CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Current Illini volunteer assistant Jen Tamas knows just what it’s like to play on the Olympic stage. The California native and former volleyball pro and Olympian won a silver medal with Team USA in 2008 when they lost to Brazil in the final set. Now, the middle blocker got a chance to see the red, white, and blue take home gold for the first time in history.

“To have a group that young, that raw, break the Brazilian curse, it’s so special and it’s a group of women that we are so deeply connected to.”

Team USA had been to the finals three times before 2021, where they lost to Brazil twice in back-to-back games. This time, USA defeated Brazil in three sets (25-21, 20-20, 25-14) with the three former Illini leading the team to the top of the podium. Jordyn Poulter, Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, and assistant coach Erin Virtue were all a part of the historic finish at the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

“The Illini have a major part to do with why we have the gold,” says Tamas. “They really wanted one another to do well, it was a team effort, not a bunch of all-stars. So I think that was something that spoke to all of the Olympians, and anyone that’s worn the flag before, I think it was the truest essence of a team, that I’ve ever seen.”