Paula Wohnhas was a killer...a volleyball killer. In 1988 she scored 574 kills, a Drury record. In one game that season she pounded 31 balls into the opponent's side of the court, another record.
Paula Wohnhas was a digger. She rescued the ball 2,027 times in her career-second on the all-time NAIA list.
Paula Wohnhas was a leader. During her career, Drury's volleyball team posted new records for the most wins in a season (47, in 1987), most points scored in a game (20), most games won in a row (13, in Sept. 1987) and most consecutive home wins (12). She was the first Drury volleyball player ever to be named to an NAIA All-American Team, in 1988. She is the only player to earn All-District First Team honors three times. Her coach at Drury, Barbara Cowherd, says, "for those who had the opportunity to watch Paula compete at Drury it was an unforgettable experience. No one has been as dominant as Paula in all the different categories." Athletic Director Bruce Harger, PhD, simply says, "she was the best."
Now, Paula Wohnhas is a coach. Or, as she'd more likely put it, a teacher. "As a volleyball player, I knew I wouldn't compete after graduation," she says. Instead, Wohnhas-Wiedemann (she married in 1994) decided to take what she'd learned at Drury and share it. In November she finished her fourth season as assistant to Trish Knight at Southwest Missouri State University-West Plains, where a nationally-ranked volleyball squad is the only varsity sport open to women.
Coaching draws upon all the skills Wohnhas-Wiedemann picked up at Drury. Most obvious is her volleyball ability, honed on the court at Weiser Gym. Equally important is what she learned in the classrooms of Pearsons and Burnham and Lay, and how she learned to keep academic balls in the air as well as volleyballs. When she arrived at Drury, Wohnhas-Wiedemann says, "I really didn't know what I wanted to do. I thought that I wanted to get into accounting." But then the challenge became making it through the year. "I needed a lot of help my first year," she recalls, "I didn't balance things very well."
In her sophomore year, she coached club volleyball and everything started to click: "I realized I really liked this." As her career goals materialized, academic success became more important. By the time she took classes with Harger, she knew a physical education major was what she wanted. "Harger- he was my mentor," she remembers fondly. "I thrived in the classes he taught." And Harger's scholarship also helped her realize there was more to "phys-ed" than the gym. "He has directed many studies, done research, and that made it more interesting. All of a sudden it was like, 'Wow, I get this!'" Academic mentoring came from her teammates also: Ruth Norton "was a very strong academic influence, whether she knows it or not. I respected her for what she did academically. Her influence helped me-I strived to become a better student."
After graduation, Wohnhas-Wiedemann decided to take a year off before returning to Drury for a master of education. With a second degree in hand, she spent three years as head volleyball coach and a faculty member at East Central College in Union, Mo. She and her husband Warren, a corporal in the Missouri State Highway Patrol, moved back to Springfield, where she taught a couple of classes at Drury. Then it was time to take a chance. "I met Trish Knight in 1987 and we've had a long friendship," she says. In 1996, she heard that Knight needed an assistant at SMS-West Plains. Even though her husband was still assigned to Springfield, she couldn't pass up the opportunity. "We talked about it and decided to try and see if it would work," she says. Her husband transferred to West Plains eight months later, and everything clicked again. Wohnhas-Wiedemann joined one of the nation's best volleyball programs; the team finished this year's season ranked seventh in the nation.
"I'm in a unique situation down here," she realizes. "The fact that I am hired as a full-time coach and have teaching as part of my contract is unusual." Her intellectual curiosity is exercised during a "University Life" course that introduces students to college; that course helps keep her "in touch," she says. Wohnhas-Wiedemann's affinity for a mixture of athletics and academics was born at Drury; her years on Drury's campus have let her live her goals. "Drury to me was a place that I grew. Besides as a student, I just grew up as a person."