Brazil: 21 - 20 - 14
USA : 25 - 25 - 25
Weeks ago, U.S. volleyball player Haleigh Washington's friends sent her a Clear Creek High School Golddigger shirt to remind the Idaho Springs native “to dig for the gold.”
On Sunday afternoon in Tokyo, she did.
Washington had several crucial digs, serves, blocks and spikes in the final match against Brazil as the U.S. women's volleyball team won its first Olympic gold medal.
“It's everything we wanted it to be,” Washington said in a post-match interview with NBC. “The hard work that we put in, the sweat, the tears, the blood — it's been worth it; and I'm so proud to have done it with this group of women. I'm so honored.”
About 5,700 miles away, her friends and supporters were glued to the televisions in Idaho Springs' Vintage Moose during the three sets against Brazil, and went into a frenzy of celebration when Washington and her teammates made history.
“It's amazing,” Washington's former coach Angie Thoennes said of the U.S. win. “ … I'm so proud of her. She's worked so hard, and she's earned everything.”
According to Thoennes, Washington and her family plan to be in Idaho Springs on Aug. 21 to celebrate her Olympic achievement. While plans are still in the works, Thoennes said a parade and/or block party is a possibility.
But the party really started Saturday night, local time, when more than 40 of Washington's friends, former coaches and teammates, and other supporters gathered at the Vintage Moose for a watch party for the gold medal match.
Before the match started at 10:30 p.m., they described watching Washington play in the Olympics as crazy, surreal and awesome.
“She's still the same Haleigh she was in high school, just amplified,” former teammate and county resident Taylor Broaddus said. “ … She's the nicest, purest (person) on the team.”
It was also meaningful to see that Washington was still the same person despite the immense pressure of playing in the Olympics, Broaddus added.
Heather Haase, who coached Washington at CCHS, noticed how the gold medalist had retained some of the quirks — such as facial expressions and hitting techniques — that she had in high school.
Thoennes said she felt Washington had a strong individual performance in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, commenting, “She keeps the team fired up … and has a good attitude on the court.”
As for the team performance, Broaddus and Haase said they enjoyed watching the United States' progress in Tokyo, with Broaddus saying that she felt the team really started to click in the semifinal match against Serbia.
Georgetown's Jennifer Van Voorst, a family-friend of Washington's, also thought the United States displayed strong teamwork and communication throughout the tournament.
Jennifer and her mom, Diana Van Voorst, used to volunteer at CCHS volleyball games when Washington lived in Clear Creek; and Washington used to babysit Jennifer's daughter, Jaylin, 13.
Jaylin said watching her former babysitter play in the Olympics has been a fun and cool experience.
Diana described how her family has been friends with the Washingtons for a long time, and remembered when Washington was a child and attended CCHS volleyball games with her parents even before she played.
While she last saw Washington in-person at her high school graduation party in Colorado Springs, Diana described how she's enjoyed following her volleyball career since then.
“It's surreal when you know that person and you've seen them grow up,” she said of watching Washington play in the Olympics.
Because there were no fans in the stands during the Olympics, Washington stated that getting pictures and videos from her friends and family reminded her that “even if they're not in the stands here, they're still in our corner back home.”
“I am so grateful to have such an amazing support system back in (Colorado),” Washington wrote in an email to the Courant on Friday. “ … I am so incredibly blessed to be surrounded by such joy and such love. Thank you to everyone. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
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