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Gators defensive specialist Holly Pole has gone from walk-on to key contributor for No. 12-ranked Florida.

Thursday September 27, 2012Pole Position: Gators Sophomore Holly Pole is Where She Always Wanted to Be

Gators defensive specialist Holly Pole has gone from walk-on to key contributor for No. 12-ranked Florida.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- As she sat on a metal chair inside the Lemerand Center where the UF volleyball team practices, a brief wave of nostalgia swept over Gators sophomore Holly Pole.

The Gators were about to practice earlier this week in preparation for their weekend road swing to South Carolina and Mississippi State.

A recruited walk-on who carved her way into the lineup midway through her freshman season with a relentless work ethic and team-first attitude, Pole was in the same building where her unlikely path toward Florida's starting lineup began.

"Right here in this gym,'' Pole said.

Pole was in her junior year at Ocala's Vanguard High, where she was a two-time Ocala Star-Banner Player of the Year as a powerful outside hitter. She also played for the Gainesville Juniors club team, which often practiced at the Lemerand Center.

As the story goes, one day a member of UF's coaching staff caught a glimpse of Pole at a practice. Next, Gators coach Mary Wise decided to drop by and see if Pole was worth taking a flyer on.

Once Wise met Pole and got to know her, the door was wide open.

"From the moment we started talking to her she seemed pretty set on Florida,'' Wise said. "There are certain moments you remember in your career. The day we were able to offer just a position to walk-on, the reaction of her parents and her was pretty special."

The official offer came a couple of years ago in Wise's office. At 5-foot-8, Pole lacked the height to be dominant outside hitter the way she was in high school, so a move to defensive specialist was in store if she wanted to come to UF.

There were other factors to consider. Would Pole be better off going to a smaller school and playing on scholarship? Was she good enough to play regularly for the Gators? Did she want to be a small fish in a big pond or big fish in a small pond?

Jeff and Theresa Pole, Holly's parents, tossed all those questions and more at Holly.

"One thing about Holly, if there is a challenge presented to her, she is not going to back down,'' Jeff Pole said. "We asked all these questions and she was like, 'Don't worry, I got this.' "

Yep, she has it.

Pole is a key piece of the puzzle for the Gators, third on the team with 65 digs and the kind of player Wise would clone if she could.

Wise makes sure to let recruits know that if they come to Florida, there is a 365-day-a-year commitment involved. That goes for walk-ons too.

"It's not for everybody,'' Wise said. "For Holly that's a piece of cake. She is a hard-working, low-maintenance team player. That's just who she is. She is not going to be in front of the spotlight, but she is certainly an integral part of our team."

Nothing has come easy for Pole other than the "yes" when Wise offered her a spot on the team. Also a basketball player in high school, when Pole first joined the program last year she was still recovering from knee surgery during her final year of high school.

She also had to refine her skills with the move to defensive specialist, a position the Gators have ample talent with sophomore Madison Monserez and freshman Nikki O'Rourke also on the roster.

Pole did what she does best -- she went to work and got the job done.

“I always wanted to be doing something in high school,’’ she said. “There were never days when I would go to school and come home and do nothing. I just like being busy.

"There are a lot of [defensive specialists] and it’s like constant competition. You never really feel comfortable because there is a person next to you who is playing hard, playing their best out here every day. Being in a spot where I have been getting constant playing time feels awesome."

The third-oldest of Jeff and Theresa's four kids, Pole's older brother and sister attended UF. Her younger sister MaryEllen, Holly's setter for three years at Vanguard, is a freshman at Rollins College.

When it was time for Pole to decide on a college, the Gators were always No. 1. She even contemplated giving up volleyball and coming to school at UF regardless if Wise extended an offer or not.

Luckily for her, Wise saw something.

"I was so honored to be asked to play here,'' she said. "To be able to play and see the court last year, I was like, 'I can really play here. I'm not just here to be take up another spot on the team.' "

This weekend at South Carolina and Mississippi State, when Pole looks up from the court into the stands, she'll see Jeff. He is leaving Friday morning from the Pole's home in Ocala to drive to Columbia. On Saturday he'll hop in the car and make the drive from Columbia to Starkville. Finally, after Sunday's match, he will drive back home to Ocala.

Meanwhile, Theresa Pole is driving to South Florida to watch MaryEllen, whose Rollins team plays road games this weekend at Nova Southeastern and Barry.

When both teams are on the road like this weekend it's a challenge. But one Jeff looks forward to.

"I love it,'' he said. "Either my wife or I go to every match wherever it is."

Part of what makes those long drives special is that Holly takes the court in orange and blue. Like Wise, Jeff remembers that day in the Florida coach's office a couple of years ago when Wise offered Holly a chance to join the Gators.

There were hugs and cheers and tears. And then Holly shared her computer password with everyone, the one she has used for years.

No surprise, the password had a Gators theme.

"Once the offer came from Mary, there were no questions asked,'' Jeff said. "She didn't need to talk to any other coaches. That was her dream."

 

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