Saturday, September 15, 2012

Hart and NKU: The Secret(s) to Our Success


Success seems to follow Liz (Holmes) Hart.

Or, perhaps she is the catalyst for it.

It was only five years ago that NKU volleyball and Hart were having a big year. As a senior at NKU, she was named Great Lakes Valley Conference Player of the Year, Great Lakes Region Player of the Year and the GLVC Scholar-Athlete of the Year for volleyball. Hart, then Liz Holmes, also led NKU to a 26-9 record and helped the Norse secure a berth in the NCAA Division II Tournament. She later was named to both the AVCA and Daktronics All-America first teams.

She finished her career as NKU’s all-time leader in kills with 1,850, and she led the GLVC in hitting percentage her final three years. In addition, Holmes finished seventh all-time in NKU history with 1,191 career digs and second in block assists with 291.
Hart was also later named the GLVC’s 2007-08 Woman of the Year. She also earned an NCAA postgraduate scholarship and was a four-time member of the GLVC All-Academic squad and named the Division II Great Lakes Valley Conference Player of the Year.
Liz Holmes was an award-winning player for NKU.

Now in her second season as head coach at Northern Kentucky, Norse volleyball is enjoying another big season. NKU is off to one of the best starts in NCAA history for a team in its first season of transition to D-I, along with the best start in the A-Sun since Florida Atlantic jumped out to a 15-0 start in 2005. The Norse, now 11-1, has two tournament titles this season and the Norse handed Hart her 50th win on Friday night and they continue to dominate their competition. NKU volleyball has been stretched to five sets only once this season, that in its 3-2 loss to Manhattan on Sept. 8 at the Harvard Invitational.

So what is the recipe for success for Hart and NKU?

“I think one of the biggest reasons for the success of this team is due to our experience,” says Hart. “We have six seniors who have started since they were freshmen. They are a group that is mentally tough, that plays with a lot of pride and that is extremely competitive.

“We have been down by as many as 12 points this year, but this team continues to come back, where in the past we didn’t. This team’s mentality is one of ‘never die.’”

Seven of NKU’s 11 victories have come in straight sets, and as a team the Norse lead the A-Sun in Hitting Pct. (.248), Assists (13.33/set), Kills (14.51/set), and Service Aces (2.13/set). Individually, Jenna Ruble and Jenna Schreiver lead the conference in Hitting Pct. (.398) and Assists (11.77/set), respectively. Schreiver is leader among that unique group of seniors upon whom Hart and the team relies, a group that represents more than 60 percent of the team’s kills, assists, service aces and digs.

“Jenna Schreiver, our setter, is extremely competitive and a very smart player. Shelby Bushcur is strong in ball control and a smart hitter as well. Haley Lippert is our power hitter – she will bang it as hard as she can. Kylee Tarantino transferred in two years ago and has had a great impact on the team. And Gennie Galfano is a talented outside hitter and a tremendous athlete.”
Jenna Schreiver (7) is one of six senior leaders for the Norse.

Led by the examples and play from its seniors, Hart says her team continues to get better and improve as a team. While there have been few occasions this season in which the Norse have struggled, it is obvious that her reputation and her success precedes her. Her team believes in its coach and in what she continues to instill in them on a daily basis.

“We are getting better and improving every single day, playing as a team, and that has been a big part of our season to this point,” says Hart. “We have a great synergy because I can relate to them,
I know what they are thinking, and can verbalize to them in a way that can relate to what needs to be done.”

As the Norse volleyball program continues its meteoric beginning in Division I, it is not by accident. Despite NKU’s recent history of success at the Division II level, Hart knew that the transition period to the next level would be filled with ups and downs. She worked to prepare her team in the spring by getting work against solid Division I teams in the spring, posting acceptable results and giving her experience team a shot in the arm as it readied itself for its historic season.

“We were really excited about moving to Division I and having the opportunity to play in the A-Sun,” says Hart. “This university has a lot to give, and it is wonderful for us to have the chance to play at the highest level and show that we can compete.

“There will be ups and downs, but I am not surprised at how we are playing,” says Hart. “We played good teams in the spring and finished .500 against them. That provided a real confidence boost for us, because it was a little unexpected at that point.

What we have to guard against now is what I think happened to us against Manhattan. Taking nothing away from their effort, I think that is what happened with Manhattan. We thought we would just walk out there and get a win. In the long term that was a good loss for us. It reemphasized that they need to work hard every day.”

Hart acknowledges that what she and her team is accomplishing is important and that it holds s special place in the program’s history, but stresses that she and the team do not discuss the implications of their 11-1 beginning.

“We don’t talk about it. It is a nice stat to have, but it doesn’t mean anything until the end of the season. But with this much experience on the team, there is no doubt in my mind that they know and have probably talked about it,” she says chuckling.

NKU plays its last non-conference match of the weekend Saturday at 5 p.m. against Akron in the Bulldogs Invitational in Smithfield, Rhode Island. Then comes the new season, as the Norse open their A-Sun schedule with a three-game home stand in Regents Hall against three-time defending Lipscomb, North Florida and Jacksonville.

“You know, there is nothing like opening with (three-time defending A-Sun Champion) Lipscomb to curtail those discussions. It will be a learning experience for us, because we play everyone for the first time. We don’t know about the other teams. But the unknown will keep them working hard.”

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