BOULDER, Colo. -
Colorado volleyball has lacked star power in recent years, but that isn't a problem this week in a series of summer youth camps hosted by new Buffs coach Liz Kritza.
Four current and former members of the U.S. Olympic team are working as guest coaches in Kritza's first year of camps in Boulder, including one day skills camps Tuesday and today and a high-performance training camp beginning Thursday.
The foursome includes three-time Olympians Robyn Ah-Mow Santos and Stacy Sykora as well as Nicole Davis and Ogonna Nnamani. All four competed with Team USA last summer in China at the 2008 summer games and brought home the silver medal.
So what brings such an impressive cast to Boulder this summer?
Kritza hired Tom Hogan in the spring to serve as an assistant coach in her program.
Hogan has been an assistant coach with the national team the past four years and is close with the players with whom he has worked, including the four on the courts in the Coors Events Center this week.
"It's a conscious effort to align our program with the top level," Kritza said. "We need to keep pointing out why we're different. We're competing against the best teams in country not just on the court, but recruiting-wise, too. We have to keep putting ourselves in position so people will say, 'Wait, what's going on at Colorado?'
"... Kudos to Tom. He's the one who was able to secure the commitments and bring them in."
Kritza and her coaches spent nearly eight hours working with campers on Tuesday with a similar schedule on tap today. There was still plenty of enthusiasm for autographs and tips from the Olympians by the time it ended.
Ah-Mow Santos brought her silver medal with her and allowed dozens of girls attending Tuesday's camp to examine it at the end of a hard afternoon on the court.
She and Nnamani addressed the campers at the end of the day and shared some of their personal stories of training for the games and encouragement for those who might want to follow in their shoes or play the sport in college.
Ah-Mow Santos asked one young girl to stand up. She noted that the youngster was shorter than average but said one of the best players on the Japanese national team is much shorter and plays at a world class level.
"You guys who are shorter, don't count yourselves out," she said.
Ah-Mow Santos said she attended one summer volleyball camp during her entire childhood in Hawaii and that happened before her senior year in high school. She said she was taught the very basics of the game at that camp and today's campers are learning at a much more advanced level.
"Hopefully the girls will take that into consideration and use it," she said.
Nnamani enjoyed a standout career at Stanford before her first Olympic experience last summer, and said her first trip to Boulder has reminded her of her alma mater. Nnamani played professionally in Turkey during the winter and is hoping to start medical school in the near future.
"Tom is awesome," she said. "I have so much respect for him. During USA volleyball, he really helped me and my game and took it to the next level. Any chance to work with him, I'll take it."
Kritza said overall camp numbers are down this year, despite the opportunity to learn from Olympians. Camp numbers generally fall for most programs during the summer after a coaching change.
Kritza said she hopes to add a team camp in the future, especially once the school funds and builds a practice facility for the volleyball and men's and women's basketball programs.
"We're making a statement that we're going to improve volleyball in the state," Kritza said. "For us to do that, it has to be an effort in volume. We need to teach as many kids as possible."