VolleyballSam Doughton

A Q&A with Holly Carlton

VolleyballSam Doughton
A Q&A with Holly Carlton

Photo courtesy FIVB

Holly Carlton certainly had an eventful summer.

The North Carolina redshirt freshman spent a significant part of her off-season with the United States Junior National Team competing in the 2017 FIVB Volleyball Women's U20 World Championship in Mexico. The 6-foot-7 Carlton, who previously played for the junior national team in the Pan Am Games in May, started in key games for the Stars and Stripes down the stretch before a sprained ankle forced her out of the tournament. 

The setter and opposite hitter is expected to factor heavily into the Tar Heels' plans this season, which starts unofficially with the Blue vs. White scrimmage this Saturday. Carlton spoke with Argyle Report's Sam Doughton about her national team experience and her preparation for the upcoming season. The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

What’s the practice environment like in a national team setting? Do you learn a lot from your teammates and the coaching staff, or is it more you’re trying to build chemistry really quickly because you’re coming in from different schools?

I think it was everything. I kind of would compare it to like a mini-preseason, because it was a lot of two-a-days and new practices. There were some different struggles with a new team and new coaches, but there was so much to learn, because when you’re surrounded by different setters and different people blocking against you, playing against you, that’s great to get new looks in that way. I was training with four new coaches who have never seen me play, so it was really great to get feedback in things that people might have not seen before or told me about my play that I could learn from them.

If you can think of one off the top of your head, what was something that you learned from the coaching staff that you didn’t know before this summer?

I don’t spend a ton of time training as a right-side hitter, and that was all that I did for the national team. So that was something great for me (and my development). Something specific (I learned) was me working on different shots and learning to hit more places on the court and how important changing up your swings are. That was something the coaches worked on with me. 

On that note, you’re expected to play primarily for setter for UNC this season, even if you get some reps at opposite hitter. What is it like to work out in a position for the national team that you know will not be your primary college position?

That was something that I definitely had to weigh the pros and cons of about going this summer. I was going to be dedicating most of my summer to train in probably not my primary position. But after talking to Coach (Joe Sagula) and sitting down with him, he really encouraged me to do it, and I’m so happy that I went. Setters would go in for extra sessions in Colorado Springs, and they would let me come in and get reps. I could still do that and learn more at the right side, where I’ve never spent a ton of time playing opposite. I really got to develop that side of my game so we have a ton of options this season.

Off the court, what do you like the most about the national team experience?

One thing that I really enjoyed was that both of the countries we went to were Spanish-speaking countries, and I’m thinking about minoring in Spanish here (at Carolina). I’ve studied it for a few years and I got to practice it. Some of the other teams there, the Cubans, the Argentinians, we spoke with them in Spanish, so that was a cool experience for me to be able to bond through volleyball and the language.

Personally, (I enjoyed) getting to make connections with some of the other really high-level players in the country. They’re similar to you in schedule and work load so you have a better understanding for each other, so it was great to connect with some girls from different schools.

You sprained your ankle pretty severely while you were in Mexico. How is it healing up as you approach the start of the season?

It was a pretty high-degree ankle sprain, but I’m doing rehab just trying to get back as soon as possible. We’re not really putting a timeline on it, we’re just taking it day by day.

You were redshirted as a true freshman last fall, but almost all of your teammates on the junior national team played as true freshmen at their schools. What was it like trying out for and eventually making the team before you’d even stepped on the court for an official collegiate game?

The initial tryout in late February or early March was kind of just a shot in the dark for me. I thought ‘I haven’t even started my college career, so this will be a great time to go and see where I stack up after a year of training with some of the best in the country.’ I wasn’t really going into the tryout expecting to make a team, I was just going for the experience.

I think it kind of validated the redshirt for me. I’m so grateful for that year of development, but there were definitely some tough parts. I’m very competitive, so watching the games at times where we’re down or we’re struggling you just want to go in but you can’t (was tough). (The national team helped in) just kind of remembering who I was, as a competitor, as a game-setting type of player. I haven’t done that for a year, so I think it was a great thing for me before coming into this season to be able to get back onto the court in a game setting to compete and remember what that was like.