The University of Wisconsin volleyball program is expanding its recruiting footprint.
On the heels of receiving a commitment from 6-foot-8 Canadian middle blocker Anna Smrek, the Badgers landed their first recruit from Utah, Lauren Jardine, a 6-1½ outside hitter from Pleasant Grove, just south of Salt Lake City.
Jardine’s game has taken a big step up over the last year and so has her recruiting profile, as numerous top level programs joined the pursuit as her game took off during the spring club season.
Among those, obviously, was UW coach Kelly Sheffield, who told Jardine he couldn’t believe how much she improved.
“When I talked to Kelly he said he thought I was someone else from last year,” Jardine said. “He thought I had a twin who got a lot better at volleyball. I had improved so much that he didn’t even think I was the same player.”
Andrew Richards, Jardine’s coach at Club V volleyball club, said that her rapid improvement opened the door to so many good opportunities that have expanded her horizons.
“She’s a kid that I don’t want to say doesn’t fit in here in Utah, but her mindset I think is on a different level than a lot of athletes that we see here,” Richards said. “We’ve only had a few kids that have left the state that aspired to be international athletes and I think she will be one of those that takes her game to the next level even beyond college. She sees Wisconsin as a place where she can do that.
“I think Coach Sheffield kind of snuck one out of the Rocky Mountains and I think she’s going to be a really good asset for them for three or four years. I’m real excited to see how she’s going to progress. I have no idea how high this kid is going to get. I just think she’s going to be a stud once college comes around.”
Jardine first became aware of UW’s interest about two months ago, and she quickly started brushing up on the Badgers just as they were studying her.
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“I’ve done a ton of research,” she said. “I watched film on YouTube, I talked to people from Wisconsin to learn more about it, I asked questions of Coach Kelly and I talked to my coaches about it and how they felt. I did a lot of homework on the school and the volleyball program.”
Jardine said Sheffield compared her work ethic to that of another Lauren — Carlini — and that he sees her as a potential six-rotation outside with the Badgers.
“There are a few things I need to tweak before I can become that,” said Jardine, who touches as high as 10-3. “But I jump very well, I’m an explosive hitter and I’m able to move the ball around. I’m really motivated to get better and I work really hard in practice and get reps up outside of practice and on days when there’s not practice.”
Although she was limited to playing the front row last season at Pleasant Grove High School, Jardine has worked on her all-around skills in club and Richards doesn’t see any reason why she won’t be able to handle that role in college.
“A 6-2 kid who can jump out of the gym with a heavy arm I think is worth investing a little time into,” he said. “She flies. She has great power behind the ball. Her touch on the ball as far as serve receive and her balanced contact was very inconsistent and I think that may have scared some people, but we’ve been able to really click on things.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if more and more people start talking about this kid over the next couple years as she starts to really progress into who she is going to be. We’ve seen great growth, great maturity, a ton of growth in her physical skill set. It’s been pretty cool, pretty fun to be part of her journey.”
Jardine comes from an athletic family. Her dad, Richard, who is 6-foot-8, played basketball at Utah State; her mom, Paula, played volleyball and basketball at Dixie State; and her sister Jessica was an outside hitter at BYU from 2010-13.
But she said she felt no pressure to either play basketball, even though her mom coached the team, or follow her sister’s route to nearby BYU, a powerhouse program that advanced to the final four last season.
“My sister and I are 11 years apart and I thought about whether I should follow in her footsteps,” Jardine said. “But I thought that Wisconsin was a better fit. I feel like it’s the right place for me.”