Kia Holder is the only senior on Ball State Women’s Volleyball.
While a player may face internal pressures of leading at a high level as the only senior on a sports team, Holder said she won’t let those get to her head.
“I will be the only one graduating in my class, but I do not feel alone in the leadership aspect at all,” she said.
The Cardinals lost four seniors following their 2019 season. While filling their roles will not be easy, Holder said, she will look to replace their absences by progressing as a leader herself.
“My main focus of leadership has always been leading by example,” Holder said. “Being the only senior and having such a young group, I have learned you have to have some type of vocal leadership when you are in the position I am.”
From the way she leads by example in her play, Holder has earned the respect of her teammates. Head coach Kelli Miller Phillips said she wants her to continue evolving as an active leader this season.
“Everyone looks up to [Holder] because of her work ethic — because of her competitiveness — so what I would like to see is for her to continue to be more vocal in that role,” Miller Phillips said. “Our team needs somebody that is willing to say what needs to be said in the moment, and she has certainly earned the right to do that.”
Entering her fourth season with Ball State, Holder finished the 2019 regular season with 153 kills — sixth on the team. She was also named MVP of the 2019 Mid-American Conference Volleyball Championship, leading the Cardinals with three kills per set.
Additionally, Holder recorded numerous single-match career highs in kills (21), digs (six) and blocks (five) during the Cardinals’ 2019 regular season.
Holder said she will use her mental toughness to maximize her role as the Cardinals’ lone senior. This element of her game, which she believes has improved over her career, sets an example to younger teammates.
“Mentally, I think I am more calm,” Holder said. “[I] take everything very small, but at the same time keep myself accountable.”
Sophomore outside hitter/opposite Natalie Mitchem plays the same position as Holder. Mitchem said she respects Holder as a leader and said her communication and approachability toward younger players is what makes her special.
“Everybody on the team can look to her if we need advice on something or if we need somebody to keep us accountable for something,” Mitchem said. “We can go to her.”
Miller Phillips said as Holder’s career has progressed, she has steadily prepared for this moment of being the only senior on a younger roster.
“From the start of practice to the end — day in and day out — that takes a lot of mental toughness,” Miller Phillips said. “That takes a lot of discipline, and she has shown that throughout her whole career. I think now you know the challenges when you're the only senior of how to maintain that with a young group.”
As Holder said, leadership is not as difficult when younger teammates embrace that quality. Mitchem said she believes the team’s ability to have different leaders in different positions will take pressure off Holder.
“[We are] leaders in the way of keeping each other accountable, and by raising our voices and talking all the time,” Mitchem said. “It is not like she is the only one that feels like she has to do that.”
Miller Phillips has arranged the program in a way where as soon as freshmen enter, the importance of leadership is introduced by the team’s veteran players than expected by the coaching staff.
“I think we really work as a program to traditionally, year after year, be consistent in who we are, and that takes everyone buying in from freshmen to seniors,” Miller Phillips said. “It is not all on one person or in one class because I just do not think that you can sustain success when you're putting so much pressure on one team or person. It is about Ball State Volleyball.”
Miller Phillips said she is thankful for Holder’s role as the mediator between the Cardinals’ coaching staff and players, where the communication between both sides is easily understood. This removes the load off players and coaches.
“She is somebody that I rely on really heavily to get the vibe from the team,” Miller Phillips said. “I trust 100 percent that she is going to give me the honest opinion on how the team is feeling, and that is a huge relief for a coach to have somebody be that liaison between the team and the coaching staff because she is in the trenches with them.”
Ball State enters its 2021 regular season with two upperclassmen — Holder and junior defensive specialist Cathryn Starck. While the Cardinals have a total of eight sophomores, these players have plenty of experience. They were part of a team that won last season’s conference championship and participated in the NCAA Tournament, and Holder said she is confident they will play an important role this season.
“I put it in my mind, ‘Yes, I am the only senior,’” Holder said, “but there are girls just as capable of being in a leadership position.”
Contact Charleston Bowles with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cbowles01.