The Northwestern women’s volleyball season ended Saturday with the Wildcats’ loss at Nebraska, but that doesn’t mean junior Stephanie Holthus of Burlington can take it easy until next fall.
Right now, the 5-foot-11 All-Big Ten outside hitter is focusing on her classwork, which, considering it’s Northwestern, is far from easy.
“It’s brutal,“ Holthus said. “Finals are coming up. … I’m really excited for Christmas break.”
When the Burlington Central grad returns to classes in January, she’ll add a rigorous off-season training schedule to her daily routine.
“In the wintertime, we focus a lot on lifting,“ she said. “We lift four times a week. We train in the morning.”
Later in the winter, she’ll be attending tryouts for the USA Volleyball national team.
“I look forward to going back and playing with the best collegiate players in the country,” she said, noting that she couldn’t this year because she was sidelined with a right foot injury.
“The symptoms started in the spring of my freshman year,” Holthus said. “Spring season was really brutal that year, just because we only had six healthy players. … I knew something was wrong and I had a ton of MRIs.”
The MRIs didn’t turn up any problems, so Holthus completed her sophomore season with Northwestern in the fall.
“I actually played on a stress fracture for nine months and didn’t know it,” she said.
A bone scan finally revealed the injury and Holthus had to take some time off. Follow-up examinations before the start of this season showed everything healed, so Holthus played in all 114 games for the Wildcats and continued to perform at a very high level. She led Northwestern in both kills (487) and digs (347). Those numbers are up slightly from her sophomore campaign, when she also was an All-Big Ten honoree.
“Statistics-wise, my numbers were pretty good this year, but I still feel there were opportunities to play better,” she said, adding that some games and matches did not go as well as she would have liked. “Overall, I think I’m happy with how I played this year. I hope to improve some more in the offseason.”
The Wildcats finished tied with Wisconsin for ninth place out of the 12 teams in the league with a 5-15 conference record. They won all of their nonconference matches to finish 16-15 overall.
“I’m not going to lie. You look at our record and it’s pretty disappointing,” Holthus said. Still, she notes that the competition in the Big Ten is tough, citing the seven teams the league sent to the NCAA Tournament that starts Thursday.
“That just shows how competitive the Big Ten is,” she said. “It’s hard to play in a conference like this. … It’s an amazing opportunity to get to play against the best competition in the country. Every night, you know the other team is not going to make it easy for you. That’s what makes it so special.”
During her outstanding prep career, Holthus was heavily recruited by major college programs.
“During the recruiting process, I pretty much knew I wanted to stay in the Big Ten just because it’s the best volleyball conference there is,” she said. “I also wanted to stay close to home, so that really narrowed my choices.”
Holthus said when she factored in the “amazing education” Northwestern offers, it made her decision fairly easy.
Holthus is majoring in secondary teaching, but any high school teaching career will have to wait until her playing days are over, which she hopes will not be anytime soon.
“I hope to play professionally overseas and then try out as a libero for the Olympic team,” she said.
Why the switch from outside hitter to libero?
“International volleyball is just completely different than volleyball in this country,” Holthus said. “The athletes are taller. They’re huge.”
Holthus has previous international experience playing for a USA junior national team.
“I remember going up against 6-5, 6-6 and that’s the norm,” she sayid. “I’m lucky I’m as tall as I am. My sisters are both 5-4.”
She said she received a lot of emails and Facebook messages during the recently concluded Summer Olympics in London from people aware of her Olympic dreams.
“It’s so nice the amount of support everyone in the community has for me in aspiring to those goals,” Holthus said.
• Dennis D. Jacobs writes the weekly On Campus column for the Kane County Chronicle. To submit information on area athletes competing in college, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.