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USA (USA) vs. Slovenia (SLO) women - Pool C #6987376

Haleigh Washington, the 28-year-old middle blocker of Italy’s Savino Del Bene Scandicci and the US national team, answered Volleyball World’s questions in an exclusive interview about her time in Italy, about returning to America for a new and exciting project, about her Olympic title and aspirations and about her favourite volleyballers.

When she was in seventh grade, young Haleigh picked volleyball over basketball and a shining athletic career followed. After excelling in the sport in her high school years in Colorado, she went on to compete for Penn State Nittany Lions in her university years and helped win the 2014 NCAA national championship. Washington was a three-time first-team All-American. She was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2014 and the Big Ten Defender of the Year in 2017.

In 2017, the 1.90m-tall athlete moved to Italy and has been playing for Italian clubs ever since, reaching one national championship final, three national cup finals and one national super cup final. She has been a player of Savino Del Bene since 2022 and last season they won Europe’s CEV Cup. Currently, they are running fourth in the 2024 Lega Pallavolo Femminile Serie A Tigota and have already qualified for the upcoming Coppa Italia A1 Frecciarossa semifinals and the CEV Champions League quarterfinals. As of the next club season, Haleigh Washington will move back to the United States, where she will be involved with the new League One Volleyball as a member of LOVB Salt Lake City.

Washington has had an even more successful national team career. In 2021, she was named on the Dream Team of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, where the United States triumphed as gold medallists. She was also on the squads that celebrated victorious in the FIVB Volleyball Nations League, winning back-to-back gold in 2019 and in 2021, and earned a Dream Team nomination in 2019. Washington’s medal collection also features a 2019 FIVB Volleyball World Cup silver, a 2018 Pan American Cup gold and two NORCECA Championship silvers in 2019 and 2023. USA have already qualified to defend their Olympic title at this summer’s Games in Paris.

Haleigh Washington during her Volleyball World interview (source: startphoto.bg)

Haleigh Washington during her Volleyball World interview (source: startphoto.bg)

Judging by your involvement in the new professional league in the States next season, this will be your last season in Italy for the time being. How difficult will this departure be for you?

“First of all, never say ‘never’. I could be back. You never know what is going to happen. But this departure is really tough, really sad for me. It’s been seven years that I’ve played in Italy and I’ve had such a blessed career over here. Especially these last two years with Savino Del Bene, I have just been so happy, overwhelmed with gratitude and joy with this club, so it’s going to be harder than I thought to say ‘good-bye’. I am excited to go back to America, but I just love so much my time here in Italy that it’s going to be pretty hard to say ‘good-bye’. I’m going to miss it a lot.”

How has life been for you in Italy outside volleyball? What do you do in your free time? Whom do you hang out with?

“Quality of life in Italy is not bad! I love it. It’s really great. There is so much to do. I like to visit museums, to go on hikes, to just read books in cute coffee shops, and Italy is really great for that. They have some of the best coffee in the world, some of the best wine in the world... It’s hard to see a lot of the Americans during pro season, because they are so far away and our off-days can be different. So I pretty much just hang out with the teammates and with my family, when they are around.”

What goals are you hoping to achieve with Savino Del Bene this season?

“Big goals! We have a really cool opportunity in the Champions League. I think arriving at the final four at minimum would be a huge goal. We’ll see how far we can go in the Italian championship. We are really excited to push again and I think the final four is a really achievable goal for us. And I think we can even do more...”

Tell us more details about this exciting new adventure, the League One Volleyball in America.

“I think it’s going to be amazing! A new volleyball league in America! Women’s sports are growing exponentially in America, so it’s really good to see the support that all women are getting as athletes. I think volleyball is just going to continue to grow and build into that support for women’s sports. I am excited to see where it goes. I am excited to see when we bring more and more foreigners in it and it can become a competitive league. I think it’s obviously going to take time and there are going to be mistakes and errors, but I’m excited for those mistakes and errors, because we can grow and learn a lot from that.”

You are a reigning Olympic champion with the national team and a Dream Teamer at the Games in Tokyo. How has that changed your life in the past two and a half years?

“Honestly, it really hasn’t. I think it’s really cool to be able to say ‘reigning Olympic champion’ and it’s really cool to know that I was good enough to be given a spot on the Dream Team, but volleyball, life... it all stays the same. We have to get up every day and go to work. The grind never stops. We continue to get better at the game, and I’m still just Haleigh Washington.”

Your team is already qualified for Paris 2024. How excited are you about that and what will it take to defend the title?

“I’m really pumped. I am super stoked that we got that qualification. I know that we have what it takes to ride the path to the podium and do what we need to do. And I think it’s just about playing consistent, good volleyball. USA doesn’t really have to play perfect volleyball. We don’t have to be shining stars, but if we can play good team volleyball consistently throughout that tournament, I think we can do really good things.”

Finally, name the six athletes you would like to play with on the volleyball team of your dreams.

“Zhu Ting is my number one. Love playing with my girl Zhu-Zhu... You can’t just ask me this off the top of my head...! But OK, for setters I would just go with Joanna Wolosz from Conegliano. I think she is a phenomenal setter and she would do really big things. For outside hitters I would take Britt Herbots, because we’ve been playing together forever, so it’d be great to play with her. Opposite? I think I’m going to play with Tijana Boskovic. I’ve never had a chance to play with her and I think she is a really cool human being and I think she is a baller. So that would be great! For libero I am going to take Brenda Castillo. She is really, really good. And then for the other middle – Foluke Akinradewo.”