Local volleyball players from grades 7 through 12 got the opportunity to receive coaching from a former player and coach who’s seen a lot within the sport in the last 40 years.
Sue Woodstra, an Olympian and national champion, is visiting the Kenai Peninsula this week as part of the All American Volleyball Camps program and was at Soldotna and Skyview high schools on Wednesday and Thursday.
“These kids have a lot to learn and they’re working hard to learn,” Woodstra said while resting on the SoHi gym floor after a practice session. “I was very impressed with the eagerness, I feel like I can say a whole lot of things to them and they just try whatever I told them. That’s very rewarding as a coach.
“There’s a lot of potential players up here, and watching Anchorage and seeing how they’ve changed and grown the last few years, it goes to show you that there’s some kids that tend to be hidden gems.”
Woodstra has traveled to Anchorage and Fairbanks in past years, but Wednesday marked her first time on the Peninsula, which she said reminded her of Eureka — her hometown in Humboldt County in northern California.
“I live in an area that’s kind of remote, but I love the whole feel of it. Everyone knows each other,” she said.
The encouraging thing that both Woodstra and former SoHi coach Bruce King explained was that the camp brought out a good number of younger players in middle school — the future of schools like SoHi, Kenai Central, Nikiski and Skyview.
“There’s all kinds of levels and different levels across the country and the world, and it’s about figuring out what levels these kids are at here,” Woodstra said. “The hardest thing up here is being exposed to higher-level volleyball.
“I think that with the Internet, with the ability to be seen, it gives them more opportunities to be seen by coaches.”
King said that the $150 expense for three days at the camp really helps to cut down the much larger costs of traveling out of state for higher coaching and exposure.
On Wednesday, Woodstra was working with over 100 girls in two groups — middle-schoolers and upperclassmen high-schoolers at SoHi, while All American players Sherry Williams and Rese McNatt coached a third group at Skyview.
Woodstra was a part of the silver medal-winning women’s volleyball team at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, and said that experience was extraordinary, especially since the previous games in Moscow in 1980 were boycotted by the U.S.
“That ’80 team was very tightknit,” she said. “The ’84 team was too, but we still get together every few years. It was hard to believe we even got there, especially after boycotting the one before.”
The U.S. lost to China 3-0 in the final of those Olympics, after beating the Chinese 3-1 in group play.
Woodstra also led her team to the 1983 ZONE Championships, and played professionally in Japan from 1984 to 1988, and after her playing career took on coaching duties for Division I college teams.
Taryn McCubbins and Claire Kincaid, both juniors this fall at Soldotna, said working with a former great such as Woodstra helped them to form new ideas about volleyball and see it in a different light.
“It was really fun just getting to work with her because she knew how to change your approach or change your platform,” McCubbins said. “She didn’t say, ‘OK, do this and do that,’ she actually connected to us and it was really cool.”
“She definitely has a lot to teach us, and we’ve learned a lot,” Kincaid added. “She really pushes us, and even with the little time we’ve worked with her in this camp, we’ve learned a lot. She knew how to talk to us and it seemed like she really cared for us.
“Even though sometimes they’ve been saying the same thing, it’s interesting hearing it in a new perspective, like she’s saying it in a different way that makes you pay attention.”
As far as doing something “Alaskan” while she’s up here, Woodstra will partake in a fishing excursion that most coaches do when they visit the Kenai Peninsula with coach King — fishing for rainbows on the Kenai.
“I’m really excited about that, I think we have the ultimate guide,” she said.