A Golden Program
there’s a reason why Blugold women’s basketball is so good
I have a tendency to be in the presence of successful girls’ and women’s basketball programs. Katrina Hannaford led the Old Abes to state during my freshman year at Memorial. The Luther College women’s team was always near the top of the Iowa Conference during my four years at Luther. Just in time for my return to Eau Claire, Tonja Englund took over the already top-notch UW-Eau Claire women’s basketball squad, continuing a tradition of quality established under previous coaches like Lisa Stone.
If there is one certainty in WIAC women’s basketball, it is the presence of the Blugolds near the top of the standings. In nine seasons, Englund’s Blugolds have posted multiple WIAC season and tournament championships, player honors totaling in double-digits, and undefeated conference seasons, plus an NCAA Division III Final Four appearance to boot. The folks are watching, considering UW-Eau Claire’s ranking near the top of Division III women’s basketball attendance.
The proceeding paragraph may have largely answered the question as to why Tonja Englund has become one of the top women’s coaches in the state – or nationwide, for that matter. What statistics do not tell is insight. Insight I gleaned from a recent interview conducted with the coach for my Sportsvue radio show. The answers reveal Englund’s impact on her players ... or should I say, her students.
One prominent anecdote involved her team’s emotional state upon the Blugolds’ upset road win in February over South Dakota, the day after a critical loss to UW-River Falls. It was a trip that ended with the players singing in the bus on the way home, and proved to be a memorable trip in total:
“For me, looking back on it, that probably was one of the best moments I’ve ever been a part of as a coach, because I saw a team in 24 hours go from lowest of low to highest of high, and that’s what sports does: it teaches life lessons. And for the players, they bounce back from something that ultimately was really tough and came together as a group and had a really, really special opportunity.