Jordan Larson retired on top. The U.S. women's national volleyball team captain had a picture-perfect career. The outside hitter had done and won it all: an NCAA title, a World Championship, Grand Prix and Nations League gold medals and most notably, led the U.S. women's team to a historic gold medal finish at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. There was little else left for Larson to do in volleyball than hang up her knee pads. So, no one was surprised when Larson did just that and announced in March 2020 that she would retire after the Tokyo Games. 

But Larson shocked not just the world but even herself after she announced in May 2023 that she had reversed her retirement decision and was a 2024 Paris Games hopeful. 

Olympic veteran and MVP

In 2008, Larson had the opportunity to leave the University of Nebraska and forgo her final year of college competition to try out for the Olympics. Instead, she chose to remain at school for her final season. 

Larson went on to join the U.S. National women's volleyball team in 2009 and made her Olympic debut in London in 2012, where she and the U.S. women's volleyball team took home the silver. At the Rio Games in 2016, Larson and Team USA couldn't clinch gold after getting toppled by Serbia in the fifth set of the semifinals. Although they suffered a devastating loss, Team USA rebounded and took home the bronze. 

After Rio, Larson, who had started every Olympic match in London and Rio, succeeded Christa Harmotto Dietzen as team captain. Ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, USA was the second-seeded team. After dropping only one game on its way to the quarterfinals, Team USA defeated the Dominican Republic in the quarterfinals and then went on to finally defeat Serbia in the semifinals. In the final, the U.S. faced a formidable opponent in Brazil but eventually came out on top, securing Team USA's first-ever gold medal. Larson was named Best Outside Hitter and Most Valuable Player, a well-deserved title after she led the USA in scoring with 96 points in its eight matches. 

"I'm just not getting any younger," said Larson after she announced her retirement plans in 2020. "I've been playing consistently overseas for 12 years straight with no real offseason."

Returning to competition

After Tokyo, Larson went on to play club volleyball abroad, playing in Italy and China before finally stepping out of the game for good. But Larson's retirement did not last long. In May 2023, Larson reversed her retirement decision and decided to return to the volleyball court—and, hopefully, the Olympics. 

"So I definitely thought after Tokyo, I was in a really good place," said Larson to NBC Olympics at the Team USA Media Summit in April. "And personally, some things happened to me off the court that just really had me questioning [the retirement decision]. So, I played a pro season in Italy, and I still really loved it."

Larson returned to the national team for the first time since Tokyo, confident in her decision to return, and looked forward to the competition ahead. 

"I know that I'm at peace for where I'm at, like competing-wise, however, I still think there's more in the tank. I'm excited to keep exploring that. And I feel this sense of just peace and pure enjoyment."

Paying it forward

Just a month after Larson reversed her retirement decision, she made another major announcement. Not only would she return to the Olympic court, but the collegiate court as well. Larson returned to her alma mater, the University of Nebraska, as a full-time assistant coach. During her days as a Cornhusker, Larson earned the nickname "The Governor" for her friendly demeanor and welcoming personality. Upon her return, Larson would bring those leadership skills forged on that very court and sharpened in the heat of Olympic battle with her. 

"I'm coaching as well," said Larson. "I'm coaching in Nebraska, which has been really fun to kind of go back and just see now what they have access to and where it's come, which is really cool."

In December 2023, the Nebraska Cornhuskers finished the season with an impressive 33-2 record and were named the NCAA runner-up. 

"I think for me, the sport has given me so much. And when I think, the most impactful people in my life has been coaches. And now I can share everything that's been shared with me…And now how can I help [the athlete] achieve that, just being a small part of that process is huge."

woman smiles with arms crossed standing in front of american flag
USA Volleyball captain Jordan Larson is not only focused on going for the gold in Paris - she also wants to give back to the future generations in volleyball.
USA Today

But Larson's impact on the future generations isn't limited to the athletes she coaches. It extends to her U.S. teammates she is set to take the court with this summer in France. When asked what personal goal she had left at the Olympics, Larson's eyes lit up immediately, and she excitedly shared her hope for helping her teammates.

"I think the one thing that I'm super passionate about is creating a culture and what does that mean to be a good teammate, to show up every day even on days you don't want to show up?" said Larson. "And how can you bring out both the best in you, and therefore help bring out the best in others?"

Larson's return to Paris will see the outside hitter become the second-oldest U.S. Olympic female indoor volleyball player after program record five-time Olympian Danielle Scott-Arruda. 

"I mean, being 37, it's not, you know, it's not easy some days," said Larson. "And I know that I don't take anything for granted. So I just try to keep that in the forefront and know that this could all end at any point, you know, so just really taking that as it comes."

While Larson's future in Paris, the Olympics and volleyball are unknown, one thing remains clear: like any great diplomat would do, she will uplift and inspire those around her for years to come.