Blugold volleyball heading to UW-Whitewater for shot at championship hardware

Eau Claire volleyball receives at-large bid for national championship tournament, plays opening round today

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Photo by Sam Martinez

Keagan Kinsella, Jenna Smits, Hannah Theisen and Talia Jaskulske await the serve against the Pointers.

Although they spent five days not knowing whether its season was over or not, the UW-Eau Claire volleyball team kept practicing like it was the regular season.

“I’ve always told the team, and I try to live this way, you need to control what you can,” head coach Kim Wudi said. “We couldn’t control if we would get in, but we could control our preparation.”

The practice and preparation has paid off as the team received one of 20 at-large bids to the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament.

Sophomore Kasey Schumacher said although the team did not know what would happen going forward, the coaches really helped push the team over the last week.

“It was a challenge,” Schumacher said. “(This last week) we really were able to come together as a team and mentally focus.”

The Blugolds are one of four teams from the WIAC that were selected to play in the tournament. Conference co-champions UW-Oshkosh did not receive an invitation after losing to both UW-Stevens Point and UW-La Crosse in the WIAC tournament.

Wudi said playing in a competitive conference like the WIAC has helped the team get better, especially in a year like this.

“This year was just an incredible year for our conference,” Wudi said. “Anybody could beat anybody.”

The Blugolds were selected to play Gustavus Adolphus College (Minn.) at 3 p.m. Thursday at UW-Whitewater.

The Golden Gusties have put together a strong season. After losing their first two matches the team has been undefeated, compiling a record of 25-2.

Wudi said her team matches up well against the Golden Gusties. Like the Blugolds, they are balanced offensively, but the Gustavus may be a little taller at the net.

However, the Blugolds are used to playing taller teams, Wudi said. The key to the game will be reducing errors.

“The team that doesn’t beat themselves is going to win,” Wudi said.

The Blugolds go into the match with a much longer rest period than the Golden Gusties. The Blugolds have gone eight days without playing a match.

Wudi said the team has been using this time to get healthy, since they are beat up after a long season. She also said that having a long rest period can be positive for a team mentally.

As someone who has both played and coached in the national tournament, Wudi said that it is special because it is something teams earn.

Although the tournament is about winning, Wudi said it is also about the team having the best time possible with each other.

“We do a lot of fun, team-building things throughout the weekend,” Wudi said. “We keep it light, but we also keep the focus on winning.

There are 64 teams competing for the national title, and the team that can win six tournament matches will be crowned as champions.

There are eight regional brackets in the tournament, each consisting of eight teams. The Blugolds are playing in the Whitewater regional, a bracket that includes WIAC tournament champions UW-Whitewater.

If the Blugolds win their first match, they will face the winner of a match between Hope College (Mich.) and Bethel University (Minn.).

The Blugolds first match will start at 3 p.m. on Thursday, and a link to a live stream can be found on the Blugolds website.