Class AAA Volleyball: Mayo's Holtan keeps foes guessing
As the setter for the state tournament-bound Rochester Mayo volleyball team, passing the ball into position for teammates to swat down for points is Job No. 1 for Nora Holtan.
Job No. 2? The cagey 5-foot-5 junior just takes care of the kill on her own.
Holtan has racked up more than 1,800 assists in a varsity volleyball career that began in eighth grade, but she is also second in kills this season on a Mayo team that makes its third state tournament appearance in six years this week.
Mayo (28-5) meets Osseo (28-1), the No. 2 seed in the Class AAA bracket, in a state quarterfinal match at 11 a.m. Thursday at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
"I think I'm pretty good at seeing the open spots on the other side of the court," Holtan explained. "I like tipping the ball over once in a while; it always helps to keep the other team guessing."
While 6-foot-1 sophomore Anna Winter emerged as Mayo's go-to scorer with 314 kills from outside hitter, Holtan is second with 172. Sophomore middle hitter Kat Maas (165 kills) and senior middle hitter Ashlee Halstead (130) are the team's top blockers and additional attack options.
Mayo head coach Deb Frederick said it might be surprising to see a setter have so many kills, but she has come to count on Holtan to take care of business on her own.
"Nora's ability to play the ball as an attacker is pretty helpful; if she weren't our setter she would be one of our outside hitters," Frederick assured.
Holtan is the only current Mayo player who saw some court time in the team's last trip to state in 2010. She played in one game in the Spartans' 3-0 loss to Centennial in the opening round, and she had seven digs, one assist and one ace serve in five games in a 3-2 loss to East Ridge in the consolation semis.
"I think it'll help a bit from a nervousness standpoint that I played there before," Holtan said. "It was a fun experience overall, even though we went 0-and-2."
This time Nora gets to share the state experience with her younger sister Kate, a freshman libero who leads Mayo with 227 digs and 45 ace serves.
"Its really been fun to play with Kate; she's a great asset to the team as a digger," assured Nora, who is second to her kid sister in both digs (123) and aces (44).
Frederick said Nora has emerged as the quarterback of the team, calling audibles on her own, and setting the emotional tempo. "A coach's dream," Frederick said.
"Nora is a highly competitive athlete and when she's fired up the team is fired up," the coach explained. "If she wasn't there, we wouldn't have the same success."
Section 1AAA struggles
Frederick hopes that Mayo can end Section One's recent history of showing poorly at the state tournament. Since Lakeville North left the section in 2007, teams from Section 1AAA have gone 0-6 in the state quarterfinals and have lost five of those in sweeps.
Section 1AAA representatives have claimed only two fifth-place trophies and a sixth-place in the last six state tournaments, while posting a cumulative record of 6-28.
Frederick, who hasan outstanding 187-73 record in her 10th season as Mayo's head coach, believes that the difference between Twin Cities teams and outstate teams is more mental than physical.
"I think that's what people think, that the metro teams play better volleyball," she said. "But I think it's time to change that."
Frederick said Mayo must take the power of positive thinking to St. Paul.
"When you get to state you've got to have confidence, and even a little arrogance," she said. "If you don't, you're already beat."