Harmotto makes women's volleyball team

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Christa Harmotto is London-bound.

The Hopewell High School and Penn State graduate was named Tuesday to the U.S. women's national volleyball team's roster for the 2012 London Olympics next month. The United States took the silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"I was on cloud nine when I got the news," Harmotto said.

Harmotto, 25, was a three-time All-American middle blocker for the Nittany Lions before graduating from Penn State in '09 and has played with the national team the past three years.

It will be a return trip to England for Harmotto.

To complete her undergraduate degree in elementary education in '09, Harmotto spent three months as a student teacher at an elementary school in West Sussex, just south of London. She left knowing she would rejoin the U.S. national team, despite not having played volleyball for three months.

As her return flight lifted off the tarmac that day in March three years ago, Harmotto promised herself she would return to London in '12.

"I remember dreaming, "Wow, I could be back here in four years for a completely different reason,' " Harmotto said. "It's pretty neat how that has come full circle."

Harmotto has enjoyed success at every level.

At Hopewell, she starred in basketball and volleyball and was named the Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year in '04 and a two-time prep volleyball high school All-American. She led Hopewell to the top ranking in Pennsylvania and helped her team to a 59-0 WPIAL record.

At Penn State, she led the Nittany Lions to consecutive NCAA championships, four consecutive Big Ten titles and an undefeated '08 season.

She also has had plenty of success with the U.S. national team, but the international stage is worlds apart from the college game. Fortunately, Harmotto was able to join the team at the beginning of its training for these Olympics three years ago.

"Coming in 2009 from Penn State, winning national championships, I remember thinking I'd learned all the skills, and now it was just about refining," Harmotto said. "But, gosh, they wiped the slate clean."

U.S. women's coach Hugh McCutcheon, who led the men's team to a gold medal in '08, said Harmotto's arm swing, passing and setting all needed to be more efficient. It didn't seem to make sense to her then, but it does now.

"In 2012, you see why they did what they did," Harmotto said, with a laugh.

Harmotto and the national team took consecutive bronze medals at the Pan American Cup in '10 and '11. Sunday, it won a third consecutive international volleyball federation World Grand Prix by defeating host China in straight sets.

"It's been a roller-coaster ride," Harmotto said.

"There's been points where it's gotten intense -- it was rough in the sense that the performance and the value that comes along with being a part of a USA team, you realize that it's so much bigger than yourself."

Tuesday, things went to a new level of intense. The coaching staff had to cut the roster from 25 to 12 for the Olympics. Harmotto opened her email inbox hours before the announcement and found a message from one of the team captains.

"Just remember that all 25 of us are in this together," Harmotto said, relaying the email message. "It's not just about the final 12, it's about the four years and all of us who made this team the No. 1 team in the world."

Harmotto made the cut. A relentless work ethic has carried her across the globe, and her journey will reach a benchmark in London. Harmotto credits her family and the Western Pennsylvania mindset.

"I've always appreciated the blue-collar attitude and the amazing family values that come from Western Pennsylvania," Harmotto said. "It's my roots, it keeps me grounded."

Tuesday morning Harmotto received a text message from her younger brothers, Nathan and Nolan.

"I remember the day when you said, 'My dream is to go to the 2012 Olympics,' " it read.

She remembered it, too. And, after years of work, she's London-bound once again.


Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2193 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.


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