June 23, 2020 – By NJP
Mendham put on quite a show last season with a late season run that almost ended in a Tournament of Champions victory. The Minutemen were rolling after their Morris County tournament championship and they sustained that momentum through some of the most difficult opposition on the road to the TOC finals. Junior Cat Holtz was an integral part of the teams success last season along with Junior Lauren Wilcock and her sister freshman Sarah Wilcock. With all of these players returning for 2020, Mendham may be able to go one game further this season and notch an overall TOC Championship.
It was just one of those magical seasons where everything came together. Winning the county tournament, knocking off in succession Millburn (28-6), Old Tappan (22-3), Colonia (25-4), Wayne Valley (24-5) and Williamstown (30-3) was just an amazing feat. Immaculate Heart (35-1 in NJ) proved to be just too strong, like they have for over a decade (13 state titles in a row), ending what could have been a truly prolific season and final game for Mendham.
Cat certainly paints a vivid picture below about the journey and in her humble voice notes all of the contributors. Holtz finished in the top 30 in kills in NJ which is a major accomplishment considering their are almost 4,000 players in the state. Even more remarkable was that her teammate Lauren Wilcock finished third in NJ. Having both these offensive weapons on one team as they enter their senior seasons is scary for any opponent. We will see if Cat and the gang can get that one more game this season.
Here is our interview with Ms. Holtz…
Hi Cat… Tell us a bit about yourself? My name is Cat Holtz and I will be a senior next year at Mendham High School. I will be graduating in the spring of 2021 and I have started on the varsity volleyball team since sophomore year. I live in Chester with both my parents and my little brother, John.
How long have you played volleyball and what inspired you to take up volleyball initially? I started playing volleyball my freshman year of high school. I initially wanted to play so I could get acclimated to high school before the school year started and fell in love with the sport during that fall season. I want to continue playing, so I started to play club volleyball at Garden State Elite during off season and never looked back.
What are your metrics/details? Height, vertical, position, club team, etc. What’s your favorite position to play? I am 5’10” which I think is a pretty average height for a hitter, and my vertical is 9’4”. I play all over the front row, for high school season I play outside and for club season at Garden State Elite Volleyball Club I play from the middle and right side sometimes. I love blocking from the middle and hitting from the outside, and I am very lucky that I get to play both.
How will your high school team do in the upcoming season? Do you have a lot of returning players? What will be the key to success? This season we are looking to be pretty good. Coming off an amazing 2019 season, winning both the Morris County and Group 3 State tournaments, we are going to have a huge target on our backs. I hope that we will be able to use that to our advantage and continue to succeed next season. Out of the returning players and seniors, we already have 13 girls on the roster. This will be crucial for us because all 13 of us know how hard we all worked last season to achieve the success that we did and we are all coming into this season with that same mindset.
Tell us about your teammates. Who do you expect will be this year’s standout and up and coming players? I can’t stress this enough, I have the BEST teammates ever. They are all so supportive and Mendham Volleyball is really a big family. Our three captains, Nora Mulligan, Skye Devereux, and Clare McDonough were amazing captains. All three of them brought energy to the court and knew how to lead a team. I know Mendham will miss them next year and I hope they will all come back to catch a game!
Last year, Michele Kifyak and Lauren Wilcock were two standout players, Michele is our libero and she gets every ball up effortlessly, ending the season with 304 digs, the most on the team. Lauren Wilcock is one of the best players that Mendham Volleyball has ever seen, she will be a four-year starter and is looking to get 1000 career kills this upcoming season-ending her junior year with 434. We also have a very talented 2022 class with Ania Trzeniowski, Gabby David, and Poppy Skjonnenmand looking to make a huge impact this season. Poppy was one of our two starting middles this year and was a huge contributor to our success. Gabby and Ania were brought up late in the season and are both great team players and will make a huge impact this season. I can’t forget about Sarah Wilcock, a 2023 setter who is an absolute stud, she led our team in assists with 441 this past season. While these girls definitely stand out, everyone on the team has something unique to offer and helps contribute to our success.
Mendham made an amazing run at the state championship last season falling one game short. Tell us about the ride… This season was honestly one season that I will remember for the rest of my life. I am sure if you asked everyone on the team, they would all describe the season a little differently, but for me, it started when we played River Dell in early October. At the time, they were ranked 20th in the state and earlier that week we had just come off a heartbreaking loss to our rivals West Morris Central. We went into this game with the mindset that we could win, we would just have to work really hard to get it. We won the game in three sets and that knocked them out of the top 20 and we started to get the attention we had been working for. After that game, we started to get more and more attention as we won more games, up until we played Roxbury. We underestimated them and lost that game in 3 sets. I am going to be honest, we weren’t playing as a team and we were all in our heads.
That next practice was one of the toughest practices mentally just trying to get back into the right headspace and work on what we need to. We used that game to our advantage and started playing like every game was our last. After that, we won the Morris County title and beat West Morris Central in the semi-finals and Kinnelon in the finals. That was the first time in 8 years that Mendham beat Central and we had a great fan section, the Mendham Moshpit, who really hype everyone up from the stands. Then comes the State tournament. From the get-go, we knew it was going to be challenging and no game from then on was guaranteed. For most of us, we really started to realize that we could go far after beating #3 Old Tappan in their own gym. We won in three sets and we have never played more as a team then we did that game. The rest is history, we beat Colonia, then Wayne Valley to win the state title. After that, we played and beat Williamstown in TOC and then fell short to Immaculate Heart Academy in the TOC finals. This might seem strange, but I am a little bit glad that we didn’t win TOC this year so we have something new to win this upcoming season.
You put up 225 kills during the 2019 campaign which is amazing. Between you and fellow junior Lauren Wilcock you posted almost 700 points. Tell us about the dynamic of having such offensive powers on the same squad… One thing that my dad always tells me is that offense wins games but defense wins championships, and I couldn’t agree more. Granted, Lauren and I get a lot of the credit because we are the ones who are getting the kill and putting the ball down, but it all starts with the defense. Lauren is a 6 rotation outside, so when she is in the back row, I am in the front. The two of us always being opposite of each other makes our setter, Sarah, more confident because she knows that she will always have an option.
Who is your support group? Honestly, I surround myself with my support group, my mom, dad, brother, grandparents, and my friends. My grandma came to the home games that she could and was the best cheerleader I could ask for. My parents come to every single one of my games and make countless sacrifices to get me to club tournaments and recruiting events and I am eternally grateful. My dad’s favorite movie is Miracle on Ice, the movie about the 1980 Olympic hockey team who defied all odds and won the gold medal. We played Central, our rivals, in the semifinals of the Morris County tournament and before the game, like most other games, he was talking to me about Miracle. He asked me who the USA beat to win the gold medal, and I said the USSR because that’s the whole point of the movie. He said no, they beat Finland to win the gold medal, they beat USSR in the semifinals and he told me that beating Central would be great, but the journey doesn’t stop there.
Beach or Hard Court? Hard court for sure, I am not very good at beach volleyball.
Which player last season was the toughest competitor that you faced and why? Brooke Askin was by far the toughest player I had to play against last year. She is a 2021 middle hitter at Pope John and is one of my best friends who I play club with. She is an amazing team player and balls out every game. Because we play together during club season and we are such good friends, she knew my every move before I made it, so it was definitely a challenge.
NJP considers you as one of the top players in the state. Do you plan on playing in College? (If so, which ones are you looking at?) I do plan on playing in college. Right now I am not committed, but I am talking to/looking at playing at schools all over the east coast from northern PA to eastern shore Maryland. Hopefully, as campuses open up I will be able to visit and make my decision.
Tell us about your Club Coach? Khaled El Shamey is my club coach and I can confidently say that he has made me the person I am today. I could talk about how amazing he is forever, but what stands out the most is how much he cares off the court. Out of the 9 girls on my team, we go to 7 different schools and everytime we play one another, he is there in the stands trying not to coach us. He has coached me since my sophomore year and I give him a lot of credit for my success as a player.
Have you won any awards such as All County or All State or others? This past season I was named NJ First Team All Group 3, NJA Second Team All Conference, and Mendham Volleyball Offensive Player of the Year.
What is your favorite inspirational video that you like to watch before games? As a team, during our six minutes of full-court practice at every game, we always play Thunderstruck by AC/DC. It never fails to hype everyone up before games.
Which schools are your biggest rivals? There are two schools in the West Morris Regional High School District, Mendham and Central. Naturally, they are our biggest rivals. It doesn’t matter what conference we are both in or the success of the other team, we always play them in every sport.
Who is your favorite college or pro volleyball player and why? My favorite college player is Snowy Burnam. Snowy is going to be a senior at Florida Gulf Coast University and plays both indoor and beach there. The first college volleyball game I went to was an FGCU game and the way that she carried herself on the court is something that I look up to.