Competing close to home

Kasey Schumacher has found a new home in Eau Claire

More stories from Sam Martinez

Kasey Schumacher said she couldn’t help but be a little nervous trying out for the UW-Eau Claire volleyball team this fall.

She had just transferred from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, an NCAA Division I school, and said she did not know what to expect or if she would feel welcome.

It didn’t take long for that welcome to come.

“It was really moving,” Schumacher said. “To just come in here and have 20 girls welcome you like you’re one of them already within the first practice.”

In 2014, Schumacher’s family moved from Illinois to Chippewa Falls when her father was appointed Eau Claire’s athletic director. As a college student in Illinois, a drive home went from a 2 ½ hour ride to a 9 hour haul.

Schumacher said she is happy to be playing on a team that works as hard as the Blugolds, even though the players here are not “paid” with a scholarship.

“(My teammates) are really playing hard for the love of the game and it is inspiring,” Schumacher said. “It makes me want to play even harder and work even harder for them.”

Head coach Kim Wudi said that love for the sport is Division III in a nutshell, athletes are students first and are just given the opportunity to continue competing.

Schumacher now lives on campus, and coincidentally, her roommate is another former Division I athlete who transferred to Eau Claire.

Erin O’Toole, who plays on the basketball team, said that her transfer allowed her the chance to focus on academics in a way she couldn’t at her previous school, the University of North Dakota.

O’Toole, a social work major, said the mentality of school first, sports second is much clearer here than it was at her previous school.

“(At UND) if you want to do well in the sport, you have to choose a lesser major,” O’Toole said. “Here you can actually aspire to what you really want to be.”

Although she is a sophomore athletically, Schumacher is a junior academically. She is studying kinesiology and aspires to be a physician’s assistant.

Both of her parents work at the university, which Schumacher says is convenient when she needs to print anything for class.

Last Friday Schumacher was able to do something else for the first time ever: see her younger brother play football.

She has two younger brothers, one of whom is on the Chippewa Falls high school football team. Schumacher said that if they get the chance, she would encourage her siblings to play college sports.

“You join a team and you get 20 friends, just like that,” Schumacher said.

Apart from height, Schumacher said the differences in play between Division I and III aren’t always apparent, with matches remaining competitive on both levels.

Along with Division I experience, Wudi said that Schumacher brings a lot  of confidence that stretches from the volleyball court to team meetings.

She performs at a high level without having to psych herself up to do it,” Wudi said.

Although she said playing on a Division I team had its advantages, Schumacher is happy to be close to her family in Eau Claire.

She said that scholarships are an advantage, but ultimately there are other, more important factors in college.

“I think it’s about what’s going to make you happy,” Schumacher said. “That’s why I really chose Eau Claire, because it was going to be a better experience for me.”