Photo caption: Junior Blugold Tyra Boettcher, No. 22, is currently averaging 13.6 points per game, second-highest on the team and No. 6 in the WIAC. The Blugolds, ranked No. 18 nationally and No. 2 in the WIAC, play Saturday, Jan. 22 against UW-Whitewater, No. 6 in the nation and No. 1 in the WIAC.
This spring semester, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s women’s basketball team has six transfer athletes on its roster, an unusually high number for any program.
Head coach Tonja Englund says that number is in part a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are many reasons why students decide to make that move,” Englund says. “But I think a major factor, especially during COVID, has been the opportunity to be closer to home during these times, and for family to be able to see them play.”
Whatever the reason, Englund knows exactly how student-athletes feel making that transition. During her junior year of college basketball, Englund transferred from an NCAA Division I school to the University of St. Thomas, then a Division III school.
“Wow, that was 30 years ago this spring,” Englund says. “I was doing great at the D-I level, was an all-conference player, but I got to a point where having my family close enough to be part of it became more important for me.”
Back in Minnesota with her family in the stands, Englund helped St. Thomas go on to win the Division III national championship in her first season with the team, an outcome she says was both joyful and affirming.
“Having my family take part in that was so special. For me, the level of play or division wasn’t as important as sharing my experience with the people most important to me,” Englund says. “That’s why I’ve spent 22 years as a coach creating a family-oriented program. It was what made me a happier player the second time around, joining a program where families were involved.”
Setting the stage for successful transfers
One of the players who transferred to UW-Eau Claire is junior Tyra Boettcher, a health and physical education major from Menomonie who joined the Blugold roster as a guard during spring semester last year.
“I knew I wanted to play in the WIAC conference, and I toured a few schools, but after my visit here and my talk with the team, I knew I had found the place that was right for me,” Boettcher says. “Plus, the program in my major is excellent here.”
Joining a team mid-season can pose addition challenges, but Boettcher says that for a few reasons, the transition for her and her new teammates went smoothly.
“Because COVID had delayed the start of the winter sports seasons, coming in mid-semester looked different than it would in a typical season,” Boettcher says. “No games had started yet. Although I had only a couple weeks to learn the playbook, I had so much support from the players and coaching staff, and was where I needed to be by the start of games.”
Englund says that bringing in new players always has been a smooth process on her teams because her players have been equally committed to excellence as a team.
“Tyra came at a crazy time during the pandemic. So much was up in the air. We were playing in McPhee, half the season had been canceled, and she just made it very clear that she was ready to work. She wanted to be part of something special,” Englund says. “All of our players were all about having someone come into our family who was going to make us better."
While last year Boettcher was focused on fitting in and gaining team respect, this season she is a co-captain and consistently a high scorer.
“This year my role has progressed to leading the team,” she says.
It’s all in the family
At UW-Eau Claire, both the academic and women’s basketball reputations have been attracting quite a few transfer students looking for that “second time around” playing the game they love in a place that is a better fit.
The five other players on the 2021-22 roster who joined the team as transfers are:
- Kylie Mogen, a sophomore graphic arts major from Menomonie.
- Madison Lindauer, a junior neuroscience major from Tomah.
- Courtney Crouch, a junior physical therapy pre-professional student from White Bear Lake, Minnesota.
- Bailey Reardon, a junior language arts teaching major from River Falls.
- Brianna Nelson, a sophomore Spanish major from Augusta.
These transfer players and their families are all immersed in that family-oriented culture Englund speaks of, and are thriving academically and athletically thanks to support systems carefully put in place for them.
One direct way that Englund has built community around her players was to establish the “Fast Break Club” booster and fundraising organization, currently 175 members strong. Run by Englund, this player family and fan organization takes road trips to games, holds post-game receptions in Davies Center and waits on the court for players after each home game.
“Every player on my team has someone waiting for them after the game, if not family, it’s a faculty member, community member or alumnus — that is really important to me,” Englund says. “Our fans have all gotten to know all the players and each other through Fast Break. It’s super special and it is one more layer in how we build up these Blugolds.”
“I’ve had many really tremendous athletes transfer into this program over the years, just incredible players and students,” Englund says. “Between our program and all that the university has to offer, they land on their feet. We have such standout academic programs, such strong community support for our athletes — the students really feel that love. We have crowds at our games, which isn’t common in any level of women’s play right now. We have 100 students in the band and little girls wanting to meet our players after games. It all creates an atmosphere that allows players considering a transfer to make decisions based on what’s really important to them.”
When asked what she might say to another student player thinking of transferring schools, for whatever reason, Boettcher had a response that echoes Englund’s hopes for her program and UW-Eau Claire in general.
“I was told once in high school, to look at it this way: If you suddenly didn’t have basketball, are you where you want to be?” Boettcher recalls. “This time around I know the answer to that question is yes.”