Laura Mueller is a working professional, a wife, and a mom, and holds the title of collegiate volleyball player. She has also given back to her community in Sumner County, Tennessee, with her donation to HYPE. Through donors like Laura, HYPE supports under-served youth in sports and extracurricular activities so they can learn the skills needed to succeed in high-level sports and in life.
Let’s learn more about Laura’s background and why HYPE is important to her.
Laura Mueller’s road to the Big Ten
Sumner County resident and HYPE donor, Laura (Haselhorst) Mueller, knows a thing or two about what it takes to be a female athlete in the NCAA. Originally from Aviston, Illinois, Haselhorst went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on full scholarship, where she played Division I volleyball from 1995-1998 for the Illinois Fighting Illini. Her team made it to the NCAA Sweet 16 her freshman year under coach Mike Hebert, and again in her senior year with coach Don Hardin. Laura boasts a recorded 269 kills and 117 blocks in 93 matches at both middle blocker and outside hitter.
In addition to her athletic achievements, Laura earned the Jim Bayne Award for Academic Excellence for having the highest GPA on the team her junior and senior years. After earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, she moved on to complete both a Master’s degree in Social Work and a Master’s Degree in Human and Community Services.
Rural town lacked club teams for Player of the Year athlete
Almost everyone in Laura’s hometown of less than 1,000 people played whatever sport offered. She started t-ball in first grade, and proceeded to try soccer, basketball, softball, and volleyball throughout elementary and middle school. By eighth grade, she settled on volleyball.
As a 6 foot tall high school freshman, she tried out and made the volleyball team. Mueller said she learned a lot, went to camps and gained some coordination during her sophomore year. By the next year, she was starting varsity and went on to win the state championship her junior and senior years. Her senior year was an undefeated season. She was named to the First Team, All-State, and was also named Player of the Year in her region.
Despite her success, Laura found herself at a competitive disadvantage for college, due to the lack of club teams in her rural area.
“While there were girls my age who were playing nearly year-round in club teams (in front of college recruiters), in my area in rural southern Illinois there weren’t any clubs to join and I honestly didn’t know much about it.”
Chance encounter with recruiter was a key path to college
Laura, a virtually unknown, small-town athlete at the time, is keenly aware that a chance encounter with a college recruiter set her on the path to a school that would’ve typically been out of her reach.
The University of Illinois invited Laura to volleyball camp the summer before her senior year, hoping for a closer look. Unbeknownst to her, Illinois staff had seen her at the state tournament the prior year, while they were recruiting another girl.
“I went to camp and they officially started recruiting me,” said Mueller. “I was recruited by smaller schools in southern Illinois and community colleges, but nothing compared to the caliber of Illinois. They made an offer in February of my senior year and I accepted.”
HYPE donations close participation gap in travel sports
HYPE’s mission resonates with Mueller, primarily because she understands the importance of putting female players in front of college recruiters. She understands the resulting participation gap created for lower-income and middle-income players whose families can’t afford expensive club teams and camps, or for those athletes who live in smaller communities without access to high-level competition.
“I love the progress women have made in sports and the increasing visibility of female athletes in many different sports. (I’m thinking of Kerri Walsh Jennings, Abby Wambach, Mia Hamm, Jennie Finch, Lisa Leslie, Venus & Serena Williams). But, I think it is also a double-edged sword; there is so much more pressure and possibly fewer opportunities because so many girls are playing. In volleyball specifically, the game now is light years faster and the athletes are SO very skilled, having competed at such a high level for so long; there’s no way a virtual unknown as myself would be likely to get the chance to even do it.”
That’s where HYPE comes in. A donation to HYPE Fast Pitch helps bridge that gap by subsidizing the cost of players’ fees, uniforms, equipment, and travel tournament costs. Players can qualify on talent alone, regardless of financial situation, and play in exposure tournaments in front of college recruiters. Through HYPE, female athletes in some of our county’s more rural communities can have the opportunities that almost eluded Mueller.
Participation brings new skills, mentors, sense of belonging to youth
Even so, not every young person intends to participate in travel sports and play at the collegiate level. Some, especially those from at-risk or in-need households, simply need to belong and have a chance to try a new sport or extra-curricular activity. HYPE aims to make youth sports and extracurriculars accessible to all students. We provide financial aid for young people to join recreational leagues. We help pay for equipment and uniforms, summer camp tuition, and connect youth with coaches and mentors in the community.
A donor with a heart for helping youth
“I was compelled to donate to HYPE, ” said Laura, “because I love the work and support for youth that HYPE provides. I’ve worked primarily with youth in my professional career, in the foster care system, at a homeless shelter, in low income schools in Metro Nashville Public Schools, and now with CASA. Working with youth, especially at-risk youth, you might never know what difference a positive adult mentor or interaction can have. I want to support organizations in doing that for our local youth, who might otherwise miss out.”
After graduate school, Laura married her high-school sweetheart, Craig Mueller, and went on to have their four children. They’ve lived in Sumner County for 10 years this fall. She currently works part time for CASA, and teaches a parenting class for divorcing couples. And finally, she still enjoys volleyball and plays in coed indoor volleyball leagues whenever she can.
HYPE is grateful for Laura and her generosity! Thank you for Helping Young People Excel in Sumner County!