Sportswoman of the Year Award

2021 Sportswoman of the Year – Team Award Recipient

Jordan Larson

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

When the U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team won their first Olympic gold medal at the Tokyo Games, Jordan Larson was the one to score the winning point. When her kill made contact with the court, Larson collapsed to the floor in pure joy and was embraced by her teammates. Larson, who has been team captain since 2017, had finally achieved her dream of being an Olympic gold medalist. The U.S. women swept Brazil, who had never lost an Olympic final before, 3-0 (25-21, 25-20, 25-14). Larson’s incredible performance, including being named both Olympic Most Valuable Player and best outside hitter of this historic team, is why she is this year’s WSF Team Sportswoman of the Year Award winner. 

Larson is one of the premier all-around players in her sport. She has an exceptionally high IQ on the court which has easily earned the respect of teammates and competitors alike. The past year has been especially momentous for Larson, adding gold medals and championship titles to her impressive list of accolades. With the inaugural season of the Athlete Unlimited volleyball league in February of 2021, Larson was finally able to play professionally in the United States for the first time. Larson was not only the first player to sign with the new league, she was the inaugural season’s champion after earning 4,569 points over the five-week-long season. In June, Larson won her first gold medal of the year in the 2021 FIVB Volleyball Women’s Nations League finals. The U.S. women’s team beat the Brazilian squad 3-1 (26–28, 25–23, 25–23, 25–21) to claim the gold. And just a few months earlier, in 2020, Larson became one of the youngest members to be inducted into the University of Nebraska Hall of Fame. While she was a Husker, Larson won a national championship in 2006, and in 2008 she became the first woman in Big 12 history to be named the league’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. 

Now a three-time Olympian, winning silver and bronze medals in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, Larson has played professionally in Puerto Rico, Russia, Turkey, China and the United States. To sustain her on this inspiring journey, she treasures every challenge along the way and proudly wears the “Play For Kae” tattoo on her left wrist in memory of her mom, who lost her fight to breast cancer in 2009. 

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2021 Sportswoman of the Year Award – Individual Recipient

Allyson Felix

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

World record holder, 11-time Olympic medalist, 18-time World Championship medalist over the course of her two-decades-long career, a historic performance at the 2020 Tokyo Games. Allyson Felix is a powerhouse, and this year’s WSF Individual Sportswoman of the Year Award winner.

In Tokyo, Felix earned a bronze medal in the 400-meter race — her first Olympic event since giving birth to her daughter, Camryn, in 2018 — breaking her own 400-meter W 35 (women athletes between the ages of 35–39) masters athletic record in the process. She followed up that strong performance by helping the U.S. women’s 4×400-meter relay team win the gold medal the following day with the fifth-fastest time in the event’s history. Since she stated prior to the 2020 Olympic Games her intention to retire before the 2024 Games, winning gold in her final Olympic race was especially meaningful for Felix, as it moved her ahead of Carl Lewis to become the most decorated American track & field Olympian in history.

At this stage of her career, Felix also has found passions off the track, which she believes are her true calling. She is driven by all of her experiences — as athlete, mom and social justice advocate — to use her voice to create change for mom-athletes and all women who are striving to successfully combine their professional careers and motherhood. Earlier this year she launched her own footwear company, Saysh, designed for and by women, which she wore during her historic Tokyo performance. Through her advocacy and increasing awareness of the challenges mom-athletes face in sport, Felix helped inspire the Power of She: Child Care Grant, a new program launched in partnership with Athleta and the Women’s Sports Foundation to help support mom-athletes and allow them to compete without barriers. Additionally, Felix serves on the board of Right To Play, raising awareness for underserved children in developing regions, as well as &Mother, which envisions “a culture where motherhood is not a limiting factor in how women succeed professionally or personally.” 

Having accomplished so much through sport, Felix says that her true, greatest achievement and greatest love is her daughter, who reminds her every day that she can never stop fighting for what is right in this world. She continues to strive for greatness in all areas, demonstrating that we all can achieve things we have never even dreamed of.

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The Golden Goalie: Meet Olympic Hockey Star and 2018 Team Sportswoman of the Year Maddie Rooney

When Maddie Rooney headed to the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, she was a relatively unknown 20-year-old hockey goalie. By the time the Winter Games ended, the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) Bulldogs star had become a household name.

Rooney made the iconic, deciding save in the gold-medal shootout versus four-time defending champion Canada. It came against 2010 Olympic MVP Meghan Agosta. It was the first Olympic women’s hockey gold medal for America since the inaugural 1998 tournament in Nagano, Japan.

This Andover, Minnesota native is just getting started. Rooney was honored as WSF’s Team Sportswoman of the Year at the 39th Annual Salute to Women in Sports awards gala  on October 17 in New York. We caught up with her at the 2018 Four Nations Cup in Saskatoon, Canada, where the U.S. earned its fourth straight title with a 5-2 win over the host Canadians on November 10.

WSF: What did it mean to receive the Team Sportswoman of the Year Award from the Women’s Sports Foundation?

Maddie: Just to be nominated for that meant so much to me. I was up against so many incredible athletes, and to go to the event was a super-humbling experience, with all those elite athletes coming together. We worked with young girls there the day before the event. To hear Billie Jean King speak both early in the day and at the event, it was so cool to be part of.

WSF: How has the Olympic gold medal changed your life?

Maddie: I guess I never really saw myself being on Jimmy Fallon or Ellen or all those crazy things we experienced! But again, it’s just been so humbling. Now, with the start of a new Olympic quadrennial, it’s about getting focused on the team again.

WSF: WSF strongly advocates for scholarships for female athletes. How has your UMD scholarship affected your ability to excel?

Maddie: Getting a scholarship has changed my life and given me the opportunity to play for Team USA. It’s given me so many life lessons, like time management and communication, that I can carry with me throughout my life, not just in the game of hockey, but outside as well.

WSF: What can you say about the importance of girls participating in sports for health, confidence, and leadership ability?

Maddie: When I was young, I participated in many different sports. That was huge for me to develop those skills and get involved with the community. I met some of my best friends. I think that’s just part of the development. It helps you be the best version of yourself.

WSF: Team USA has other top-notch goalies, including Alex Rigsby, who helped the U.S. win the 2015 and 2016 World Championship gold medal games, and Nicole Hensley, who won the 2017 World Championship final. What kind of relationship do you have with them?

Maddie: It’s all based on support of each other, and you’ve got to have fun with each other. You obviously compete too, but we’re all working for the same goal.

It’s given me so many life lessons, like time management and communication, that I can carry with me throughout my life, not just in the game of hockey, but outside as well.

WSF: In 2017, your national team famously announced it would boycott the Women’s Worlds in Plymouth, Michigan unless it received equitable treatment from USA Hockey. Ultimately, a deal was struck. What was that like?

Maddie: I was new to the team, and being told that we were looking at sitting out the tournament wasn’t ideal. But it was really powerful that we all stood together. I was proud to be part of that team. What we accomplished set a baseline for women’s hockey and women’s sports in general.

WSF: How optimistic are you that women’s hockey players will soon get the opportunity to earn a living in a unified top pro league?

Maddie: I think it’s really going to develop within the next two years, and I’m excited to see what opportunities I have once I graduate. It’s great to see how far it’s come.

Lucas Aykroyd is a member of the WSF Digital Contributor Team. His work has appeared in publications that include the New York Times.