'Anna Mode': Holen helping to spark 8-0 Jimmies
Anna Holen's athletic ability supersedes the number of positions available on a volleyball court.
A boon for the University of Jamestown women's volleyball team, it's also a blessing for Holen's psyche. The 5-foot-7 attacking and defending phenom is as fiercely competitive as they come.
"I don't wanna get off the court," laughed Holen, now a junior with the currently 8-0 Jimmies. "I don't like being shoved off, I'm greedy that way.
"I just wanna be on the court the whole time and play."
That's pretty much what UJ women's volleyball coach Jon Hegerle and the Jimmies have asked of Holen this season. Holen was named both the Great Plains Athletic Conference's attacker and defender of the week on Tuesday, sweeping conference honors with setter of the week, and lifelong friend and teammate, Jackie Meiklejohn.
Holen racked up 36 kills and 55 digs in road victories at Presentation College, Dakota Wesleyan University and College of Saint Mary, posting career highs of 17 kills and 26 digs in last Friday's 3-1 victory over DWU at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.
A focal point in last year's 33 match wins and national quarterfinals berth, Holen is leading the Jimmies with 87 kills and is second on the team with 128 digs. She currently ranks fourth in the GPAC in kills per set (3.1) and sixth in digs per set (4.6).
"Her athletic ability is just freakish," said coach Hegerle. "She's so quick and in control, and the things she can do. That's a gift that she was given, and, to her credit, she's done the most she can with that gift."
Hegerle has understandably opened up the floor to Holen this season, allowing the 2019 all-conference selection the freedom of rotating from back to front. It's a do-it-all approach that Holen excelled at while in high school, leading LaMoure/Litchville-Marion to three straight Class B volleyball state championships with Meiklejohn between 2015-2017.
"She would hit in all different positions and all different types of sets, so we knew that just putting her on the outside and just setting high outside balls to her isn't gonna be her strength," Hegerle said. "She's hitting in the back row; she's hitting behind the setter; she's hitting 1s in front of the setter; she's hitting 32s and she's hitting outside by the antenna.
"She's just coming from all over ... and it's tough to block when she's running all these different types of sets."
Holen's attacking ability allows UJ creativity on offense, which can be hard for teams to predict and defend, but her defending wins matches for the Jimmies as well.
A diving pass saved in the back by Holen led to match point in the Jimmies' 3-0 sweep of College of Saint Mary for the GPAC tournament title last November at Newman Arena. She made the play, with her back to the net and diving to the back-right corner of the court, appear routine.
"I try to get my body in the best position possible to get our setters the best ball we can -- to make them move as little as possible," described Holen, who has a current passing percentage of .979.
Holen obviously had to earn the respect of her teammates, but playing unshackled in the rotation appears to be her strong suit.
"When you have a group of players like we have that trust her and allow her to be what she can be, that's a huge part of it," Hegerle said. "But she is the type of kid you just need to let go. When she gets into her "Anna Mode" she's pretty tough."
Holen has been reunited on the court this season with sister Ellie Holen, who has made the UJ varsity as a true freshman. Meiklejohn (7.0 assists per set) has already earned conference setter of the week honors twice this season, also sweeping the weekly awards with teammates Taylor Sabinash (attacker) and Sydney Ellingson (defender) on Sept. 29.
"Me and Jackie and Ellie have been in the gym playing volleyball since we were literally first-graders," Holen said. "Ellie even a bit younger than that, so just being around the game for so long has helped us definitely adapt and adjust as the different paces have progressed the older we get."
"They really bring out the best in each other," Hegerle added. "They just want to get better."
The Jimmies (8-0, 6-0 GPAC) have a big weekend of volleyball ahead, hosting Concordia, Nebraska, at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Midland at 5 p.m. on Saturday. The Jimmies defeated both the Bulldogs (7-1, 7-1) and the Warriors (4-5, 3-4) in five sets on the road last fall, and also rolled 3-2 over the Bulldogs in last year's GPAC tournament semifinals.
"They're probably pretty hungry and they're both playing well right now," Hegerle said. "It'll be a great weekend and great competition. That's what we want."
Concordia, ranked No. 14, and Midland, receiving votes, both appeared in last season's NAIA top 25 coaches' postseason poll. UJ finished 2019 ranked fourth in the nation.
"We can't take either of them lightly," Holen said. "We have a completely new team and people in new spots. For only being under 10 games in we're feeling good, but we're always looking to grow and improve."