Top Memories from U.S. Women's Open Tryout

By Bill Kauffman (bill.kauffman@usav.org) | March 02, 2018, 10:54 a.m. (ET)

Hannah Tapp attacking during one of her U.S. Women's National Team Open Tryouts
Hannah Tapp taking a huge swing during one of her U.S. Women's National Team Open Tryout appearances

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (March 2, 2018) – Nearly every current U.S. Women’s National Team member has participated in the team’s annual open tryouts as a collegiate player to launch their career with Team USA.

Now 229 more athletes will have an opportunity to put their skills. Starting today the athletes will be evaluated in front of U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly and his coaching staff at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Each athlete will go through four sessions for a chance for a spot on either the U.S. Women’s National Team or the 2018 U.S. Collegiate National Team program.

Related: Watch Live March 2-4 | Tryout Roster | Follow the Tryouts

During my dozen years as the main media contact for the U.S. Women’s National Team, I have witnessed some memorable tryout performances and stories. Below are a dozen memorable tryout moments.

  • Foluke Akinradewo and Jordan Larson made for a very impressive 2007 tryout roster. One could easily see Akinradewo’s athleticism and upside post-college. And she had already donned a USA uniform for the 2005 Pan Am Cup. Larson was that all-around athlete who could attack, pass, block and serve that is key to being an international outside hitter. She has become a fixture on the National Team since 2009 along with Akinradewo. Both are aiming to become three-time Olympians come the 2020 Games.
  • Karsta Lowe hitting against Kim Hill at 2013 U.S. Women's National Team Open TryoutWho could forget Kim Hill’s sudden surge to National Team stardom after almost not attending the tryout to start with. Her 2013 tryout performance in 2013 catapulted her to the National Team later that spring and she later went on to win the MVP at the 2014 FIVB World Championship. Hill was selected to the 12-player 2016 U.S. Olympic Team roster.
  • The 2010 tryout was packed with talent. Kelly Murphy, Rachael Adams and Carli Lloyd stood out as memorable future Olympians from that year’s tryout. Murphy’s ability to hit – and set – at high levels made her stand out at University of Florida and the tryout. But it would be her time as a left-handed opposite that would be her future with the National Team. Meanwhile, Adams was locked in at middle during the tryout in 2010 and carved out a spot on the 2010 U.S. Women’s National A2 Team (now U.S. Collegiate National Team) and later the top team in 2013. Lloyd was making her third tryout appearance as well. Her poise setting the ball to new faces around her and making others better stood out to me. Lloyd became the first three-time selection to the U.S. Women’s National A2 Team following the 2010 tryout. Just think, three 2016 Olympians taking part in the 24-player A2 program in 2010.
  • I’ve had the privilege to watch many current National Team athletes come up through the High Performance pipeline and participate in the Open Tryout. Tori Dixon (2013) and Rhamat Alhassan (2015) are among the athletes who came up through the USA Volleyball High Performance pipeline during their pre-college days. In 2013, Dixon was running the slide to perfection and blocking up a storm. Two years later Alhassan nearly jumped out of the gym at the Open Tryout and impressing the coaching staff. It is wonderful seeing our HP pipeline at work producing athletes ready for the international scene at the senior level.
  • Karsta Lowe, like Kim Hill, showed that top athletes will be found at the National Team tryout, even if they flew under the radar early in their college careers. Lowe and Hill were together at the 2013 tryout, and that put both on the Team USA radar. And in the 2014 tryout, Lowe’s left-handed power shots down the line or cross court from her opposite position catapulted her to a spot on the National Team – despite not being heavily recruited to play college volleyball and arriving at UCLA as a walk-on. She immediately paid dividends with the National Team. She was selected most valuable player of the 2015 FIVB World Grand Prix and being selected to the 2016 Olympics.
  • Lauren Gibbemeyer was a joy to watch at the 2010 tryout. Her on-court abilities were matched by her infectious emotions on the court.
  • Seeing Lauren Carlini seize her opportunity while setting in the 2014 tryout was fun to watch. The U.S. Women’s National Team staff liked Carlini’s skills so much that they asked her to train with the U.S. Women’s National Team during the summer of 2014. Carlini would later win back-to-back Big Ten Setter of the Year Awards in 2014 and 2015 and a spot on the 2016 Pan Am Cup roster while still at Wisconsin.
  • At the 2012 tryout, Kelsey Robinson showed that her game was more than just crushing the ball that she exhibited from the 2011 tryout. She gave the evaluators something else to key on – her passing and digging. She made a case for herself as a true international outside hitter with multiple skill sets to play all six rotations.
  • The 2012 tryout may not have yielded a player ready to go directly to the 2012 Olympic Games roster. However, it was full of star-studded players poised to join the National Team in coming years. That year’s tryout had future National Team players such as Robinson, Dixon, Lowe, Liz McMahon, Natalie Hagglund, Annie Drews, Carly Wopat, Madi Kingdon, Molly Kreklow and Kristen Hahn.
  • And then there are athletes like Taylor Tashima and Danielle Cuttino, who I have seen grow as players from HP and U.S. Collegiate National Team selections. They are participating again at the 2018 tryout looking to impress Karch and his staff now that their collegiate careers are over at Northwestern and Purdue, respectively.
  • The energy brought to the tryouts from University of Minnesota has always stood out. The Gophers routinely send double-digit athletes under current head coach Hugh McCutcheon, our 2012 U.S. Olympic Team head coach. Gibbemeyer made the U.S. Women’s National Team through tryouts before McCutcheon took over, then Dixon followed suit in 2013. More recently, Sarah Wilhite and twins Hannah and Paige Tapp have successfully earned spots on the National Team from the open tryout process. The Gophers’ group tryout creates almost like a team-bonding exercise while also pushing each member to the next level. No wonder there are five Gophers currently on the U.S. Women’s National Team.
  • Knowing that two thirds of our 2016 Olympic Games roster attended at least one U.S. Women’s National Team Open Tryout. Larson, Akinradewo, Hill, Lloyd, Adams, Murphy, Robinson and Lowe reached the pinnacle of the sport and were part of the open tryout process, while the four others made their way to the National Team, and eventually the Olympics, via a different road.

While the above represent some of my most memorable tryout recollections, several of our past and current National Team athletes have used the tryout to gain footing on Team USA. They have proven their value on the international level by continually improving after first showcasing their talents at the tryout. Team USA players like Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, Annie Drews and Micha Hancock all have spent time at the Open Tryout in Colorado Springs, leaving an early impression of what they could do at the National Team level.

I have also watched some outstanding tryout performances from up-and-coming stars who could very well be on the National Team soon on a full-time basis. Audriana Fitzmorris and Samantha Seliger-Swenson, both participants in this year’s tryout, are a couple that come to mind.

Now I am looking forward to seeing which athletes are added to my memorable moments this weekend at the 2018 U.S. Women’s National Team Tryout and who the coaches will add to their radar. Will young stars like Kathryn Plummer (2017 AVCA Division I Player of the Year) or Thayer Hall (2017-18 Gatorade National Player of the Year) be next on the list of National Team memories?

Notable National Team Players on Past National U.S. Women’s National Team Open Tryout Rosters
2010: Rachael Adams, Lauren Gibbemeyer, Michelle Bartsch, Molly Kreklow and Kelly Murphy
2011: Rachael Adams, Tori Dixon, Carly Wopat, Michelle Bartsch, Madi Kingdon, Micha Hancock, Liz McMahon, Kelsey Robinson, Natalie Hagglund, Cursty Jackson
2012: Kelsey Robinson, Tori Dixon, Karsta Lowe, Liz McMahon, Natalie Hagglund, Kristen Hahn, Annie Drews, Carly Wopat, Madison Kingdon, Molly Kreklow
2013: Amber Rolfzen, Inky Ajanaku, Tori Dixon, Molly Kreklow, Annie Drews, Kim Hill, Karsta Lowe, Kristen Hahn
2014: Karsta Lowe, Lauren Carlini, Lexi Dannemiller, Hannah Tapp, Paige Tapp, Sarah Wilhite, Kristen Hahn, Krista Vansant
2015: Rhamat Alhassan, Sarah Wilhite, Annie Drews, Hannah Tapp, Paige Tapp
2016: Sarah Wilhite, Hannah Tapp, Paige Tapp