vaunted USA Rowing squad.

The veteran

Courtney Thompson mid-jump to spike volleyball

photo © Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

This is the second Olympics for Thompson. She was a setter on the American team that won silver at the 2012 London Games, narrowly losing out to Brazil in the final.

Thompson grew up in Kent, Washington. The valedictorian of Kentlake High School, she led the Falcons to three state volleyball titles and also earned all-state distinction in basketball.

At the University of Washington she sparked the rise of Husky volleyball to the nation’s top echelon, leading the team to three NCAA final fours and a national championship in 2005. She earned All-America and Academic All-America honors three times, and received the 2005 Honda Award, recognizing the top collegiate volleyball player in the land. Thompson is also the only woman to have her jersey retired in Alaska Airlines Arena.

Since graduating from the Foster School in 2006, Thompson has worked tirelessly to earn and maintain her place on the national team.

She has honed her game professionally in Puerto Rico, Poland, Austria, Switzerland and, most recently, Brazil, where she plays among some of the best players in the world (and many of the stars of the American team’s biggest rival).

With USA Volleyball, Thompson’s rise has paralleled the team’s international ascendency. After eight- and ninth-place finishes at the FIVB World Grand Prix in 2007 and 2009, Thompson’s teams won bronze at the 2011 Pan American Games, gold at the FIVB World Grand Prix and silver at the Olympic Games in 2012, gold at the 2014 FIVB World Championships, and gold at the 2015 FIVB World Grand Prix. This year she and the top-ranked American team won silver at the FIVB World Grand Prix and gold at the NORCECA Olympic Qualification Tournament.

Thompson, a veritable force of nature, has become the emotional talisman of the young American team. In recent weeks, the veteran setter has been written about in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Seattle Times.

And if you really want to see Thompson’s infectious brand of passion on display, check out “Court & Spark,” the documentary film (available on Amazon and iTunes) inspired by her indomitable spirit.

“Incredibly humbled and honored to be a part of this team that gets to compete in the Olympic Games,” Thompson wrote on Instagram after punching her ticket to Brazil. “Thank you to all my friends, family, coaches, teammates, and mentors who have sacrificed, supported, and shown me the way throughout my entire career. I am overwhelmed with thankfulness and fired up to fight with this team in Rio. Thank you for all the support for our squad!!! Let’s do this thing!”

The USA Women’s Volleyball team defeated Puerto Rico and the Netherlands in their first matches in pool play. Courtney & Co. continue their quest for gold against Serbia (August 10), Italy (August 12) and China (August 14) before the quarterfinals (August 16), semifinals (August 18) and medal matches (August 20).

The newby

Hans Struzyna at rowing site

© USRowing

Struzyna, born and raised in Kirkland, Washington, is making his Olympic debut in the eight-man classification—the marquee race in world rowing.

He learned the sport at the Sammamish Rowing Association and got his first taste of Husky Crew as a kid watching the shells slice through the Montlake Cut in competition for the Windermere Cup.

Later, as a brawny contributor to the Husky Crew juggernaut, Struzyna helped power the freshman eight to a silver medal finish at the 2008 IRA National Championships, then won gold with the Husky varsity eight at the 2009 and 2011 IRAs (and silver in 2010). This launched a run of unprecedented dominance by the UW Men’s Crew that yielded six national titles in seven years.

“That culture and that fire that was in the UW boathouse really was one of the biggest things that I was able to harness and push myself to get to (the Olympics),” Struzyna told the Seattle Times last month. “You could taste that fire, you could feel it.”

Struzyna, the vice-president of business development at Innovation Properties Group when he’s not on the water, has competed at the national level since 2007, when his boat won the junior eight at the USRowing Club National Championships. At the same regatta, he also won the pair in 2008 and finished second in the quadruple sculls in 2009.

He joined the under-23 national team in 2009 and the senior national team in 2013, winning the quad sculls at the 2013 World Championship Trials.

Now Struzyna finds himself in the familiar hull of the men’s eight, this time representing his country (alongside three other Husky grads). After capturing the bronze medal at the World Rowing Cup II regatta, the USA men’s eight won the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland, to earn a berth in the elite seven-nation field that will vie for Olympic glory.

In total, nine former Huskies are rowing for the USA men’s and women’s teams in Rio, while four UW grads power a strong Canadian team.

They add to a proud tradition of Husky Rowing Olympians that numbers 86 men and women who have won 42 medals. And counting. The most famous, of course, are the legendary “Boys in the Boat,” the husky varsity eight that improbably defeated Germany to win the gold medal in front of Adolph Hitler at the 1936 Berlin Games.

The USA men’s eight finished second to reigning Olympic champion Germany in their first heat on August 8. Follow Struzyna and crew as they race in the repechage on August 10 for a spot in the six-boat medal final August 13.