Teaching the next generation

Hands clasped, legs bent, Sarah Holgen throws her arms at an imaginary ball. Surrounded by some 20 teenage girls inside the main gym at McNeal Pavilion, Holgen's picture-perfect form supports the nickname she's held since she was scooping up digs and pounding spikes as an outside hitter at Ashland High — Demo.

"It's all about being here every day," Holgen said during a break in the action, "working hard and knowing that it doesn't happen over night."

Those words are particularly relevant in this setting. Holgen is one of three former Ashland High all-star volleyball players teaching youngsters the ropes of the sport at the Southern Oregon University volleyball camp, which kicked off Monday and concludes this afternoon at two local venues — McNeal and Ashland Middle School. One hundred and fifty-two players from as far away as Jacksonville, Florida packed into the four available gyms each day to hone their skills and troubleshoot their weaknesses in the hope that they will also some day be as demo-worthy as Holgen, Molly Grossmann and Lindsey Stone.

Now in its 32nd year, the camp used to be Ashland-player-dominated, but with changing demographics most of the players this year — about 80, according to SOU head coach and camp director Josh Rohlfing — come from far enough away to require housing in campus dorms. Rohlfing and his staff do their best to make sure that the trip to Ashland is worth it. That's why he maintains an 8-to-1 player-to-coach ratio and dots the gyms with instructors who have played at the Division I level.

"You get that special attention," Rohlfing said. "And the way the camp is run, we make it fun. Today [Wednesday] they're dressing up for their four-on-four tournament, that's why it looks like Mardi Gras a little bit."

It helps that Rohlfing, a two-time Oregon Class 4A coach of the year while at AHS, has a long list of former all-star players from which to draw from. Stone was the 4A player of the year in 2005, the year the Grizzlies won their first and only state title; Grossmann was a first-team all-conference setter for Ashland in 2001; and Holgen was a first-team all-conference outside hitter for the Grizzlies in both 2005 and 2006.

Greatness on the court doesn't always transfer to greatness on the sideline, but those three already look like naturals when it comes to coaching.

Grossmann, who will be an assistant coach at SOU this fall after occupying the same role at Crater in 2008, said she loves helping young players work on their game.

"It's really fun, especially at this age," said Grossmann, as she watches over a match at the middle school.

"The kids are just like sponges, they take it all in. Everybody's coming in and really feeding on getting as much volleyball information as they can because they might not have it in their school or their area. So, it's really great just to see the kids loving to play and taking it all in."

Running drills reminds Grossmann what it was like to play volleyball as a teenager. Long before graduating to coach status, Grossmann was an SOU volleyball camp participant herself.

"Just looking at all of them together, I'm like, 'Oh, I remember when I was out there with you guys, sitting right there," she said.

Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.zavala@dailytidings.com

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