Thole excels after attitude adjustment

By Gus Bode

Laura Thole could barely see the court her first two years, but she had more on her mind at the time than just volleyball.

“My freshman and sophomore years I wasn’t very confident and it just dragged me down,” Thole said. “You could be the best player out there, but if you have a bad mindset, you can be the worst player.”

Thole, a junior from Breese studying speech communication, said she had a hard time adjusting to college life without her parents there to reinforce academics. After earning three all-tournament honors in her first season as a full-time starter, Thole said she’s back on the right track.


Laura Thole, a junior from St. Rose studying speech communications, works on drills Wednesday at Davies Hall. Thole, an outside hitter for the SIU women’s volleyball team, has won all-tournament honors in three tournaments this season. The team will play Drake at the SIU Arena Friday. – Brooke Grace | Daily Egyptian

“In high school I got all A’s and B’s, then I got my first C in college and I was distraught about it,” Thole said. “My parents were big deal to me in high school but obviously they had no control over here, so I just did whatever and thought I could get by, and I didn’t always get by.”

Head coach Brenda Winkeler said Thole’s grades weren’t that big of a deal to the coaching staff, but she noticed Thole struggled with the transition to college life.

“The hardest thing she had to overcome was (being from a small town). We both came from towns with 500 people, her’s was a little bigger,” Winkeler said. “It’s a culture shock, it’s different walking in to an arena where up to 3000 people are watching you.”

Thole also had to play behind former two-time All-MVC outside hitter Jennifer Berwanger, so Winkeler had to move Thole around to several positions to get her playing time.

“We got her in a comfortable position. She went through libero, left-side hitter, and we kind of bounced her around since we had Berwanger out there,” Winkeler said.

Thole had a position battle with Saluki graduate Sydney Clark for the other outside hitter position last season, but Clark saw more playing time while Thole moved around different positions.


“I wanted to beat out Sydney so bad, and I would have done anything. I would have bulldozed (Davies Gymnasium) if I had to, but it didn’t happen,” Thole said. “I think today, that is a reason I am as good as I am because Sydney pushed me that hard.”

That versatility has worked out well for the Salukis, as Thole leads the team in kills with 131 and is second on the team in digs with 120 this season.

“You don’t see many players like her anymore, she is a six-rotation player and can play the front and the back,” Winkeler said.

Her teammates are well aware of the skills that Thole can bring to the floor.

“She can move around, hit different shots, and she can block, pass, and get a kill for us,” junior setter Rachael Brown said Sept. 10 after their match against Memphis. “I think she’s the go-to hitter right now.”

First year assistant coach Peter Chang has worked with Thole a lot this season and said he’s noticed a change.

“Before I came here, I heard from different people that she had been a role player, but she was really competitive in high school,” Chang said. “I know she had that in herself, she just had to gain it back.”

Chang singled out Thole’s performance against Bradley Saturday as an example of how far she’s come. Chang said Thole was able to identify her poor offensive performance, and she recovered defensively to record 22 digs and played a role in helping sophomore Elly Braaten get her first career double-double despite losing to Bradley in five sets.

“You’re not going to have a perfect night every night, but you have to maximize what you can do with that situation,” Chang said. “Yes, if she had a good offensive night, it would’ve been nice. We certainly needed it. But at least she didn’t fold, and she did what she could do to help lead the team.”

Even though this season has started off with a lot of inconsistent play from Thole and her teammates, Thole said she feels that at least her own life is going steady.

“I think just being happier, doing things positively like eating well and going to class, just doing more positive things outside of the gym leads to more positive things inside the gym,” Thole said.