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After decorated college career, Holehouse wants to stay in game

Looking to become teacher, CHEN alumna and two-time NCAA champion reflects on growth at Penn State

By Glenn Graham, THE BALTIMORE SUN

10:27 PM EST, November 11, 2010

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Please excuse Roberta Holehouse for having felt a bit overwhelmed when she first stepped onto campus at Penn State University as a freshman in 2005.

Consider: Holehouse was home-schooled during her high school years, enjoying an All-Metro volleyball career at Christian Home Educators Network before being surrounding by 40,000 fellow college students while trying to make an impact for a powerhouse Division I program.

"During the preseason in my freshman year, we were running a drill and I busted my chin open — that was the first time I kind of lost it and realized what I got myself into," she said.

Holehouse, 23, ended up with far better memories of the four years at Penn State that followed. She developed into a fine libero, starting three years as the team's defensive specialist with a strong jump serve as an added weapon.

The Nittany Lions won national championships her final two years in addition to four straight Big Ten championships. The team won the final 64 matches she played in.

"Roberta came in as a terrific skilled volleyball player and developed into an exceptional libero and team leader, which is exactly what we needed at the time," Penn State coach Russ Rose said. "She was fearless and never afraid to make the big play. She was one of the main reasons we had the success that we had during her career."

Holehouse, who earned Academic All-Big Ten honors her last three years and received a bachelor's degree in kinesiology, cherished her time at Penn State, when she grew as a person, student and volleyball player.

"I think I learned how far I could actually push myself and not to limit myself to what I think I can do," Holehouse said.

"That's one of the best things about Coach Rose — he really pulls out everything you have, and when you think you don't have anything left to give, he gets more out of you."

These days, Holehouse is back home in Joppa after briefly pursuing a professional career overseas following graduation last year. She was unable to latch on to a team in Germany and then had a short stint with a team in Spain, so now she's looking to find other ways to stay involved in the sport she loves.

She plans to play beach volleyball to quench her competitive appetite and is interested in coaching while she looks to become a teacher. Last fall, she gained valuable coaching experience as an assistant at Towson University.

One big advantage of being home is the chance to watch her younger sisters play at Fallston. Rachael, a junior, is a standout outside hitter, and Anna made varsity as a freshman this season.

"I grew up watching my sister, and I don't think I would have gotten into volleyball if it wasn't for her," Rachael said. "She's taught me pretty much everything I know and helped make me the player I am today. I definitely want to follow in her footsteps and play somehwere in college."

Roberta started playing volleyball in the sixth grade, looking for a fall sport to accompany basketball and softball. It didn't take long for volleyball to become her top sport. She led the Bravehearts to two home-school national championships — one in her freshman year and another as a senior.

"I just loved how dynamic it was and how explosive it was. Seeing girls jump that high and hitting the the ball that hard piqued my interest," she said.

"I can think back to something as simple as in elementary school being one of the two or three girls that played football with the guys during recess. Being sandwiched between two brothers [older brother Kyle and younger brother Benjamin] and also having a dad [Joe] that was into athletics encouraged me to just go after it. That was just how I was raised."

Looking back at her college days, she is once again a bit overwhelmed, this time by her team's dominance.

"It was pretty unreal just being a part of something that exciting and special," she said. "It really is an incredible feeling, expecially when you know you're working hard every day in practice and it's paying off.

"We just came in and did what Coach asked us to do and went into every match not looking ahead. And then the season ended, and we looked back and were like, 'Wow, that actually happened!' "

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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