By Lincoln Shryack
In the two corners of the world where Jordan Larson’s star shines brightest, two separate cultures and languages apart, the 31-year-old outside hitter hears a nickname that has become so ubiquitous it needs no translation.
Lincoln, Nebraska, and Istanbul, Turkey, may be separated by an ocean and nearly 6,000 miles, but the two-time Olympian Larson has been lovingly—if not jokingly—referred to as “The Governor” in both of her volleyball homes.
“One of my presidents this year mentioned something in Turkey,” Larson said. “This one guy is mainly kind of in charge of our club and delegating stuff, and he jokingly said it one day. I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s made it all the way over here.’”
The Governor, or “Govy,” to Team USA nickname aficionado Foluke Akinradewo—whose brother came up with the famous title—references Larson’s near statesman-level fame in her home state of Nebraska, where volleyball commands an audience unlike almost anywhere else in the United States.
These days, The Governor is a big reason for that popularity, as her small-town roots in Hooper, Nebraska, and legendary status as a national champion at the University of Nebraska embody two of the state’s most revered qualities: blue-collar toughness and athletic greatness.
That the nickname has followed Larson to her club team in Istanbul, Eczacıbaşı VitrA, shows just how strong her reputation is in the Cornhusker State, and also the global respect for her consistent level of play throughout her career.
Larson was named captain of her Turkish club team this past season, and she’ll serve in the same role for Team USA when they open up play next week for the first leg of the inaugural FIVB Volleyball Nations League tournament in—guess where—Lincoln, Nebraska.
“Over in Turkey, I was honored they named me captain,” Larson said. “For me, I definitely think I have leadership qualities, but I really don’t go outside of what I normally do, which is I compete hard, I work hard, and I communicate well. I think all those things kind of accumulate and help those around me.
“I definitely think that I do hold a big role on our national team as well.”
On the court for both squads, Larson is a dominant presence at outside. She was the Champions League MVP with her Turkish club during the 2014-2015 campaign—her first with the team—as they won the CEV title before claiming the Club World Championship that same year. Larson also played the role of most valuable player for Team USA in both 2015 and 2016, ultimately leading the Americans to the bronze medal at the Rio Olympic Games.
Now, after missing parts of the 2017 national team season to rest a back injury and coming off a frustrating loss in the Turkish League final just weeks ago, The Governor is especially motivated to put on a show in front of the Nebraska faithful.
The beginning of the five-week Volleyball Nations League tournament will kick off May 15-17 at the Devaney Center at the University of Nebraska, an ideal starting spot for Larson in a season she hopes will ultimately bring Team USA a repeat gold medal at this summer’s World Championships.
“Actually, it just gave me chills thinking about it," Larson said. "Just being in the state of Nebraska where volleyball is one of the top sports obviously, if not the top, it’s such a cool feeling and just brings back so many memories."
Of course, a homecoming is always personally exciting for Larson, as family and friends can come in droves to watch their Governor return to her backyard, but the former Cornhusker All-American is particularly excited for some of her club teammates to get a chance to see where volleyball started for their own captain.
The United States will play Turkey in the second game of the tournament on May 16, allowing for a role reversal for Larson and her Turkish teammates.
“I’m also excited for other teams to see it (Devaney Center). Obviously, we’re playing Turkey in one of the games, and a lot of my Turkish teammates are on it,” Larson said. “So I’m excited for them to see. I didn’t play there (Devaney didn’t become Nebraska’s volleyball home until 2013), but this is where we compete and kind of seeing the campus and where I live. Because I see where they live and this gives a glimpse of where I’m from.”
As the elder statesman for the U.S. on their VNL roster, Larson knows how important these next few weeks will be in re-establishing familiarity on the court with her American teammates as well as welcoming newcomers into the national team fold, which will undoubtedly be her primary focus once the tournament gets underway.
The Governor may be back in town, but with little time to reset after club seasons for most of the roster, this visit to Lincoln will be more business than pleasure.
“We don’t have that many opportunities to compete this summer, with basically Nations League and World Championships only, so I think this is a great opportunity for us to get together,” Larson said.
“I’m sure there’s going to be some kinks that are going to happen on this trip, and I think it only is going to make us stronger. We’re going to learn a lot about what we need to improve on and what we need to change, and I think it’s going to be a great opportunity and I think that’s how people are looking at it.”
Larson may have initially felt lukewarm about a silly nickname that's “spreading like wildfire” these days, but there’s no denying that she deserves the sincere respect that comes with it. From her humble beginnings in tiny Hooper, a city of 834 people, to starring at the University of Nebraska, and now captaining both her national and club teams, Larson has proven repeatedly that she’s worthy of the name.
Through hard work and consistency, the pride of Nebraska is now a leader everywhere she goes.