Ellie Holzman dominant in Illinois’ opening weekend, first collegiate match

Redshirt+freshman+Ellie+Holzman+serves+against+Iowa+on+Friday+in+Iowa+City%2C+Iowa.+

Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Redshirt freshman Ellie Holzman serves against Iowa on Friday in Iowa City, Iowa.

By Wes Hollenberg, Staff Writer

For redshirt freshman Ellie Holzman, this past weekend’s volleyball matches against Iowa were her first official matches in over 800 days. With so much time off, a slow start would have been predictable, if not expected. Instead, she dominated Iowa to the tune of 27 kills over the two matches.

With how excellent she looked this past weekend, it would have been virtually impossible to tell she was coming off of a major injury that had sidelined her last season. Though she’s flying high now, the path to being a key starter this season wasn’t easy. 

“(I’ve been) keeping my head forward, not dwelling on the past,” Holzman said. “It was a definitely hard time to go through, but I knew that I had a lot to look forward to and a lot to be excited for. Just keeping my head down and working hard helped me get through.”

The addition of Holzman came just at the right time for Illinois, as there was a major hole at outside hitter with the graduation of Jacqueline Quade, the team’s previous highly accomplished stalwart at the position. Holzman herself brings a strong resume, being named Gatorade National Volleyball Player of the Year in her senior year of high school. 

The great privilege of getting to play hasn’t been lost on Holzman, who has displayed a new appreciation of getting to be back on the court. 

“It’s definitely a big jump playing at the collegiate level, especially in the Big Ten,” Holzman said. “I had a year to watch it so I definitely think that was good for my game personally. Just to kind of see everyone and not have too much pressure. Now, being in it, I think I’m well prepared for it after watching for so long.”

One potential factor in Holzman’s hot start to the season is the lack of fans due to COVID-19 restrictions. While many players feed off the crowd, having thousands of fans can be a bit overwhelming for underclassmen experiencing it for the first time. 

“It kind of could be nice to not have all those eyes on you,” Holzman said. “It doesn’t feel as high pressure of a situation as it maybe could be with 4,000 people there.” 

This season, Holzman will get to play opposite the highly experienced senior Megan Cooney as pin hitters. With each hitter being a force in their own right, scheming against both of them may figure to be a nightmare for opposing teams. With the Illini already out to a 2-0 start, the sky’s the limit if the Cooney-Holzman tandem can continue their productivity from this past weekend. 

This upcoming weekend will give the duo a chance to prove their potential as the top-ranked team in the country, as No. 1 Wisconsin comes to town for a doubleheader. Though the season is still young, coming away with wins this weekend would prove monumental for the program.

“(Winning at Iowa) is a nice confidence boost,” Holzman said. “We have big games this upcoming weekend we have to look forward to, but it’s nice to get two wins under our belt and figure out what we need to work on this week.”

Regardless of how this unpredictable, COVID-19 inflicted season plays out, Holzman’s early display of talent has shown the world that Illinois has a potential cornerstone piece for years to come.

@WesHollenberg

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