Courtney Thompson — an All-American setter on Washington’s 2005 national- championship volleyball team and the first UW athlete to win a Honda Award (presented to the top female athlete in a collegiate sport) — adds another first to her list on Sunday as she will be the first female athlete at Washington to have her jersey retired.
The Kentlake High School grad, who last year earned an Olympic silver medal as a member of the U.S. national team, will have her No. 3 jersey retired during intermission of Sunday’s Washington-Colorado 3 p.m. match at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“I’m a huge sports fan, and I can’t think of a cooler thing for an athlete,” Thompson said earlier this week. “It’s humbling, it’s overwhelming, and it’s just so cool.”
Thompson, who turns 29 on Monday, was a three-time first-team All-American during her UW career (2003-06) and was a central figure in helping coach Jim McLaughlin, who arrived at Washington in 2001, transform UW into a national volleyball power.
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She led Washington to three straight Final Four appearances (2004-06) and set a still-standing NCAA career record for assists per set, 14.56.
All this from a kid from Kent who, at 5 feet 8, was widely considered too small to play in the sport’s top collegiate tier. Thompson’s solution: outwork everyone.
“Every day was a great day being around her in practice,” McLaughlin said after his third-ranked team defeated Utah on Friday night. “It was a great day when she was throwing up in the gym, grabbing the trash can, and she still practiced. There wasn’t ever a bad day.”
Thompson trained with the U.S. national team over the summer and is considering playing professionally abroad for a seventh straight winter-to-spring season. She has played in Switzerland, Puerto Rico, Austria and Poland, earning a salary that she says can range from high five figures to low six figures.
Thompson expresses appreciation to UW and its fans, many of whom still support her with emails and phone calls of encouragement, she says.
She hopes having a female’s jersey hanging in the rafters may inspire young athletes.
“When I was younger, I looked up at college athletes and thought, ‘Hey, maybe I can do that,’ ” she said. “Hopefully a kid looks up at that (her jersey) and says, ‘Hey, mom and dad, I want to do that. What do I need to do?’ Maybe I can inspire kids in a way the girls before me inspired me. That’s really cool to think about.”