May 24, 2016

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Courtney Thompson hits the floor on a dive and hardly has time to reach for a towel to wipe up her sweat before teammate Alexis Crimes grabs it and handles the chore herself.

It happens that way any time they're on the same side of the net together during U.S. training, no matter how hard Thompson tries otherwise.

''When I grab the towel, she runs over, `I'll get it,''' Thompson said. ''We did it together a few times and she's like, `I got it.' She's that kind of teammate. It's so funny. Or if I grab it, she gets on the floor, every time. I still try to do it but she'll get down there with me if I don't just let her do it.''

No surprise that energy and enthusiasm given how Crimes only recently, improbably, found her way back to the national team at the start of May, just three months from the start of the Rio Olympics no less.

Last year while playing in Turkey, Crimes did what she had been considering for a while and sent an email to U.S. coach Karch Kiraly asking for another chance to play for the Olympic-bound Americans. Her last Olympic quest ended in disappointment when her play wasn't up to standards and she dealt with a torn meniscus in her left knee that required surgery. Crimes was cut in the spring of 2012 during the lead up to London.

Her note to Kiraly went something like this: ''This is what I can do. Let me show you. I want another chance, but to earn it. I want to earn it.''

''It was a risk because from what I heard nobody was allowed to come back who hadn't been in this gym for this quad,'' Crimes said at the team's Orange County training center. ''I'm very glad I did. I thought about it for a while. I was scared to get rejected. But I would rather say I did it than not at all.''

Kiraly wrote back thanking her for reaching out but with no guarantee except that he would think about it. Previously, Crimes hadn't shown enough progress to stick on the U.S. team, and Kiraly opted to develop some young middle blockers instead.

Yet U.S. assistant coach Jamie Morrison was coaching in Turkey and already had an up-close view of the strides Crimes made in all aspects of her game. He called Kiraly and mentioned they might consider bringing her in.

''She spent those four years getting better,'' Morrison said. ''We value that.''

Kiraly traveled to Turkey to see her play himself, too. And with Tori Dixon's left knee injury that required reconstructive ACL surgery, there was wiggle room on the roster. In February, technical coordinator and analytics guru Joe Trinsey spent about 10 hours evaluating Crimes and how her overseas play could translate to the national team.

Still, it's a rarity to have someone join the team this late in the four-year Olympic cycle. Enough so that Kiraly reached out to his four-player leadership council of Thompson, game captain Christa Dietzen, Alisha Glass and Tamari Miyashiro to run the idea by them, even if the decision was ultimately his to make. Kiraly values the feedback from his ''WNT Assassins'' as they're known and didn't want to disrupt any chemistry this group established in recent months beginning before its Olympic qualifier at Lincoln, Nebraska, in January.

''It's a story about determination,'' said Kiraly, who has 12 spots for the Rio squad. ''It forced her to go back to ground zero. Now, she would probably say she was grateful for, while wanting to be in here, not being given the chance to be in here. It's pretty hard to improve on your own and she figured out a way to do it. That earned her the right to be in here.''

Often grinning, Crimes already is putting up memorable blocking performances, like the 11 she recorded in last Friday's scrimmage - when a typical strong outing is five blocks per match.

Crimes, who turns 30 on June 12, improved by picking a different volleyball topic every week and studying it. She examined video of top players and of herself. When her Turkish team stopped filming practices, she asked the athletic trainer to shoot action of her on her phone.

''That takes a lot of courage. She earned the right to be in this gym,'' Dietzen said. ''Pretty awesome story of someone being disciplined.''

One plus for Crimes is she has known many of her new-but-old teammates since she was 16. That also gave Kiraly and his staff more confidence it could work out.

''We're a family here, and of course we'd welcome anyone, but I don't think it's easy to come in this late,'' Thompson said. ''To fit in as well as she has is a testament to the work she's done on her own and just the type of person she is. Everybody likes Lex, everyone likes playing with her. She makes these huge plays and she turns around like she's a 6-year-old and surprised by it, smiling, `Oh, I just stuffed someone.' It's really joyful enthusiasm around her playing, which is really fun. She's so humble. Everyone's rooting for her.''

You May Like