ANAHEIM, Calif. — Justine Wong-Orantes took a deep breath earlier than strolling contained in the lodge room, not sure of what was to return.
The 5’6″ Wong-Orantes was amongst 18 girls in competition to make Workforce USA’s 12-member girls’s volleyball roster for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
It was Friday, June 4. The ladies have been competing within the FIVB Volleyball Ladies’s Nations League event in Rimini, Italy.
Workforce USA coaches gave the ladies an possibility: meet nose to nose to find out about their Olympic destiny or obtain a mass e-mail that night time itemizing the names of the ladies who made the roster.
Wong-Orantes determined to fulfill Coach Karch Kiraly and his employees in particular person.
So right here she was contained in the room, with Kiraly and the remainder of the Workforce USA volleyball employees. It was a small room, and the variety of individuals inside it made it really feel stuffy.
She listened to Kiraly as he mentioned her up and down season, struggles and future.
“I had numerous doubts and second guesses,” mentioned Wong-Orantes, to Spectrum Information, about the opportunity of making the group.
However Kiraly additionally spoke about her accomplishments. Lastly, he unveiled the information: she’s on the group. She would be the group’s beginning libero or defensive specialist.
“I broke down crying,” mentioned Wong-Orantes. “It was validation of all of the arduous work that I put into this sport. When he mentioned I made it, I simply misplaced it. It was so particular and surreal. I had all of those feelings going by way of my thoughts.”
Orange County roots
The 25-year-old Wong-Orantes is a former Los Alamitos Excessive College volleyball star. She is amongst a number of athletes from Orange County competing on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Video games.
For Wong-Orantes, Orange County is the place she fell in love with the sport. She grew up in Cypress with volleyball-loving dad and mom and infrequently performed in Huntington Seashore.
Dad, Robert Orantes Jr., is a volleyball coach and coach for the Mizuno Lengthy Seashore Volleyball membership group. Her mom, Winnie Wong, was a former participant and officiated indoor and seashore volleyball video games.
Anthony, her youthful brother, performed at Los Alamitos Excessive College and at present serves as an assistant coach for the junior varsity squad.
“They’re my greatest supporters,” she mentioned.
The best way Winnie tells it, her daughter was born to play the sport.
When Wong was eight months pregnant, individuals needed to cease her from enjoying in leisure volleyball tournaments.
“That is how passionate I used to be about volleyball. I by no means informed people who I used to be pregnant,” mentioned Winnie, including that she stopped solely when her abdomen ballooned, about eight months pregnant. “So now when my pals see Justine, they are saying that she has been enjoying volleyball since she was in my abdomen and digging individuals.”
Dig is a volleyball time period when a participant hits the ball and prevents it from falling on the bottom.
Ever since then, Wong-Orantes was a volleyball junkie rising up.
“She was a fitness center rat,” mentioned Winnie.
Robert and Winnie performed recreationally in indoor and seashore co-ed leagues and took their youngsters together with them.
“We use to take Justine to the seashore, and he or she would pepper (hit the ball forwards and backwards) with the older guys and women,” mentioned Robert. “She grew up enjoying volleyball and ended up loving the game. She realized the arduous means. She was enjoying towards adults and greater and older youngsters. By the point she bought to highschool, she was already good.”
She gained a seashore volleyball championship in center college.
At Los Alamitos Excessive College, Wong-Orantes served all 4 years as the varsity’s setter, main them to a state title in 2009.
“She was a small undersized participant, however she was a playmaker,” mentioned Dave Huber, the volleyball coach at Los Alamitos Excessive College. “Good issues all the time occurred when she was on the courtroom.”
Across the identical time, she helped her membership group, Mizuno Lengthy Seashore, to an Below 16 Junior Olympics nationwide championship.
However regardless of her accolades, some school coaches noticed her 5’6″ stature and place as a setter as a legal responsibility.
“Like most sports activities, volleyball is height-oriented,” mentioned Winnie, a Chinese language-American who stands 5’2″. Robert is Mexican-American and stands 5’10”.
“She’s 5’6″. I keep in mind pondering we might be fortunate if she performed school,” mentioned Winnie.
Wong-Orantes switched positions from setter to libero throughout her senior 12 months and carried out properly sufficient in membership tournaments to obtain a full-ride scholarship to powerhouse Nebraska.
She was an All-American, helped the Huskers win an NCAA title and completed her profession as the varsity’s all-time digs chief.
“This younger woman could be very blessed by the gods of volleyball,” mentioned Robert. “She works arduous and is surrounded by good expertise. She is all the time in the suitable place on the proper time. She wins in all places she goes.”
Going for gold
Now, Wong-Orantes is a part of the U.S. girls’s nationwide volleyball squad going for the gold.
The U.S. girls’s volleyball group has by no means gained an Olympic gold medal in its historical past.
“That is what each skilled athlete desires of,” mentioned Wong-Orantes, who has been enjoying professionally in Europe and coaching with Workforce USA for the previous 5 years.
Nevertheless it’s been an unprecedented and difficult highway. The coronavirus pandemic upended group coaching for greater than a 12 months.
Throughout the pandemic, the group members have needed to practice independently with the occasional Zoom exercise with the group’s power and conditioning coach.
Nonetheless, when the group did lastly come collectively a 12 months and a half later, they gained final month’s FIVB Volleyball Ladies’s Nations League event in Rimini, Italy. Wong-Orantes was named the event’s finest libero.
“I keep in mind watching that ultimate sport on a dwell stream, and when the announcers mentioned she was the perfect libero participant, I cried,” mentioned Robert. “I used to be simply so comfortable and pleased with her.”
Winnie believes her daughter is the primary half-Chinese language American to be a member of the U.S. girls’s volleyball group.
Although it is unlucky no followers might be in attendance in Tokyo, Wong-Orantes mentioned she is aware of her household is rooting for her and her teammates.
After coaching camp in Anaheim, the No. 1 ranked girls’s volleyball group on this planet is heading to Tokyo on a mission to seize that elusive gold medal. Their first sport is Saturday, July 24, towards Argentina.
“This might be the primary gold medal in this system,” mentioned Wong-Orantes. “This might imply lots for everyone … A number of the women have been a part of this program for a very long time. We have been by way of lots in our careers, so it might be so rewarding and validating to win a gold medal.”