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UW-Eau Claire volleyball camps are a full-circle moment for Blugolds

| Denise Olson

Photo caption: Several hundred high school students attended the All Skills Camp session of UW-Eau Claire's volleyball camp for players in grades 9-12.

Summer sports camps have become a staple of youth athletics. For five players on the fall 2023 Blugold women's volleyball roster and former camp attendees, coaching youth players throughout July was a chance to relive their own first exposures to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and the successful volleyball program they chose for their college sports careers. 

For sophomore Blugold outside hitter Hanne Johnson, the summer youth camps were a chance to comprehensively improve her game while getting a look at university programs that most interested her as a potential recruit. 

"I attended the College Prospect Camp here in 2019, the summer before my sophomore year in high school," Johnson says. "I wanted to be pushed to be a better volleyball player, so I sought out camps from a strong program. At the Blugold camp, I definitely got the high-level instruction and challenge I was looking for, but I also fell in love with the championship culture and the fun, growth-centered and competitive environment coach Wudi has established." 

Johnson admits that choosing UW-Eau Claire camps was not only based on research about various camps, but also on family history. Her mother, Deb Allaman-Johnson, was a Blugold volleyball player from 1986-89, and skill and passion for the game runs in the family. Allaman-Johnson is the varsity volleyball coach for Grantsburg High School in west-central Wisconsin. 

"I believe I am the first daughter of a former player to play on this team," says Johnson, who goes on to describe a lifelong connection to Blugold volleyball. 

"I had been around Blugold volleyball since I was little, whether it was tagging along to alumni events or going to games. I knew those connections with coaches and staff from my mother's playing days would be a comforting connection to have when making that transition to college."

Hanne Johnson Blugold volleyball player coaching at youth VB camp

Hanne Johnson, an integrated strategic communication major from Grantsburg, spent years helping her mother coach young players and says that during the UWEC camps, "The greatest thing is seeing things 'click' for a player working hard on a certain skill."

For Johnson's Blugold volleyball teammate Abigail Wherland, a setter and right-side hitter from Lakeville, Minnesota, attending camp for the first time came after her decision to play volleyball at UW-Eau Claire, but she says that attending provided her the chance to see more of the campus and to observe her new coaches and teammates in action. 

"Attending the camp definitely confirmed my decision to attend UWEC," Wherland says. "I was able to hang out on the beautiful summer campus while spending more extended time with the coaches and my future teammates. Coming to camp before my last year in high school helped me see the amazing Blugold family I was soon to join."

Wherland and Johnson agree that coaching young players in the camp setting is a way to give back to the game they love in a positive way while exercising some of their own growing leadership and communication skills.

"The best part of coaching these younger girls is watching their confidence grow," Wherland says. "I remember what it was like to be a young camper, and how much I looked up to the older players. I understand that coaching younger players provides an important opportunity to lead by example as we model the Blugold volleyball culture." 

While Johnson says she learned a lot watching her mother coach at the high school level, she sees the opportunity with the camp players to be extra special for a few reasons. 

"As a kid, I really looked up to the college players; I recognized that they had gone through a lot of training and work to get to that point. I had had aspirations of playing in college, so I admired them and their success," Johnson says. 

"I've always loved helping out younger players. I believe it makes me a better player to learn to break down and teach fundamentals, techniques and strategies of the game," she says. "It’s also so rewarding to help someone else grow as a player. I work hard to be a positive and encouraging coach, reinforcing good habits and creating meaningful connections." 

Blugold VB player Abigail Wherlund coaching youth at summer VB camp

Blugold sophomore Abigail Wherland says she committed to playing volleyball at UWEC before the NCAA Division III National Championship, but the title confirmed for her that Kim Wudi's program had been the right choice for another exciting reason.

Giving back to the community 

Johnson and Wherland are two of five current players on the fall Blugold team who attended Blugold camps prior to college. As summer camp coaches, they were joined by Blugold alumni volleyball players, as well as past campers who went on to play a different varsity sport or club sports at UW-Eau Claire. As head coach Kim Wudi points out, the endeavor of seven separate camp sessions brings an "all hands on deck" style turnout of the UWEC and area volleyball community.

"We hosted a total of 1,230 campers and had 22 different high school programs attend team camp," Wudi says. "We have several campers who have been coming to our camps since kindergarten or first grade, and many of their parents are also former campers. This year, we had 16 campers who are children of past Blugold volleyball players." 

"We employ approximately 70 coaches, many of whom are Blugold volleyball alumni, area varsity high school coaches, student-athletes on our women’s varsity team or players who compete on our men’s and women’s sport club teams," Wudi says.

"The Chippewa Valley is home to thriving youth and adult volleyball communities, and I think it’s important for campers to see coaches of all ages who continue to play the sport at many levels and styles throughout their lives, from doubles leagues, 3-on-3 or 4-on-4; from indoor to sand or grass courts. It's fun and fitness for life." 

See the 2023 women's volleyball schedule for the chance to watch the Blugolds in action on the court.