Katie Holloway, one of the top U.S. sitting volleyball players, has not decided if she'll try for a third Paralympic Games.
When the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games came to a close, sitting volleyball player Katie Holloway returned home with a silver medal around her neck and one goal, a gold medal in 2012.
Holloway dedicated four years to that goal, leading the U.S. women’s sitting volleyball team to a silver medal at the 2010 World Organization for Volleyball Disabled Sitting Volleyball World Championship and gold medals at five other events including the 2011 European Committee Volleyball for Disabled Continental Cup, in which Holloway was named Best Hitter and MVP of the tournament.
With eight of the team's 11 roster spots at the London 2012 Paralympic Games dedicated to returning Paralympians, including Holloway, Team USA seemed destined to return to the gold medal match against their rival, China. After opening the Games against one another – a 3-1 victory in favor of China – things unraveled in an uncharacteristic way for China and the U.S., ranked first and second in the world, respectively.
While Team USA drew attention for putting on clinics in their victories over Brazil, Slovenia and eventual bronze-medalist, Ukraine, it was the struggles of the Chinese that attracted the most attention. After outlasting the Netherlands in a thrilling five-set semi-final match, it was the Chinese who were lucky to be in the gold-medal match and the Americans who appeared to be the favorites, a stark contrast to the 2008 gold medal match between the two powerhouses.
“This London Games in women’s volleyball was very different than any other,” Holloway said. “The matches leading up to the gold medal match really prepared us to win gold. And we really bought into that throughout the Games. We knew we could take it from them (China), so in reality, it was anyone’s game.”
Team USA started strong, claiming the first set in the gold medal match 25-22. Despite falling in an early 4-0 hole in the second set, the U.S. stormed back to a 10-9 lead only to see a rotation struggle and allow China’s consistent, steady play to claim 16 of the next 21 points to win 25-15.
“We made a few errors and any sense of weakness and they (China) will target that. We had one rotation that we couldn't execute and that’s where the gap was made in the second set,” Holloway said.
Despite troubles throughout the tournament, China's steady play throughout the match proved not only why they are the number one ranked team in the world, but why they are the only team to have ever won the Paralympic gold medal since the women’s event was introduced to the Games in 2004.
“They have experience and most importantly a very consistent level of play,” Holloway said. “They have great ball control and a steady mental game. That’s hard to beat, they make very little errors. So that means our game has to be overly aggressive and nearly flawless. Any sense of a letdown and they will capitalize on that weakness. That’s what makes them so good.”
Even a heroic effort by Holloway could not save the Americans, whose overly aggressive game plan produced nineteen unforced errors in the last three sets. Holloway accumulated 33 of Team USA’s 85 points with a match-high 29 kills, three blocks and a service ace, only adding to her brilliant tournament in which she finished third in scoring with 80 kills, nine blocks and seven service aces for a total of 96 points. She converted on 133 attacks for a tournament-high 41.35-percent hitting efficiency and was rightfully named Best Spiker of the Games.
“I put everything I had into it (sitting volleyball) for four years and it still wasn't good enough for gold. I’m very grateful for silver, but it still hurts,” Holloway said.
Where Holloway goes from here is anyone’s guess. While finding a career she likes is her first priority, she has not ruled out the idea of training for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. She’s even brought up the possibility of rowing as many Paralympic rowers train in Oklahoma City, Okla., just minutes from the University of Central Oklahoma campus in Edmond, Okla., where the women’s sitting volleyball program is based.
“I’ve gotten a chance to try rowing this year and absolutely loved it. Right now, I would like to take some time off and reassess my life as an athlete. Rowing may be a good outlet at this point to heal that feeling (of losing gold), but who knows.”
Whether she decides to pursue another four-year journey in the hopes of claiming gold in sitting volleyball or not, Holloway knows the importance of the sport and the Paralympic Movement as whole. Despite being a collegiate basketball standout at California State University Northridge, Holloway always felt as if she had something to prove until she was introduced to sitting volleyball.
“Sitting volleyball is unique to me because it’s a sport that highlights my disability, the disability I was unable to accept the first 20 years of my life. So, playing a sport I love and finally feeling like I’m in my own skin makes life that much more fulfilling.”
Should she decide to leave the court, Holloway is excited to see what happens with the U.S. women’s sitting volleyball squad in 2016. China’s experience was a large part of its ability to develop a great level of consistent play, a large factor in their three Paralympic gold medals.
“The age of our team is definitely to our advantage. But, nothing is certain because the game is so new to our country. We’re still trying to grow the sport and obtain new players. Because of that, we may have a whole new looking team in 2016. It’s really hard to say what we can do. But, I know we have some great young players that will be threats in Rio with Kaleo Kanahele and Heather Erickson being two big keys to the U.S.”