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Prep volleyball: A change of pace

G.V. senior dropped hockey from her schedule and is now thriving in volleyball

Posted: October 31, 2010 9:44 p.m.
Updated: November 1, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Golden Valley High senior Sam Holcombe grew up playing ice hockey, but when her schedule became too busy, she opted to stick with volleyball. Holcombe leads the Grizzlies in kills and is always open to finding ways to improve her game.

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The alarm goes off. The clock shows 6:30 a.m.

It was time for Sam Holcombe to get up and get ready for school at Golden Valley High.

After school, it was time to head to the gym and get warmed up for that day’s volleyball match.

By the time that was finished, it was around 6:30 p.m. Time to make the roughly 50-mile drive to Lakewood for hockey practice.

It was around midnight when she finally arrived back home. Her day was complete.

Last year, that was a typical Tuesday for Holcombe, 17, until she decided to quit playing hockey and focus solely on volleyball in April.

“I just quit because I was playing hockey for 12 years and it kind of started taking over my life and I didn’t have the same passion and love for it that I used to,” says the Golden Valley senior.

She made this decision despite receiving verbal offers for college scholarships if she continued playing.

“Yeah, my parents weren’t too happy about that one,” she says.

Ultimately, it was her choice. And after talking to her volleyball coaches and her older brother Garrett, she knew it was the right call.

“She wasn’t sure that she wanted to go to her parents first because it was a pretty big deal,” Garrett says. “When she told me I was like, ‘Really? After all this time you’ve devoted and all the traveling?’”

After all, Garrett, 20, was the one who got her into the sport.

He played roller hockey with both Sam and her twin brother Ryan growing up before switching to ice hockey in 2002 when the roller at the local YMCA shut down.

Now that long days of driving around Southern California for practice are behind her, Holcombe has been able to enjoy her role as an outside hitter for the school’s volleyball team.

She’s played volleyball all four years at Golden Valley, but this has been the first season the sport has been her top priority.

Before, it took a backseat to her position on the L.A. Express hockey team.

Last season alone, she traveled to the East Coast five times, Canada twice and Alaska twice for various hockey competitions.

“To be a really high-level athlete like that takes a lot of dedication and a lot of sacrifice,” says Golden Valley head volleyball coach Jeff Cody. “Sometimes, I don’t think we realize when we see young athletes like Michael Phelps or those guys, how much time they have to devote to what they do.”

Holcombe not only played at a high level. For a few years, she played in a boys hockey league.

She was one of two girls on her team, Valencia Express, and one of about five total girls in a league made up of around 15 teams.

“When you’re the only girl among a team of all boys, you’re going to take a lot of stuff from them,” Garrett says. “There were times when I wondered if I’d have to go and beat up some 12 and 13-year-olds, but she always told me she was fine. She was always independent like that.”

Playing with the boys wasn’t anything new to Sam, who always was always having friendly competitions with her brothers growing up.

“Growing up the only girl in the family with two brothers, I always want to be better and try to be the best out of them,” she says. “I guess I’m kind of the underdog.”

The same could be said for her volleyball team, which finished last place in the Foothill League last year and is winless so far this season.

Even so, Holcombe has found a new challenge and a new passion in volleyball — and best of all, it’s a lot closer to home.

“I think once she saw that volleyball was something she was really good at, she started to enjoy it more and actually have fun doing it,” Cody says.

In this, her second year playing for the varsity team, Holcombe leads the team in kills, but she admits it has taken some time to learn the techniques and skills needed to play this level of volleyball.

“I’ve only been playing for four years so every day in practice, I think I get better,” she says. “Every game I learn something and can change from that.”

Though the sport still seems new to her, Holcombe is one of the most experienced players on Golden Valley. She has taken it upon herself to try to move the program in a winning direction.

“She definitely kind of took that as her own thing this year,” Cody says. “To be that person that was going to be that model and be that leader for everyone, which is a hard thing to do. It’s tough for a 17-year old kid to have to do that.”

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