Holzman named Gatorade National Player of the Year

Holzman named Gatorade National Player of the Year

NEW ORLEANS — Ellie Holzman admits she should have known something big was coming. The film crew at her house Wednesday morning should have been a clue. Her aunt in town from New Jersey — for what her parents told her was a conference — another.

But it was still a surprise when Holzman’s Mount Carmel Academy teammates walked into lunch carrying the Gatorade National Volleyball Player of the Year award with her family and friends trailing behind.

“I started crying immediately,” Holzman told The News-Gazette early Wednesday afternoon. “It was not something I was expecting by any means. I couldn’t have imagined it, so it really caught me by surprise. It was a special feeling to get the award from the people I love dearly.

“I mean, I should have realized it more than I did. It all definitely made sense once everything was put together.”

Holzman committed to Illinois in April 2017. She was the first to do so after Chris Tamas got the Illini job just two months prior. The 6-foot-2 outside hitter/middle blocker had just earned MaxPreps National Sophomore of the Year honors.

“It’s an honor just for him to have that much faith in me and trust me into his program,” Holzman said about being Tamas’ first commitment. “It’s definitely a lot to look forward to. I can’t wait to get up there and accomplish a lot of great things.”

Holzman’s stacked stats — and more state championships — since her commitment. She finished her high school career with a 42-2 senior season and a fourth straight Division I state championship with the Cubs. Holzman added her second MaxPreps First Team All-American honor in a row after putting up 571 kills, 303 digs, 101 blocks and 30 aces this past fall, which put her career numbers at 2,426 kills, 1,379 digs and 749 blocks.

Holzman’s Gatorade National Player of the Year honor, though, was based on more than just what she accomplished on the court for Mount Carmel Academy. She’s maintained a 4.0 GPA, is a member of the Nation National Honor Society, volunteers locally with an anti-drug program through her school and is a youth volleyball and basketball coach.

“This award’s so special because it’s so much deeper than the sports side of it, the volleyball,” Holzman said. “It’s the service and the academics and everything else more behind the scenes. Having an award that captures the whole person is just so special to me.”

Holzman said her experiences with the anti-drug program and as a youth coach have been rewarding.

“We’ll travel to little elementary schools around and encourage them to stay away from stuff like that and provide them with fun activities to do while also teaching them the very important values in life,” she said about the anti-drug program. “(Coaching) little kids, it definitely requires lots of patience, but it’s all worth it when you see how fun they’re having and how much they love doing it. That’s just a rewarding feeling within itself, and I really enjoy doing that.”

The next stage of Holzman’s volleyball career will start with her arrival at Illinois in June. It’s something she’s waited to happen for more than two years.

"I definitely think it’s going to be a challenge, but I like challenges and I perform well under high pressure situations,” Holzman said. “I think I can bring a lot of technique and energy for sure. Energy with volleyball goes a long way because when you have more positive energy you’ll definitely perform better. They definitely see me as a pin. I definitely need to work on my defense for sure trying to become an all-around player, but I have confidence in the coaches there that they’ll get me where I need to be.”

Illinois’ Final Four run in 2018 just further cemented Holzman’s desire to be an Illini. She flew with her family to Minneapolis for the national semifinals and got a taste of something she’d like to experience as a player, too.

“Oh my gosh, it was incredible,” she said. “My parents were gracious enough to fly us up to Minneapolis and watch it. It was just really cool, and I have a lot of expectations for the future after that. … I saw Coach Tamas the day after they lost in the semis. As sad as it was and heartbreaking to watch that, I told him it was just room to do better for next year.”