Written by Don Ratzlaff Wednesday, 14 November 2007 04:56
JuliAnne Chisholm is local proof that girlhood dreams can come true—that is, if you work hard to achieve that dream and are prepared to adjust it to fit your opportunities.
Just as she fantasized in her early years, the former three-sport standout at Hillsboro High School is contributing to a nationally recognized varsity sport at Kansas State University in her freshman year.
The main difference is that instead of shooting basketballs for the Wildcats, Chisholm is pounding volleyballs.
“I wasn’t planning on playing volleyball, but I got to the point during my freshman year (at HHS), where it was like, wow, that’s a really big goal—I don’t know that I can do that,” she said of basketball.
“But you work hard and things develop, and it’s like, wow, I can do it. So it is attainable.”
It hasn’t been easy, though.
Dips and turns
Starting her KSU career with a physically demanding camp experience in Manhattan in early June, Chisholm worked her way into the Wildcat lineup as an outside hitter in time for the season opener against nationally ranked Cal Poly.
But her Division I debut at the Best Western Shocker Volleyball Classic hosted by Wichita State didn’t go exactly as she had envisioned.
“Obviously, I was a little too nervous because I was taken out in my first five minutes and I didn’t play the rest of the game,” she said with a chuckle.
That shaky start led to what she now describes as “a dip in my learning curve” to the point where the former Trojan wasn’t getting any playing time.
A “dip” is hardly unusual for a newcomer to Division I competition, according to Wildcat head coach Suzie Fritz.
“I feel like her first year has been full of ups and downs, as is the case with most freshmen,” said Fritz, who is in her sixth year at the helm. “She’s making the jump from 3A volleyball to Big 12 volleyball—and it’s a significant jump.”
Chisholm couldn’t agree more.
“Oh my, it’s night and day,” the former all-state performer said of the difference. “Everything is faster. Serving is tougher, so therefore passing is tougher.
“I don’t set, but hitting is different, too. In high school, your setter sets you on top of the net because there’s no block. Basically, you can pound it wherever you want.
“In college, you actually have to be set off the net because you have to have room to work around the block and over the block—because it’s huge,” she added. “Against Texas, their right side and middle are like 6-5 and 6-3. Same thing with Nebraska.
“You don’t really encounter that in high school.”
Although Chisholm doesn’t possess that kind of height, Fritz said the Durham dynamo has the physical gifts necessary to compete at the D-1 level.
“Anybody who has seen her play, the first thing that stands out is her jumping ability,” Fritz said of the four-time state high jump champion. “She certainly has some physical attributes and athletic potential that can’t be ignored. Those are the first things that stood out for us.
“Where JuliAnne has to get better is that she lacks high-level volleyball experience,” Fritz added. “She’s been a multi-sport athlete, very actively involved in her community and school, and involved in all sorts of things.
“It’s our hope that as she’s able to focus primarily on volleyball that the sky’s the limit for her.”
Relearning to hit
Chisholm said she’s had to totally relearn how to hit.
“I had lots of bad habits, and so we had to work on fixing my arm swing and my footwork and my timing,” she said. “They’re wanting you to have the form they want you to have.”
Fortunately, Chisholm brings more to the table than her physical skills.
“In my opinion, she’s one of the fastest learners we’ve ever had,” Fritz said. “She’s a perfectionist, she wants to be great, and is working as hard as we could ask her to work. She’s a dream come true for us.”
With that combination of attributes, Chisholm earned her way back into the starting lineup in late October. It was a challenging process that, for better or worse, is measured much more objectively than it is in high school.
“A lot of our system goes off stats in practice,” Chisholm said. “They look at the last 15 days of practice and games, and that determines how much you play.”
“They stat practices like a game, basically. It’s my hitting efficiency, kill percentage, my errors and blocks—all that kind of stuff.
“When you have a day when you have maybe 20 kills and you hit out of bounds 10 times, that kills you. That was one of my practices last week. It’s so frustrating.
“But you kind of tell yourself if this was easy, anybody would be doing it,” Chisholm added. “So you pull yourself together and say, let’s have a good practice today and take it one day at a time.
“Finally, it started paying off. I was starting to be consistent over time, which is what they want you to be.”
The challenges didn’t end there, though. Chisholm’s mid-season comeback was derailed earlier this month when a bout with mononucleosis kept her off the court entirely for 10 days.
“It drives me crazy not to be able to do anything—to sit there and watch (the team) and know I can’t even go in,” she said. “If somebody’s not playing well, I’d be the one to go in—and I can’t.”
Chisholm was cleared by her doctor to return to practice this week—just as KSU’s successful volleyball season moves to its climax. The Wildcats were ranked No. 12 in the country heading into a home match Wednesday with the University of Kansas.
“We feel like we’re better than 12th,” Chisholm said, pointing to a recent loss to second-ranked Nebraska. The Cats nearly swept the Huskers in three games—before ultimately losing the match in five.
“When we get our ducks in a row and everything clicks, we’re pretty good,” Chisholm said. “It feels good to be a part of that.”
Looking to the future
Chisholm has been in personal competition all season with junior Jenny Jantsch for the same starting spot. With Jantsch joining several other non-senior starters as returning veterans next fall, Chisholm knows her personal challenge won’t get much easier her sophomore year.
But she’s ready for the challenge because she knows what it will require of her.
“It took a lot of hard work (to get this far),” she said. “A lot of people say it was natural ability, or whatever—and it is a huge gift from God to have the ability to do it. But it also is a huge factor of hard work.
“I don’t even know how much time I’ve put in working out,” she said of her lifelong commitment to athletics. “(Older sister) Keli kept me on track. She was always dragging me out of bed for lifting and stuff like that.
“(The challenge) looks big and scary, but it’s definitely attainable for those girls who are still dreaming about it. They can do it.”
Her K-State coach agrees.
“She’s an exceptionally talented, hard working, smart individual with unlimited potential at this point,” Fritz said. “We’re thrilled to have her here and excited about what she’s going to do down the road for us.
“She’s certainly a wonderful representative of that area and of Hillsboro. Academically, she’s very gifted as well. She is what I call the total package. She excels in every facet of her life.”