Illinois volleyball player Michelle Bartsch-Hackley’s husband, arguably her biggest supporter, couldn’t wait to find out if she was heading to Tokyo. So he read the email first.
Bartsch-Hackley knew she didn’t want to find out the answer in an in-person meeting with coaches, so she had opted for an email instead.
Bartsch-Hackley and her husband Corbin Hackley had been waiting for the email to arrive – and then the moment finally came.
“We were in the hotel together during our last tournament and so we were just like waiting, refreshing, refreshing, refreshing,” she said. “And then it popped up and it just said, like, ‘Olympic Roster.’ I was like, ‘OK, who’s reading it first? You? Me?’ And he just took the phone.”
He started reading the email, trying to keep a calm face.
“He was like trying to keep his cool, but no, he was excited,” Bartsch-Hackley said. “It was a cool experience for us to have together.”
Bartsch-Hackley said her husband has always supported her dreams.
“He comes everywhere and sacrifices everything to come watch me play volleyball,” she said.
Which makes no spectators in the Olympics a challenge, but they’re taking it in stride.
“I think everyone is just excited and kind of doing their own thing, which is maybe a little bit cooler in the aspect of like all of our family and all of our friends can be together watching,” she said.
“I know it’ll be different for sure but, again, most of us are first-time Olympians so we don’t know much different,” she added. “I know my family’s bummed they can’t be there but it is what it is these days.”
Thankfully, the University of Illinois alum will still have a part of home with her.
Among her teammates, is fellow U of I volleyball player Jordyn Poulter, who is also the youngest player on the women’s team.
The duo are several years apart, but have known each other since Poulter was young.
“She was an Illinois summer camper when I was like running camps and I was in college, so I’ve known her and her family for 12 years,” Bartsch-Hackley said.
Fast forward to 2021 and the pair are actually roommates preparing for their journey to Tokyo.
“She’s just like, I don’t want to say like little sister because obviously she’s running the show, like she’s such a competitor,” Bartsch-Hackley said. “It’s always nice to kind of have a piece of home a little bit. Like we’re bonded through being at Illinois and all those things and we’ve had separate experiences but it just feels like close to home.”
It’s a bond that will surely be on display as the U.S. women look to win their first-ever gold medal – a goal that’s on the mind of all the players as they prepare for the Games.
“I think we’re just excited to finally put all the pieces together,” Bartsch-Hackley said. “We’ve always been really lucky with our depth in our team and we can play whoever, we can put all these pieces together and we can still win. I think with a little more solid lineup and a little more security in our roles, I think that we’re going to like finally put the pieces together after five years and we’re just excited to play together and to compete and that the Olympics are going to be happening, which was not the reality probably a year ago.”