It’s a rare feat to win at the highest level both in high school and college. For their first year at Huntington Beach high school, Shane Holdaway, Mitchell Bollinger, Grant Guinasso and Alexander Anastassiades received their first taste of championship gold when they won the 2015 CIF SoCal Boys Volleyball Championship under the leadership of seniors TJ DeFalco and Josh Tuaniga. This year, the same scenario can play out, but at a higher level — winning a National Championship for Long Beach State.
“My initial thought coming here was that I had a lot of friends on this team from high school and club,” freshman middle blocker Holdaway said. “Heard a lot of good things about the program, heard a lot of good things about the guys, so coming in I knew it was going to be a lot of fun, but also a lot of work.”
Winning is nothing new for Holdaway. The four-year letter-winner posted a 121-0 record while playing at Huntington Beach high school. He won three national titles and was named a First Team AVCA High School All-American. Joining him on those national titles were freshmen Bollinger, Guinasso and Anastassiades.
“The adjustment is huge, I mean it’s a big change in the mindset coming in,” Holdaway said. “Now I like to think of myself as the wolf at the bottom of the hill, with the food on the top. I’m the hungriest wolf trying to get up there, so I just need to put in the extra work to get up there.”
He recalls his first practice with the team as intimidating, but a lot of fun.
“It was nerve-racking having to come into a new gym and learn a new system,” Holdaway said. “Coaches and players were in my ear the whole time to help, which made me feel at home right away.”
Holdaway has been impressive in nine sets this season, contributing 1.79 kills per set and .33 blocks per set, playing the backup role to sophomore middle blocker Simon Andersen and redshirt senior middle blocker Nick Amado. His high school counterparts haven’t been able to get as much playing time, but they can be seen cheering on the sidelines and putting in the work at practice.
“He knows what role he has to play on this team,” head coach Alan Knipe said.
Usually rookies and sophomores have certain duties to fulfill for the more veteran players, but Knipe and his players have implemented a next man up style of play that has integrated the team as one.
“There’s not a whole lot of separation between the upperclassmen and lowerclassmen,” Holdaway said. “It really is a big team environment and that’s why we all love it.”
Holdaway can’t recall ever being outed as a freshman, which he said makes him feel welcome and has given him further reason to work harder.
The team is filled with freshmen from local schools such as Redondo Union High, Huntington Beach High and Millikan High, all rivals when it comes to high school boys volleyball.
“We just love playing together, it’s a fun group of guys and I enjoy getting to know these guys,” Holdaway said. “We might have been rivals in high school, but now we’re family.”
The freshmen have bought in as valued members of the men’s volleyball team, which only gives more power to the team.
“This season, I’m doing whatever I can to help this team and that’s no matter if I’m coming off the bench or starting,” Holdaway said. “I’m just doing whatever I can at this point to help the team.”
With Big West play coming up, the freshmen realize their playing time may take a significant dip, but they are prepared to do whatever they can to get the job done and end their first season as a 49er with a national championship.