Olympic Size Ambition

From the time she was a child, Sue Woodstra wanted to play softball in the Olympics.

Twenty years ago, Woodstra started her volleyball career at Colton High School, but she never imagined that she would receive a silver medal at the 1984 Olympics playing volleyball.

The former Colton resident is now the head coach for the women’s volleyball team at Humboldt State University in Arcata, where she dedicates her time to helping young athletes achieve their goals.

Woodstra was born and raised in Colton where she played softball for 10 years. She entered Colton High School in 1970, where she was heavily involved in sports including basketball, field hockey, softball and volleyball. Her sophomore year at Colton High, Woodstra joined the volleyball team.

The volleyball coach at Colton High School at the time was Leslye Williams, a San Bernardino and Oceanside resident, who just recently retired from her post as the athletic director and physical education instructor at San Bernardino Valley College.

“Everybody remembers her,” Williams said of Woodstra. “She was a complete athlete, she probably could have gone to the Olympics in any sport that she chose.”

Woodstra played for her high school until her junior year when she attended a CIF tournament. At the tournament, a recruiter encouraged her to try out for the first USA Junior National Team, a junior version of the USA National Team which would provide intensive year-round training.

“For USA volleyball to become very strong we needed to train year round as all the top teams did,” Woodstra said.

It was in November of her junior year that Woodstra began intensively training six days a week all over Southern California, mostly in the Los Angeles area.

It was the beginning of a five year period that would include long commutes and many multiple-hour practices.

“The schedule was difficult and the training was very intense,” Woodstra said.

Woodstra says she was reluctant to even try out but it was one athletic thing that her parents made sure she did.

“I went and I made it,” Woodstra said. “We started practicing and within the first week I was absolutely hooked.”

She never expected that she would dedicate her life to volleyball.

“I’d always been athletic when I was growing up,” Woodstra said. “I always thought I’d play softball in the Olympics.”

But back then, there wasn’t a softball event in the Olympics.

After graduating from Colton High, Woodstra continued practicing for the junior national team coached by Chuck Erbe, and attended San Bernardino Valley College for a year before receiving a scholarship to USC, where she played on the volleyball team. The eight members of the USC team were members of the junior national team and coach Erbe became the volleyball coach at the university.

As she took about 12 units that semester, the team would practice at USC and then drive to the junior national team practice afterward.

The volleyball team at USC went undefeated and they won the national championship in 1977.

After attending USC for just a semester, Woodstra joined the U.S. National Team and moved to Colorado Springs where they trained with to compete in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

After three years of intensive training, the U.S. National Team qualified to participate in the 1980 Olympics. But they qualified during the Cold War and then-President Jimmy Carter called for the U.S. team to boycott the Moscow Olympics.

“Once the boycott happened, half of the group retired, and the other half of us decided to continue,” Woodstra said.

The new team continued to train for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. When they finally had their opportunity to compete in the Olympics, they placed second after China, who won the gold.

“It was an incredible experience,” Woodstra said. “It was a lot of fun, and an amazing experience.”

Woodstra said there were some conflicting emotions at the time. Some of her best friends on the 1980 team had retired after the boycott and made the realization how close they were when they watched the national team win silver medals from the sidelines.

“It was really hard, my heart was going from one side to another, from enjoying this incredible experience to wishing they were on the court,” Woodstra said. “It was a little bit bittersweet.”

At the age of 27, Woodstra retired from the national team. She continued to play professionally for the NEC Volleyball Team in the Japan league for four years, and in the off season worked as an assistant volleyball coach at Arizona State University.

In 1988, she decided to stop playing the sport and dedicate her time to coaching volleyball at the collegiate level.

She coached volleyball at the University of Pittsburg for four years, in Germany for one year, and UC Berkeley for four years. She spent three years working as an assistant coach at Florida State University while she worked to complete her undergraduate degree in sports management, which she received in 2001.

“It’s very difficult to stop and go back,” Woodstra said about finishing her degree. “I wouldn’t go any differently from the experience I had but at the same time, I encourage my athletes who came to college on a scholarship to take advantage it and accomplish something.”

After graduating, she began coaching at Humboldt State, where she has been for four years.

Her ultimate goal was and still is to go back and coach the national team.

Her memories of her years at Colton High and the support she received from her coach there are positive ones, and that sentiment is shared by her first coach, Williams.

“She was always very gracious about where she came from and what she wanted to do,” Williams said. “But was willing to work hard and make a lot of sacrifices to get to that level as well.”

Woodstra now the same support for the athletes she coaches. “Winning is great, winning is fun, it’s something that’s American,” Woodstra said. “But I like working in the college atmosphere because it is a very special time in people’s lives and I really enjoy being a part of that and seeing people grow up and figure out what they think and what they believe.’‘

She wants to bring her division-two volleyball team to to win a national championship, but most importantly for all of her athletes to graduate.

“I want my athletes to learn about how to be productive members of the community,” Woodstra said.

Woodstra now lives in a small community called Freshwater in the Arcata area which she says is absolutely beautiful.

“There’s a very much a community feel, there may be a 100 or so homes in the forest surrounding where I live,” Woodstra said.

Despite being away from the city in which she was raised, Woodstra is anxious to return to Colton and see how it has changed.

“Humboldt State will play in San Bernardino every year now,” Woodstra said. “I haven’t been back in that area for a long, long time, so there will be a lot of memories.”