Four Faces: Holden closes EHS volleyball chapter, leaving lasting impact

Photo+courtesy+of+Wesley+Works.

Photo courtesy of Wesley Works.

Liza Duerholz, Sports Editor

This previously ran in our December 2021 print issue.

Senior Ava Holden’s volleyball career began with a simple decision in middle school between cross country or volleyball, and since then, she has grown into a key player and strong leader.

On varsity since she was a freshman, Holden is known by her teammates as a kind person and reliable teammate who always knows where to place the ball. Holden, along with the other seniors, worked together with Coach Brianne Giangiobbe on changing the volleyball “culture,” making it less about just what happens on the court by also building character and determination.  

After doing well in the regular season, Holden, unfortunately, dislocated her shoulder in the district quarterfinals, preventing her from playing her last high school game.

Her favorite memory from EHS volleyball took place right after moving up from middle school when the team beat Parkland her freshman year. 

“It was really exciting, because we hadn’t beaten them in a long time, and it’s Parkland, our biggest rival. And it kind of really introduced me to how amazing Emmaus volleyball is,” Holden said. “It really gave us a lot of motivation to try and do it again, which we did during my sophomore year.”

Throughout Holden’s volleyball career, in middle school and high school, senior Mia Pickering has played alongside her. She sees Holden as a “kind soul,” who always hypes the team up and is there for them to confide in. 

“Her volleyball IQ is insane,” said Pickering. “I love when she [hits]–it’s called a ‘boom kill’–[and] it just goes straight down the 10 foot line, and we all just look at Ava…. She’s very humble, so she won’t celebrate herself very often, but she has a little smirk on her face, and you can just tell that she knows that she just got, like, an amazing play.”

Coach Giangiobbe recognizes Holden as an impactful player on the court as well as a leader to younger players. When she introduced the motto for this year, “we-over-me,” to the seniors, she was met with enthusiasm and effort to build that community amongst players.

“I had many conversations with the senior class about buying into the culture, and how to implement it, and then they took it from there and embraced it: set the tone in the gym and didn’t falter,” Giangiobbe said.

All six seniors on the team are captains, and they all integrated “we-over-me” in how they led the team in terms of recovering from last year’s shortened season. They worked on maintaining effective communication and keeping everyone’s energy levels up when they were playing four games per week.

Taking what she observed from seniors in past years, Holden tried to be helpful to the younger players, while also pushing them to be better.

“We made a code of conduct, and then we just really tried to enforce that,” said Holden. “We’ve seen how we really want the environment to be, so just enforcing that, and being there for all the girls, and setting an example for them was really important.”

Holden and Pickering agreed the team built a great community this year, but did not get the competitive outcome they wanted. Players finished with a record of 18-4, made it to EPC finals for the first time in seven years, and got to district quarterfinals where they lost to Freedom. 

In the first round of districts, Holden went up to block a ball, but it rolled into the net, so as a “last resort attempt,” she swung her arm to dig it out, dislocating her shoulder. After she was escorted to the training room, and her shoulder was set back in, her first thought was the game.

I had asked to go back out on the court, if I was allowed to, and they told me ‘not quite yet;’ I needed to go to the doctor, which I didn’t realize. I didn’t realize that shoulder dislocations would cause damage. I thought it just kind of had to go back in,” said Holden.

Fortunately, Holden was told her shoulder would heal after a couple of months of rehab, but with a sling wrapped around her shoulder, she could not play in the district semi-finals.

“[It was] devastating,” said Pickering. “We were all just concerned about her safety, first of all, and then, you know, the team’s future. We really rely on Ava; she’s a huge asset to our team. So just looking ahead, after we made sure she was okay, it was just really hard for the team to take that.”

Holden attended as an avid supporter for her teammates and cheered for her team while they fought through their final game.

“It didn’t really hit me until I walked into the gym,” said Holden. “And it’s the same gym, Catasauqua High School, that I’ve played districts and district semifinals in for the last four years. I didn’t have a uniform on, and everybody walked in with a uniform, and it was just kind of hard to see that I wasn’t going to be able to help the team on the court and play my last high school game.”

Looking forward to her future, Holden is committed to playing Division I volleyball for St. Francis University next fall.

“I’m really excited just to push myself to the next level and be on that team,” said Holden. “The coach and the girls, it’s just an amazing atmosphere at St. Francis. Their goal is to win the NEC championships, so I’m excited to see where the team goes.”