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When Haleigh Washington steps onto Tokyo’s volleyball court and serves, blocks and spikes under the Olympic lights, it will be the highlight of a journey that started in a Clear Creek gymnasium. …
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When Haleigh Washington steps onto Tokyo’s volleyball court and serves, blocks and spikes under the Olympic lights, it will be the highlight of a journey that started in a Clear Creek gymnasium.
Washington, who grew up in Idaho Springs and played sports at Clear Creek Middle School/High School, is scheduled to start on the U.S. women’s volleyball team in this summer’s Olympic Games.
As she seeks her first Olympic gold medal, Washington said the Clear Creek community not only helped jumpstart her volleyball career, but gave her a sense of what it meant to be passionate about something.
“When you find a passion, people support you and want you to pursue it,” she said of growing up in Idaho Springs. “ … There was a level of pride in pursuing something in that town.”
Washington thanked everyone in Clear Creek who supported her, especially CCMS/HS staff, and hoped her journey would show local children that they too can go to the Olympics one day.
Angie Thoennes, a CCHS volleyball coach who worked with Washington, said the Idaho Springs community will be hosting watch parties for the Opening Ceremony and the U.S. volleyball games. As of Monday, details were still being finalized.
“They’ll say she’s from Colorado Springs,” Thoennes said, referring to the Olympics program materials, “but we all think of her as from here.”
The U.S. team tips off against Argentina on July 24, and Washington hoped to make Clear Creek County proud.
“I am where I am because of where I started,” she said.
Getting her start
Washington, who plays professional volleyball in Italy for part of the year, still visits Idaho Springs occasionally to see family.
Washington grew up along Virginia Street and attended Carlson Elementary and CCMS/HS when it was still along Highway 103. She recalled learning to play volleyball in that gym and taking her first ice baths in Clear Creek after two-a-day practices.
Her seventh grade volleyball team was especially memorable, because of the phenomenal season and how close all the players were, she recalled. Volleyball camps with her Clear Creek teammates were also especially fun.
By her freshman year, Washington was the first Golddigger in the serving rotation because she was one of the more consistent servers on the team.
Around the same time, CCHS athletic staff started hearing from colleges who were interested in recruiting Washington, Thoennes and former athletic director David Schuessler recalled.
“She had a choice on where she wanted to go (to college) even at a very young age,” Schuessler said.
Washington was also quite the basketball player, but volleyball was her true passion. As a sophomore, Washington was named to the 3A All-State volleyball team, but she didn’t receive much recognition because, as Schuessler explained, “The team wasn’t very good.”
Before her junior year, Washington’s mom — a teacher in Evergreen — had a job offer in the Colorado Springs area. So, the family moved, and Washington graduated from Doherty High School in 2014 and went on to play volleyball at Penn State.
In 2018, she joined the U.S. team as a middle blocker; and last month, the team placed first in the Volleyball Nations League in Italy.
“We hadn’t played as a full team for more than a year because of COVID,” she said. “So, it was our first time back in jerseys.”
The team is scheduled to leave for Tokyo on July 17, with a week of on-site training before games start on July 24. Washington said she wanted to fine-tune her blocks, serves and attack techniques. But, moreover, she wanted to figure out how to maintain a mental composure on the court.
“Half the battle of playing at a high level is not getting caught off-guard by little things,” she said. “I want to be mentally locked in and always have that switch on.”
Washington has always been a strong volleyball player and natural athlete; and as a person, she has an energetic, outgoing and quirky personality, Thoennes and Schuessler described.
Both stated they were incredibly proud to see a former Golddigger on her way to Tokyo. Schuessler said Washington may be the first person from Clear Creek to compete at the Olympics, adding, “What an honor for her. She worked really hard to get there.”
Before Washington and her teammates head to Tokyo, Thoennes and her colleagues sent Washington a CCHS shirt as a reminder “to dig for the gold,” she described.
“I’m happy I was able to be a part of her world for the few years that I was,” Thoennes said. “She will always be my player. I’m excited that volleyball has taken her where it has.”
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