When 6-4 post Stephanie Holzer arrived at Vanderbilt in the summer of 2009, coaches and fans alike expected an immediate impact. Not only was she bringing serious height to a team that had been under-sized for a couple of seasons, but after years of battling injuries and surgery, she garnered national recognition as a high senior culminating in her selection to the McDonald's All-American team.
But it turned out that the optimism was premature. A broken ankle and subsequent surgery in the preseason forced her to sit on the sidelines her freshman season while the rest of her class -- Gabby Smith, Elan Brown, and Tiffany Clarke - were being introduced to SEC basketball.
Holzer made her long-awaited debut as a redshirt freshman in the fall of 2010, recording a double double of 20 points and 11 rebounds in her first game as a Commodore. But the injury bug struck again, and she struggled with chronic back injuries for the rest of the season. Even though she was hampered by injuries, she was named the SEC Sixth Woman of the Year.
After an off-season to heal, Holzer stayed healthy enough to play in every game. She averaged 23 minutes of playing time with a season high of 37 minutes in Vanderbilt's victory over Tennessee and finished the season averaging 11 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
In the midst of the flurry of the end of classes, class projects and final exams, Holzer took some time to talk with VandyMania about her plans, hopes, and expectations for future.
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VandyMania: What are your expectations for this summer compared to last summer?
Holzer: Well, last summer I would say that my focus was on getting my body to a point that I was able to play. This year looking forward my outlook is so much different. It’s so much more positive and optimistic. I’m finally at a point where my body is healed, not in the process of healing any more. I still have a few little things to get better -- doesn’t everybody? – but I can work on actually developing my skill set and my body as a whole and becoming a more complete player.
VandyMania:You haven’t had the chance to do that much since you’v been here, have you?
Holzer: I’ve never really had the chance to do that throughout my career. I was only able to improve a little by little. I always had to backtrack some. So this year, there’s no really big point to backtrack, so I’m really excited above moving forward. I’m confident that if I put in the same amount of work as this past summer in just getting back to the point that I was able to play that we’re going to see a lot of fun things in the future, not only for me, but as a team.
VandyMania:In terms of basketball eligibility you're classified as a rising junior, but academically, you’re starting your senior year. When it comes to academics, how are you going to use that extra year?
Holzer: Knowing since I was a freshman that I was going to have a fifth year, provided that was something that the coaching staff and I wanted together, I’ve worked with a lot of advisors in the school and especially my academic counselor in athletics Christy Hogan and created a plan. I’ve applied to graduate school for the fall of my senior year and if I get approved during the summer, I’m going to start graduate work while finishing up my undergrad. So I’m going to graduate on time, but also taking graduate classes my senior year. So those graduate classes will count towards both. It’s kind of a hard concept to think about, but I'll be starting graduate school a little bit early and then in my fifth year, still provided that it something the coaching staff and I together want, I’m going to be a fulltime graduate student.
VandyMania: In what field?
Holzer: In leadership and organizational performance. I’m getting my masters in education at Peabody. The program is amazing. It deals with problems of ambiguity, corporate strategy, and it has an interactive learning concept with a hands on approach to the coursework so you’ve not going to just be learning about it but getting to apply it. I’m a huge business person. That’s what I did undergraduate for, and it’s something that’s really exciting.
VandyMania:You came to Vanderbilt in the same class with Elan Brown, Tiffany Clarke, and Gabby Smith, but with your redshirt year, you've slipped down a class in terms of eligibility. What's that like for you?
Holzer: It’s definitely difficult sometimes not being recognized in that senior class, but it also has its benefits. I get to be here another year, have more opportunities to get to a Final Four and win a national championship, and personally staying in school because the economy’s not as great as it once was. (laughs) So there are added benefits for me, but I’m trying to stay in the present and in the moment and work directly on what’s going on now.
VandyMania:You’ve had your end-of-the year one-on-one conference with the coaches. Is there anything from that you can share?
Holzer: I had my one-on-one. As a whole team focus, I think a lot of people next year can expect to bring a new aggressiveness, toughness and dedication on the defensive end of the court. That’s going to be one of our main focuses. We are a pretty sound offensive team, and Coach Balcomb is one of the best Xs and Os offensive minds you’ll ever find in the country, but we need to be able to keep our opponents from scoring because no matter how many you score, if they score more, they’re going to win. So there’s going to be a big shift on that. Personally, I talked to coach today about developing my skill set and building off of my inside and outside game, staying low, and continuing to work my hardest because in my mind, no matter how many times I get it wrong, I’m going to go as hard as I can until I get it right. And if I’m able to apply that to developing my skills, that me and coach talked about, hopefully I’ll get a more complete player next year.
VandyMania: Finally, what about this big group of freshmen coming in?
Holzer: There are so many! (laughs) It’s good because they’re coming June and July for summer school so they’ll have time under the system to get familiarized with it, and once they get here, with our trainer Michele Loftis, our strength coordinator Tasha Weddle , and our academic counselor Christy Hogan, they are going to have such a safety net and so much guidance that by the time that school starts and it’s time to get into practice, they should not have any doubts or fears. They should be pretty much implemented in the system and know what’s going on. I think Vanderbilt as a whole does a really good job with their student athletes in that way.
VandyMania: Is it a challenge for team bonding? Last season, you were a very close, very cohesive group with great chemistry and now you need to expand that circle.
Holzer: I think Coach Balcomb recruits, including recruits coming in, a type of not only athlete and talent, but person. And with that, we’re all very personable and outgoing, so while we may have different backgrounds, we may be different ages and at different points in our lives, that there’s still a common thread of caring about people and having a good attitude and work ethic that we can all relate to , which bonds us together. And when we spend as much time as we do with each other, it’s kind of like a second family that forms. And we’ve had big groups of people of people leave, we’ve had Lauren Lueders’ and Merideth Marsh’s group leave, Rebecca Silinski and Hannah Tuomi, and each year, it’s kind of like a new culture implements itself. So I’m pretty excited to see what these freshmen bring in and how our culture changes this year.