Anna Holen and Jackie Meiklejohn had finished their freshmen seasons at the University of Jamestown when Jimmies head women’s volleyball coach Jon Hegerle had a team meeting about future expectations.
The team had just finished the 2018 season in which the Jimmies were an NAIA top-15 program, won 24 matches and advanced to the national tournament.
Hegerle, who stresses perpetual ascension in his program, pointed out that a Great Plains Athletic Conference championship and national title were the next steps for the program if it was going to improve on previous successes.
“I remember vividly the meeting we had and what coach had on the board,” said Holen, now in her fourth season in the program along with Meiklejohn. “We looked at each other and said, ‘We’re doing this.’”
Meiklejohn added: “The goal is always to win championships, that’s always something you want to strive for. At the meeting, it kind of became more real.”
The team has followed through.
The Jimmies won the GPAC postseason tournament the past two seasons and were the regular-season conference champions a season ago. They also advanced to the national semifinals the past two seasons.
No. 1-ranked Jamestown is slated to host two GPAC tilts this weekend beginning with Doane University Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Hastings College on Saturday at 5 p.m. Entering Friday, the Jimmies have only lost four sets through 21 matches.
“We have a pretty veteran group, so they’ve been through a lot together and have played at a really high level together and they’re pretty hungry to get to the next level as a group,” said Hegerle, who is in his 13th season as Jimmies head coach.
Holen and Meiklejohn were used to winning before they joined the Jimmies. They both helped LaMoure-Litchville/Marion win three consecutive North Dakota Class B state volleyball championships from 2015-2017. Holen was named Class B senior athlete of the year for her final prep season.
“Coming from high school and having success, of course we wanted to continue that,” Holen said. “We didn’t know what exactly it would look like. We came in just as competitive as we left high school. That just meant coming to practice every day and working hard.”
The 5-foot-7 Holen, an outside hitter and defensive specialist, has started for the Jimmies for three-plus seasons. The 5-foot-2 Meiklejohn, a setter, has started for four seasons. Anna’s younger sister, Ellie Holen, is a defensive specialist for the Jimmies and is the team leader in digs this season, averaging 4.95 per set.
The Jimmies roster has a strong contingent of former North Dakota Class B players and players from smaller high schools. Taylor Sabinash, a 6-foot-1 middle blocker, is from Kensal, N.D.
“Sometimes we kind of have jokes when all of us are around each other,” Anna said with a laugh. “We’re pretty proud of being Class B kids.”
Hegerle said the team’s small-town recruits have helped the program ascend.
“There’s a perspective that comes from rural Minnesota and North Dakota players because they grow up in a community and some of them are from large families,” Hegerle said. “They understand that life doesn’t revolve around them, which I think is key to being a great teammate. … They know how to work and they understand what it means to grind and they also understand what it is to be grateful for things in life.”
The Holens come from a large family with Anna and Ellie being the youngest of eight kids. Anna credits that dynamic for her competitive drive.
“I come from a very competitive family,” Anna said. “I think we had a basketball put in our hands before we could even walk.”
Meiklejohn is thankful she’s been able to continue playing with the Holens. She said she’s been friends with Anna since “about birth.”
“I’m super lucky because I have girls on my team that came from the exact same high school that I did,” Meiklejohn said. “It’s crazy to think that all of us ended up here, all of us small-town North Dakota and small-town Minnesota kids, and that we’re doing something pretty special.”
West Fargo High School graduate Kalli Hegerle is in her second season in the program after she transferred from NCAA Division I North Dakota State. The 6-foot Hegerle leads the Jimmies in kills this season, averaging 2.98 per set. Senior middle blocker Corina Huff, from Pequot Lakes, Minn., was named GPAC offensive player of the week this week, while Ellie Holen earned GPAC defensive player of the week honors.
“We’re a veteran team,” Meiklejohn said. “We have a lot of us who have been in the program for a long time. We know each other so well that there’s just a whole different connection out there. My best friends are the girls on the volleyball team.”
Anna Holen echoed that sentiment.
"We’re just a really tight-knit, close group so when we’re out there on the court together, it literally feels like home because we’ve been doing this for so long together," she said.