Thursday, November 21, 2013

FGCU Seniors Holm and Mambuca Living in the Moment

If you haven’t had a chance to witness the post-play celebrations from FGCU seniors Kaitlin Holm and Karina Mambuca, you have another chance on Friday.

The Eagle duo helped FGCU move past Stetson 3-2 in its first round match on Thursday, and now the Eagles move on to face No. 1 Jacksonville in the semifinals of the 2013 A-Sun Championship at 5 p.m. on Friday on ESPN3.

The celebrations are six years in the making, and at least one of them – the block celebration as they call it– has its beginnings from the Movie “Baby Mama.”

“I don’t really know how it started, but we are both so passionate during the match that it just happens,” says Mambuca. “For both of us that moment is the biggest moment in our life, and it is even better when we can celebrate a play that we made together.”

Holm and Mambuca have shared their passion for the game since they became friends at 16, playing club volleyball together in the Fort Myers/Naples area. It was during that time that their friendship sparked, and Holm remembers exactly how it happened. Ironically, it was surrounding another scene from a movie.

“Karina was like the ‘new kid’ on the team, and so everyone was just trying to figure her out,” says Holm. “I was doing the same, and after having spent some time with her we were talking about something and we both quoted the same scene from the movie ‘Stepmother.’ I knew then that we were a lot alike. I am very close to Karina’s family and over the years we have developed that type of friendship that you know you always have someone you can ‘talk to’.”

Holm played her freshman season for Marshall in 2010, then returned home to join FGCU in its success. In her three years her hard work has paid off, as she returns to her third straight A-Sun Championship with the Eagles. She also has received her share of recognition as an A-Sun All-Academic selection in 2011, First-Team All-Conference in 2012 and All-Conference Second Team selection this season.

Mambuca played two years at Southeastern University, enjoying tremendous success as a freshman and earning First Team All-Region honors in the 2010 NCCAA South Region Tournament. She began her career with FGCU in sand volleyball, earning Academic All-Conference honors in 2012 and she has been one of the statistical leaders on the team ever since. Holm’s influence was a major reason Karina returned home as well.

“It is awesome having her here, and I hope that I had a little bit of impact on her decision to come here,” says Holm. “We are good for each other, because we know that if something has set us off, that someone is there. Our entire team is close and we all share friendships, but it is nice to have someone that close who has known you for so long.”

“Honestly, Kaitlin being at FGCU was a major influence on my transferring,” says Mambuca. “I remember when we finished our last tournament with our club team we had finished 10th in the nation, and I was thinking that I would never get a chance to play with her again. It was a dream come true when I had the opportunity to come to FGCU, because we had been through so much together. Pus, our celebrations are so much fun!”

This season the duo has been through even more, as their final season as Eagles has been a challenge. FGCU was picked in preseason voting to repeat as A-Sun regular season champs, but began 2013 with a 1-10 mark. From Sept. 21 – Oct. 8, the Eagles enjoyed a seven-match streak and looked somewhat to be en route to repeating its fortunes of 2012, when they won 15 straight.

But ETSU ended the streak at seven, and the Eagles’ success has been inconsistent since. The seniors, whose temperaments allow them to lead in different ways, decided that this was not the way they wanted to conclude their careers.

“I lot of our relationship has played into our leadership through this season,” says Holm. We have talked a lot about it, and we knew that we would not only step up and lead for our team, but that we would also be doing it for each other. This season has been really emotional for me, and we have been able to keep each other positive and at the same time push each other to make plays and get better every match.”

Mambuca agrees. “I know that Kaitlin is always there for me. We are like-minded, we share the same values and thoughts on things, and that has really helped us remain completely focused on what our job is on this team.”

Their job has been to lead the team, and they have done just that. Holm is the verbal leader, and is often the more “out-front” of the two with her passion about the game and her team’s success. She is 10th in the A-Sun in kills per set (2.99) and is also second on the team in kills.

Holm’s appreciation of Mambuca of course extends into appreciation for her game, and how it sets her up nicely for a leadership role on a team desperately seeking success.

“She is a more confident player than she was when she got here, and she is a very gifted athlete,” says Holm. Her defense is amazing, and she is so solid on serve and receive as well. She is one of the best players on this team and one of our unsung heroes.”

Mambuca’s style is to lead more by example, and her stats bear out that she can “walk the walk.” She leads the team in blocks per set (.81, 89 total) and is tied for second on the team in aces (18) and third in digs per set (2.28).

“Kaitlin is more verbal than me when it comes to that, and I have always been that in order to get someone to follow you have to ‘walk the walk.’ I think our dynamic has helped us to keep everyone focused, even in when things were disappointing and a struggle.

“We have had injuries, players not able to play for whatever reason, and we’ve even had to hear from the media and others at home that we are ‘not as good’ as past FGCU teams. But we overcame that to get to this point, and everyone entered this championship 0-0.”

Always roommates on road trips, undoubtedly Holm and Mambuca will discuss nothing much in the next 24 hours other than how the Eagles can pull the upset and knock off No. 1 Jacksonville on Friday. Ironically, it was the Eagles who were stunned last season in their semifinal match as the No. 1 seed.

“I believe that we are one of the more physical teams in the A-Sun, but we have to stay mentally focused and not take plays off, which we have done on occasion this season,” says Holm. “We definitely have a challenge.”

To simply paraphrase Mambuca – This moment will be the biggest moment.

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