The University of Northern Colorado hosted its annual volleyball camp this weekend, giving high school teams a chance to get back on the floor and potentially impress the coaching staff.

UNC calls it a camp, but head coach Lyndsey Oates said it’s really just a three-day tournament where teams from Colorado and nearby states can compete against schools they might not otherwise face. UNC coaches don’t provide instruction like they do at individual skills camps.

“I’ve had so many coaches thank us for hosting,” Oates said. “They’re just excited to be back in the gym, without masks, playing normal volleyball. The spring wasn’t (normal), so summer has been our first opportunity to have a chance at normalcy.”

UNC was unable to host the camp last year due to COVID-19. This year, the numbers are down a little but not much. Oates said 122 teams from five states are participating — they’ve averaged about 160 teams from eight states in the past — with roughly 500 players and coaches staying in the campus dorms.

Longtime Weldon Valley coach Jerry Spooner said his team, from the Fort Morgan area, has attended the camp every year. His tenure dates back to before Oates was hired at UNC and before the camp was hosted in Greeley.

It’s a relief to be back this year. The team’s goal for this year was to knock off some of the rust and just get back to playing the sport.

“Things are back to normal, and normal is fantastic,” Spooner said. “Nobody knew how good it was until they took it away, so the kids are having fun again.”

Weldon Valley competes on the 1A level and has earned two state titles; its most recent came in 2012. The UNC team camp gives the team an opportunity to face bigger, tougher opponents, in hopes of another title.

Spooner said every year they leave UNC, the players are better and more prepared for the season. He expects the same this year.

“When I see my kids go to a level they’ve haven’t been before, I get those little goose bumps of adrenaline. I got those today,” Spooner said. “We’re young and starting over, and you always kind of wonder, ‘Do we stink?’ But I think I see (the potential) again for my group.”

Not only is the camp good for the teams participating, it’s beneficial for UNC.

First, Oates’ assistants are tasked with most of the logistics with camps. Their contracts provide a base salary but successful camps give them a bonus.

The UNC staff also gets an up-close look at potential recruits. Oates and her assistants can watch players for three days and evaluate how they would do with the Bears.

The coaches will watch players during their high school and club regular seasons, but they can see how players respond to their different opponents and situations. Plus, they’re all in one place.

“We get to see a lot of kids on our campus,” Oates said. “It’s great for the area teams to get good competition right in their backyard, so we have a lot of the local schools playing in this tournament.”

Junior Makenzie Harris from Eaton received a scholarship offer after Oates watched her one summer. The staff had followed Harris’ career, but it wasn’t until one team camp that Oates decided she would make a good addition to the roster.

Senior Kyndall Feather from Sterling attended the camp all four years of high school, too.

The camp wrapped up on Saturday with most schools expected to begin their seasons in a little more than a month.

“It’s nice to have a college with their reputation to get us in here,” Spooner said. “Sometimes they don’t get thanked enough. I hope they know that when we didn’t have it, we missed it.”

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