A season ago, the UW-Eau Claire volleyball team was just finding its groove when the bubble burst.
“We had some injuries, (and) we were still changing our lineup the first half of the season,” Blugolds coach Kim Wudi said. “We were moving people around and I think … we kind of felt like we just ran out of time.”
Wudi said the Blugolds improved dramatically over the course of last season, beating the No. 1 team in the country and conference rival UW-Whitewater the last week of the season. The Blugolds finished 17-11 overall and 6-1 in the conference, losing only to UW-La Crosse.
This fall, UW-Eau Claire returns players at every position and also welcomes six newcomers to the gym who can also fill some important roles. Wudi said having that depth should help the Blugolds accentuate their strengths early on and not fall behind, like they possibly did the last couple of seasons.
“The last two seasons, we were right on the cusp of being an elite team in the conference and in Division III,” she said. “And so we really want to take another step forward ... (and be) more consistent in terms of executing when we need to be at our best and winning the matches that the last two seasons we let slip away.”
One of the team’s major goals is to finish at the top of the conference and earn an NCAA tournament bid, which the Blugolds last did in 2015. Wudi said the team wants to not only make the tournament but also “make a long run” once they get there.
Wudi said she is excited to see the determination of returning players and said that her team knows they cannot wait half of the season to build a game plan.
“The thing that we are working on the most is scoring more points,” she said. “It sounds really simple, but in volleyball it’s such a game of mistakes sometimes that sometimes you rely on the other team to score your points for you because they’re making errors.”
In practice the Blugolds have been focusing their attention on blocking, hitting the ball more often and being more aggressive from the service line. These elements will make the Blugolds more competitive, but Wudi said the biggest battle is still on their side of the net.
“Our biggest competition will be ourselves,” she said. “I know it may sound cliché, but everybody we’re playing this year is strong. The biggest test for us is being able to not beat ourselves and not let our errors get in our head. We just need to be really resilient.”
Another challenge for the Blugolds is having only eight scheduled matches at home. Wudi said the Blugolds are embracing the “road warrior” mentality.
“We’re not going to play postseason necessarily at home, so we need to make sure that we are ready to play in whatever venue wherever we go no matter however long the bus ride is,” she said. “We need to be ready to go and not make excuses.”
So far so good on that front. UW-Eau Claire opened its season Saturday and Sunday at a tournament in New Jersey with a 4-0 start. The Blugolds didn’t drop a set in dispatching Western New England, Vassar, Kean and Rivier.
Sophomore defensive specialist Taylor Scalia was named the tournament MVP with 54 digs and nine aces on the weekend. Senior setter Madison Surprise was also an all-tournament team pick with 148 assists, 26 digs and four aces.