Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Lauren Holmes appreciates the opportunity she has to be able to play high-level volleyball at the same time she's in the final stages of wrapping up a Nursing degree.
It's a rarity for a student-athlete to be able to excel in both pursuits, each of which demand hours of dedication.
In the fall semester, Holmes' nursing practicum hours in local hospitals are basically the equivalent of having a full-time career. Her volleyball training, workouts, video preparation and game schedule with the MacEwan Griffins takes up the rest of her waking hours.
"It's been difficult, but it's definitely doable," said Holmes. "My passion for volleyball and nursing is both pretty high and that drives me to make it work.
"I get pretty lucky with my professors and clinical instructors being flexible and (Griffins head coach) Ken (Briggs) has been really amazing in practicing at different times with me and letting me miss, while still having the opportunity to play, which is something I wouldn't get at other schools, so I'm really grateful for that. They're two things I love doing and I want to finish off both of them."
Neither seems like work to her, which means Holmes is savouring her final season at MacEwan both academically and athletically – enjoying working on a labour and delivery unit during her practicum hours and delivering crushing smashes on the court at night.
The veteran outside hitter will lead the Griffins into action against Brandon on Friday (6 p.m.) and Saturday (5 p.m., David Atkinson Gym, both games Canada West TV presented by Co-op).
Holmes is currently second on the Griffins with 63 kills in 26 sets over the first eight matches of the year. Finding her rhythm to be able to produce at that clip wasn't as easy a year ago.
"I did the same thing as I'm doing right now (in nursing) last year at this time and I kind of struggled with that," she said. "I could see all the other people in my position excelling and I was just maintaining. So, I worked really hard this summer to come in at a level that was higher, so I could start off higher and not worry about catching up to everyone else.
"I've been really lucky this semester to make most practices. I really never thought practicing every day was necessary, but when I wasn't, I was dipping. I'm just working really hard to maintain that high level."
That's been huge for the Griffins who have big weekend sweeps over Regina and Calgary to their credit so far this season.
"Lauren is probably our best defender," said Briggs. "She sees the right things and goes to the right spots. She's not a libero playing that cross court, she's playing the back of the court. For us, that's very important. And she's been very efficient on the outside.
"Because our middles are so good, when our outsides get a chance … they're putting the ball on the floor and making good decisions. That's really opened the game up for all of them. When they go good, then (the opposition has) to go block her and that opens it up for the middles."
Holmes and the Griffins come into the weekend off a bye week, which came at the right time.
"I think it's exactly what we needed," said Briggs. "We were tired. Midterms were over and it was a great week to regroup."
While it's early in the season, MacEwan currently sits in a playoff position with a 4-4 record. For a program that has yet to make the Canada West post-season dance, they won't be taking anything for granted this weekend. Certainly not against Brandon, the team that knocked them out on the final day of the 2018-19 regular season. The Griffins haven't forgotten the sting after they lost to the Bobcats and came out on the wrong end of a three-way sets won/lost tiebreaker for the final two playoff positions.
"I think it's still like a knife in our hearts from last year, so it's really motivating everyone," said Holmes. "They're a good team, but we're all pretty motivated to (win)."
The Bobcats (0-8) have yet to win this season, but you won't find the Griffins taking them lightly.
"What we found is week to week teams are very similar," said Briggs. "Hitters are very similar. A team's going to have a hitter just like the right side from Trinity. Or the middle's going to hit very similar to the one from Regina.
"Now that we've had eight matches and four different teams, you start seeing some familiarity on how they play defence. Brandon plays a similar style to Trinity and Mount Royal as far as how they defend."
The familiarity doesn't stop there for Briggs, who was once an assistant coach for Brandon bench boss Lee Carter with the Grande Prairie Regional College Wolves.
"Lee's such a good friend of mine that he's pulling out all the stops, has a guest coach coming and all sorts of things, so it will be fun."