The U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team capped a stellar season that included Paralympic gold by being named USA Volleyball’s 2016 Team of the Year.
The team added to an already fierce rivalry against China: By the time 2016 drew to a close, Team USA had taken three major titles, racking up significant wins over the Chinese along the way.
Momentum began building in March at the World ParaVolleyball Intercontinental Cup hosted by China. Team USA racked up a pool play victory over the host, then scored a four-set victory in the gold-medal game to take the title from the world’s No. 1-ranked team. Team captain Heather Erickson was named the tournament’s Best Attacker and Most Valuable Player, a hint of what was to come six months later in Rio de Janeiro.
Another tournament win over China in July in the Netherlands added to the momentum, bolstering hopes that the Americans would finally break through to gold in Rio after a bronze medal in 2004 and silvers in 2008 and 2012.
Unsurprisingly, China gave Team USA its toughest battle in Rio, a street fight in pool play that tipped to the reigning champions in five sets. It would be the last time the U.S. would lose a set in Brazil. Unsurprisingly, the Americans faced China in the gold-medal match. Surprisingly, China put up little resistance, falling in three sets as Team USA at long last found itself on the top podium step. Erickson added tournament MVP and Best Receiver honors to her individual accolades, which included USAV Female Sitting Player of the Year and selection as a finalist for the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Sportswoman of the Year and the ESPY awards for Best Female Athlete with a Disability.
Ascending to the world No. 1 ranking in the wake of a season of success, the squad also was named Best Team of the Paralympic Games, presented by Dow, at the Team USA Awards in Washington, D.C.