Keeton Holcomb Settles In At Defensive Specialist
Keeton Holcomb made an immediate impact the moment she stepped on campus last year, nailing down the starting libero job early in the season. Now, the sophomore out of Bellville, Tex., has found a home at defensive specialist for the Nittany Lions.
Holcomb played in all but two of Penn State’s 34 matches in 2015, making 28 starts for Russ Rose on her way to a team-high 311 digs. But what makes Holcomb so special is her ability to react, not just on the court, but to adversity. Rose went with senior Kendall Pierce at libero down the stretch and into the NCAA Tournament, yet for one reason or another, the blue and white would come up short in defense of their national title, falling to Hawaii 3-0 in the Sweet 16.
The 5-foot-7 Holcomb didn’t let the arrival of highly-touted freshman Kendall White get to her. Rather, she’s taken the talented libero under her wing and has helped the Indianapolis native adjust to life in the Big Ten — by far the toughest conference in women’s college volleyball. They’re part of a young back-line rotation that also includes junior Lainy Pierce.
“We’re all very good friends, so it’s easy for us to communicate and talk and figure out what seams the other person is taking,” Holcomb said. “It’s kind of like we’ve played together for several years already.”
Holcomb initially committed to West Virginia, but when head coach Jill Kramer left Morgantown for TCU just before New Year’s 2015, she decided Happy Valley was the place for her. Holcomb, who has 81 digs, 18 assists, and five service aces through 19 matches (14 starts), discussed the areas in which she feels she’s most improved from her rookie campaign to now.
“I came in with a lot of confidence in my serve-receive and my passing, but defensively I was a little nervous,” Holcomb said, “but I feel like I’ve improved a lot on that and it’s gotten better.”
She’s also noticed an improved level of communication, especially on the defensive side of things. No. 9 Penn State (16-3, 8-0 Big Ten) is the last remaining team to be undefeated in conference play, despite heavy hitters like No. 1 Nebraska, No. 3 Minnesota, who the Nittany Lions upset 3-2 two weeks ago, and No. 4 Wisconsin all playing great volleyball.
“From the beginning of the year, I think we started off just trying to figure things out, because we lost a couple of key players we had in the past,” Holcomb said. “Defensively, we just get in the gym every day and work on it. We just talk to each other more; it’s more of a communication thing.”
Speaking of the Golden Gophers, Holcomb mentioned that the atmosphere in Rec Hall that night was unlike anything she’s ever seen.
“[Minnesota] was ridiculous. It was one of our smaller crowds, I’d say, but the energy was just so amazing,” Holcomb said. “Every point it was so loud. I’m getting the chills just thinking about it now. I don’t even know how to explain it, it was just unreal. It was probably my favorite game I’ve ever played here at Penn State.”
It’s 1,495 miles from Holcomb’s hometown to Rec Hall. Though the Lone Star State clearly boasts more temperate weather than State College, and it’s home to her grandmother’s chicken and dumplings, No. 12 knows there’s plenty of work left unfinished this season. Namely, a National Championship.
You can catch Holcomb and the Nittany Lions at home this Wednesday for their annual “Dig Pink” match against No. 19 Ohio State at 8:00 p.m.