By Andrew Pepper
Contrary to popular belief, volleyball can be grueling. No dirt, no blistering or freezing weather and no contact might lead some to think the sport is soft.
It”s actually quite the opposite?just ask Julie Holmes, wife of men”s volleyball captain middle blocker Russell Holmes.
The recently returned missionary was out of shape and hadn”t lifted in some time, according to his wife. Julie puts it delicately, but passing out in the weight room is not a delicate matter?especially for a collegiate athlete.
“He tried to take on a little too much,” Julie said, with a slight smirk. “He”s a little better now. I don”t think that”s happened since then.”
Russell?s quick rise from redshirt freshmen to captain of the nationally ranked BYU men”s volley-ball team began unusually.
Holmes was not always an All-American volleyball player.
He grew up a soccer player.
From age 4 until 17, his passion was on the soccer field, not the court. He never planned on pursuing volleyball until his friends eventually coaxed him into giving it a shot. He was a junior in high school and a star soccer player at the time.
“So I thought why not give it a try,” Holmes said. “I didn”t know I was going to be so tall.”
The idea to switch sports came easily for the 6-foot-8 Holmes. Soccer would be just for high school, but volleyball could be different.
“Once I figured I could have a future in volleyball, I quit [soccer],” Holmes said.
All of the sudden, one of the tallest strikers in America no longer played competitive soccer and was two years from signing a letter of intent to play at BYU for the national champion Cougar volleyball team.
Although the transition took time and effort, Holmes developed quickly. His soccer years prepared him with a unique skill set, combin-ing the quickness, footwork and coordination of a soccer player with the height and extension of a volleyball player.
The striker mindset of his soccer years enhanced his ability to block, pass and spike effectively in volleyball and hybrid talent earned Holmes two volleyball letters at Fountain Valley High School in Fountain Valley, Calif., one letter less than his soccer career.
But as important as volleyball is to Holmes, it does not take top priority in his life, which changed at a July 4th barbeque, when he first met his future wife Julie.
“He was kind of in a bad mood,” Julie remembers. “Then he came around.”
Holmes came around enough for Julie, a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to marry him after the volleyball season ended in May 2005.
Holmes” honesty and hard work attracted Julie, as did his personality. His fun, laid-back character and her cheerful, supportive attitude helps the couple”s relationship succeed.
It”s not easy to have a family as a student athlete. Holmes admits one of his biggest concerns is finances and making sure he can provide for his family of, two, which will grow to three as the Holmes” are expecting their first child, Sadie, around June 21.
Managing family responsibilities, school and volleyball is consuming, but Holmes explains it is what he wants to do.
BYU was the place where he could play volleyball for a competitive program, live in an LDS environment and study at a good school.
“This is where I wanted to be in my life, where I am now,” Holmes said. “So I don”t regret anything, and I work hard trying to manage these things in my life.”
By April 2008, Holmes will have graduated with a bachelor”s degree in sociology, have a 10-month-old baby and the chance to win a third All-American honor before he possibly plays internationally?preferably in Italy.
Ryan Millar, co-head coach of the BYU men”s volleyball team, praised Holmes” ability to block and is most grateful for Holmes” composed temperament on the court.
“He”s our team captain,” Millar said. “He has a nice, calming influence on the guys when they get too riled up.”
Holmes” level-headedness and maturity prompted his appointment as captain this season, a title he shares with senior opposite side hitter Scott Cox.
Holmes? coaches say his steadying personality and consistent play is a stabilizing presence during the matches.
“He”s like another coach on the floor,” BYU co-head coach Shawn Patchell said.
Patchell was part of the coaching staff that recruited Holmes out of high school.
Patchell was teaching and coaching at Laguna Beach High School (Julie was one of his students) in southern California at the time Holmes was lettering in volleyball, receiving conference awards and getting attention from recruiters.
Patchell joined the BYU staff, as Holmes was graduating from Fountain Valley.
After returning from his mission to London, Holmes was asked to redshirt in 2004 and watched the Cougars win their third national championship from the bench.
He said it was difficult, but he used the time to learn how to compete at the collegiate level. He looks back on those times for motivation him for the next season?and hasn”t fainted since.
“I remember [Holmes] passing out in the weight room the first day,” Patchell said. “Just to see how far he”s come is rewarding.”
As far as Holmes has come, one goal is still lingering?to win a national championship.
Although he says winning it all is not the most important thing in life, Holmes said it would be a shame if such a talented team didn”t win the title at least once?considering all the starters should return.
“I have confidence in this team,? he said. ?We have a young team and a lot of talent. I am 100 percent sure we can win a national championship.”
Holmes expects a lot from this team, as did others who follow collegiate volleyball. In preseason polls, the BYU was ranked second in the nation.
Holmes was recently selected the Sports Imports/American Volleyball Coaches Association National Player of the Week, making him one of five nationally recognized Cougars this season.
But even if such a talented team does not bring a national championship to Provo again, Russell will be remembered as a captain, a competitive athlete, and a friend.
“It”s not always volleyball that makes the memories,” Patchell said. “But I”m sure before he leaves, we would like to celebrate a national championship, so there are more memories to make with Russell.”