Four years ago, Anna Holen was a freshman sitting in a hotel at her first National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national volleyball tournament
"Going to Nationals as a freshman you are kind of starstruck," Holen said. "It's like oh my gosh the only other thing we knew was State in North Dakota. To be at a national tournament was amazing and to even make it that year was special."
Holen and the University of Jamestown women's volleyball team could potentially be on their way to something even more special than an appearance at the national tourney -- and they took their first steps toward it on Saturday.
The No. 1 seeded, undefeated Jimmies met up with McPherson College in the opening round of the tournament and ended up topping the Bulldogs 25-19, 25-16, 25-17 to move to 32-0 overall. The NAIA tournament is slated to be held in Sioux City, Iowa for (from) Nov. 30 through Dec. 4.
"To be going there this year, with this group of seniors, is pretty special," Holen said. "For some of us, this is our third national tournament. It's emotional talking about it because I don't want it to end."
If the Jimmies play like they did against McPherson -- and the 31 other teams they've faced this season -- Holen's collegiate volleyball career could be ending with her hoisting a national title trophy above her head.
The Jimmies held a comfortable lead of at least three points for most of the first set, with some well-timed sets feeding into a dynamic but steady offense that put the Jimmies up 16-11. Holen and Kalli Hegerle, both varsity vets, were the set leaders at the net, each tallying four balls powered past the Bulldogs.
But, It wouldn't be a national tourney game if the Bulldogs went away quietly.
McPherson powered back with an 8-3 run that made the score 19-18 Jimmies. Aidan Brown more than doubled the rest of her team's kill totals in the first, tallying six for the stat books. After a few adjustments to work on the defensive kinks, Coach Jon Hegerle's squad quickly got back in system to end it 25-19.
"Sometimes it's hard matching up with a team that you aren't quite sure about and that is ranked a little bit low," Hegerle said. "That's the difficult thing as well as just focusing on this game. We just had to clear our brains and I thought we did a good job of that."
After falling behind five, Brown got the Bulldogs snapped the streak with a floater served to midcourt. While the two teams were tied at 18 kills mid-way through the second, the Jimmies' .204 hitting percentage and 10 block assists gave the home team a distinct advantage.
"We made some blocking adjustments in the second set and I think that made a big impact on their swinging and they started tipping more balls and things like that," Hegerle said.
McPherson logged 14 more attack attempts than the Jimmies but UJ outmatched the Bulldogs 38-33 in kills. Through the first two, the Bulldogs attacked at .070 while UJ stayed at about the .200 mark. Brown and Morgan Watson were McPherson's top two hitters, each tallying nine powered past the Jimmies' eight total blocks and steady back row.
"This team was good," Holen said. "They were fun to play. It wasn't the same style as some other GPAC teams. Tempo stuff was different and it's fun playing teams that match our scrappiness because then we get to have crazy rallies and it just feels really fun and exciting."
The scrappy defensive battle, saw Holen out dig her sister, libero Ellie Holen, by five digs. The elder Holen racked up 19 digs, to put her season total at 353. Compared to the past two seasons, Holen hasn't seen much action in the back row during her senior campaign, as many GPAC teams and players are familiar with her steady hand.
"Well geez, I felt a little rusty and I don't think I did that great but I guess I have to expect it going into Nationals because teams might not know," Holen said with a laugh. "I am going to be ready for it and hopefully pass a little bit better at Nationals."
McPherson managed a 3-0 run on the Jimmies' second-set, set point, but finally, after three long-winded and scrappy rallies, Holen sealed the deal with a cut to the middle.
"She's a pretty darn good player," Hegerle said. "She does a good job."
UJ was up 9-3 in the third before a series of tough series and shots chipped off the block, made it a 9-7 game. Kalli Hegerle got the Jimmies out of the 5-0 funk with a drill to the hole in the middle. Hegerle's shot was a catalyst for a 5-3 run that kept the Jimmies in front by at least five the rest of the set. The standout, right side's myriad of shots added up to 10. The Jimmies had four hitters collect on at least five kills, attacking at more than .260.
A service error by the Bulldogs sealed the deal for the Jimmies 25-17.
The Jimmies are in almost the exact position that they were in last April heading into the final rounds of the national tournament. UJ was the No. 1 team in the NAIA last season but was knocked off by GPAC rival Midland in the NAIA national tourney semifinals last spring.
"We've talked all year about how we don't want to make this season about that game," Holen said. "Although that game is in the back of our heads as motivation going into the tournament, we're not focusing on that. We're going into it, trying to win games. Now, it's one game at a time."
University of Jamestown 3, McPherson College 0
MC 19 16 17
UJ 25 25 25
MC -- Kills: Watson 9, Brown 9. Katelyn Moore 5, Sydney Burton 4, Morgan Kobe 3, Cynarah Rodriquez 3. Assists: Rodriquez 23. Digs: Bailey Avila 16, Moriah Delgado 9, Brown 8, Rodriquez 7, Katelyn Moore 6, Watson 3, Zoe Jerke 2, Sydney Burton 1, Kobe 1. Aces: Rodriquez 2, Brown 1, Delgado 1, Becca Steffen 1.
UJ -- Kills: Holen 12, Hegerle 10, Taylor Sabinash 6, Aleah Zieske 5, Jayla Ritter 3, Megan Gaffaney 2, Corina Huff 2. Assists: Jackie Meiklejohn 18, Gaffaney 14. Digs: Holen 19, E. Holen 15, Hannah Schiele 11, Gaffaney 8, Meiklejohn 5, Sabinash 1, Zieske 1. Solo blocks: Hegerle 1. Aces: Meiklejohn 2, Schiele 1, Holen 1.