Wicinski, Holthus taste pro life in Puerto Rico

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Photo provided by MSU Athletic Communications)
Lauren Wicinski, a former Geneva standout who concluded her college career at Michigan State, is eagerly greeting the challenge of her new life as a professional volleyball player in Puerto Rico.

Craig and Sherrie Holthus attended each of daughter Stephanie’s volleyball matches at Burlington Central and Northwestern from 2006 to 2013.

Stephanie Holthus’ recent ascent to the role of professional outside hitter seems an unlikely time to trail off, but every family has its limits.

Holthus now plays in Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean is a far cry – and commute – from the burgs of the Big Northern East and Big Ten conferences.

“It’s just killing them to not be able to come down here to follow me,” Holthus said.

Holthus entertained her mother over the weekend and awaits a return visit in two weeks. She will be back home soon enough; the Liga de Voleibol Superior Femenino season lasts just four months, providing an appetizer for what professional volleyball life is like.

European seasons run longer, and would likely be the next step for Holthus and Lauren Wicinski, a Geneva and Michigan State product who also is smacking kills in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory.

Or so Wicinski thinks. While she hasn’t launched a full investigation, a quick look at a stat sheet recently convinced Wicinski that aces, blocks and kills are lumped into one category, points.

In any event, the pomp before her first pro match last month made it clear Puerto Ricans embrace volleyball either way.

“They had fireworks and a fog machine and crazy stuff you don’t see in the States,” Wicinski said. “That’s when it kind of hit me. It was like, ‘Oh, wow. This is really cool.’ ”

Wicinski plays for Carolina while Holthus – who already has been traded – represents Cataño. Both players became their universities’ respective career kills leaders before heading south.

Eight teams comprise the league, and matches typically are played twice a week: once at midweek, then again on weekends. Wicinski said two foreign-born players are allotted a team.

Agent Tim Kelly of Denver-based Bring It Promotions serves as liaison for Holthus and Wicinski, just two clients in a recent deep string of Americans to give Puerto Rico a try after successful collegiate careers.

“We’re probably not even aware of half the stuff he does,” Holthus said. “Negotiates, contacts, pitches us to all the teams, and then he basically finds the teams to land us on. But then, of course, things can happen at any time.”

The schedule leaves some idle hours during the day, as practices often are held at night. Holthus studied German and admits, “That’s not really coming in handy out here.”

She shouldn’t sweat it. Wicinski’s Spanish background still left her with better command of words than sentences, but did help remind her that her city – Carolina – was not pronounced like the U.S. states.

She’s especially grateful for teammate Stephanie Niemer, a former Cincinnati standout in her fourth season in the league.

Niemer helps Wicinski navigate the country – located in the Atlantic time zone, two hours ahead of Central time. Wicinski’s Google translator fills in the gaps.

Holthus (secondary) and Wicinski (elementary) both are education majors closing in on their degrees. Both felt they were in position to delay full-time studies for this chance.

“Just wanted to test it out and felt like this is a good, short time away from home to see what I felt and try to figure it out from there,” Wicinski said.

Should Wicinski make like Niemer and return for more than one season, her family can’t fret too much.

“That’s the nice thing about Puerto Rico,” Wicinski’s mother, Gina, wrote in an email. “We didn’t need to change cell service.”

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