Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – The distinction should come with a commemorative t-shirt, you'd think.
"Ken (Briggs) says when you're in your third year, you finally get your volleyball brain. I guess I achieved that this year," said Lauren Holmes, who is coming into her own on the right side this season for the MacEwan Griffins.
Briggs, who is in his 16th season at the helm of the Griffins women's volleyball team, elaborates.
"Her volleyball IQ is off the charts. She's just a smart player," he said of Holmes. "When we have a game plan, she's got it. She knows it by heart. She spends a lot of time with (assistant coach Nicole) Ban doing video against the people she's playing against and recognizing the things she needs to do for tactical preparation. Also, she's a tremendous athlete. She's learning the game.
"These third-years are really making a difference now as they start understanding the game more and more."
Holmes has racked up more than her fair share of highlight moments with the Griffins over her career, but she's hitting a new level for the team of late. She headed into weekend play against visiting Mount Royal University (Friday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 5 p.m., both games Atkinson Gym) sitting third on the team with 81 kills, third in digs (80) and third in blocks (40).
Briggs called a holiday trip to San Diego – where the team played multiple exhibition games – a game-changer for Holmes, who is raising the bar on her play.
"She went there and just raised her level," he said. "She played higher and more aggressively than she has in the past.
"She's playing right side for us because of her really good blocking and defensive ability. For us, she's playing there, but she'll potentially be a really good left side (in the future). She gets the opportunity to play both, but that's where she's really helped us."
The technical and mental aspects of playing right side can't be understated. Most teams place their most powerful swinger on the left side of their formations. That means that Holmes is consistently tasked with blocking and defending the who's who of Canada West kills leaders.
Not for the faint of heart.
"Watching video is really helpful and watching how they swing because my job is to block them or take away space at least," she said. "So, watching video and watching how they swing and when they swing – on the way up or down – is really helpful in timing your block and getting an extra read on them before you even see them for the first time on the court."
The Edmonton native and product of Harry Ainlay high school will be key in that role again this weekend as the Griffins (1-13) host the Mount Royal University Cougars (7-9) with their playoff hopes hanging by a thread. They have no room for error left, needing to run the table on their final 10 games to have a chance.
Beyond what happens the rest of this season, though, Holmes hopes to continue playing for the team in 2018-19, even though the demands of her nursing degree might prove too much. Traditionally, nursing/volleyball student-athletes have had to quit after their third seasons to focus on school.
"That's something that Ken and I have agreed we're going to try something new here and see if we can make that work," she said. "It's going to be very challenging and all of my professors that I talk to are so surprised that I'm still doing it. They're very helpful and encouraging and trying to make it possible. One of my profs said she was going to try to talk to someone to figure something out for me next year so I can keep playing.
"We're going to try to figure something out for next year because I'm not ready to be done."
ON THE COURT … Saturday's contest will feature the annual NAVC (Northern Alberta Volleyball Club) Griffins Day as the club presents annual scholarships. A number of future university players will be in the stands, watching just as MacEwan players once did themselves.
"A lot of them started as young volleyball players in that club and system so it's been great. We're excited. We have our first-ever NAVC recruit coming since they've become the Griffins," said Briggs of Megan Foxcroft, a libero who is coming to MacEwan in 2018-19.
"It's big, especially for the young kids, who really have no idea about the level," he added. "These are future national team players who walk in here every weekend. It's nice to showcase that. Plus, it's nice to have that big of a crowd. We're excited."