The most powerful moment of Nebraska’s fifth National Championship on Saturday came during the post-match press conference. Just before the players — including senior middle blocker Briana Holman — had wrapped up their question-and-answer session at the podium, Coach John Cook asked if he could pose one last question.
“Bri, I want to know what it feels like to graduate from college and win a National Championship on the same day?” Cook said, and applause erupted in the room.
“It felt amazing,” Holman responded. “I don't know. It's been a long journey to get to this point, and I'm the first in my immediate family to graduate from college so this meant a lot.”
Holman choked up a bit toward the end of her answer as the emotions bubbled up and she held back tears.
The University of Nebraska held its December graduation back in Lincoln on Saturday morning, but Holman was with her team in Kansas City.
“We piped in the graduation ceremony and they announced her name,” Cook said. “You guys ought to see it on Twitter. It was a very emotional moment for our team today and her.”
Congratulations @_Shinola on earning a @UNLincoln degree today! So proud of your accomplishments on and off the court! Thank you @RonnieDGreen @hankbounds! #GBR #Huskers #WithEachOtherForEachOther pic.twitter.com/TEKaaiK074
— Husker Volleyball (@Huskervball) December 16, 2017
“It was just tears of joy,” Holman said. “I’ve just been emotional all day because that happened this morning and I was kind of sad I couldn’t be there, but at the same time I’m so happy that I’m here.
“I’ll probably walk in May, so I’ll get to walk across the stage.”
The 6-foot-1 native of DeSoto Texas, traveled a long way and went through a lot to get to that point. She began her career at LSU, putting up All-America numbers as a freshman and sophomore, but the Tigers failed to make it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament both years. Holman decided to continue her career elsewhere, and the two main suitors were Nebraska and Penn State.
“Briana, when she left LSU and transferred to Nebraska, and she documented this, she transferred mid-year,” Cook said. “Penn State had a scholarship and we did not at the mid-year. So Briana took out a loan to pay her way to come to Nebraska. I didn't think we'd be able to get her. But she saw something and her family saw something in Nebraska of what she needed and the support that she would need.”
However, LSU chose not to release her from her scholarship. That meant she had to sit out the entire 2015 season. Meanwhile, the Huskers who were eligible to play went on to win the national championship.
“It was really hard,” Holman said. “I was still training with the girls and stuff like that and practicing with them every day. I did feel like a part of the team, because I would be the mock players on the other side of the net or I would pretend to be maybe a good player off of the other team. I gave in any way that I could. When we won, I just had weird emotions, and they were like ‘I want you to know that you helped us get to this point,’ and stuff like that, so that made me feel better.”
Even though she had to sit out that year, after experiencing the team success and fan support, Holman said she knew she made the right decision.
“It was different just because coming from LSU, we didn’t really have crowds and we didn’t really have crazy fans like we do at Nebraska,” Holman said. “It’s a lot different. It took getting used to a little bit as far as how much people cared. Even if I was pumping my gas, it’s like someone is like ‘Hey, I watched you guys yesterday, good game,’ and stuff like that. It was weird, but I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. I’m so glad that I came here.”
This time around, Holman got to be on the court and she played a big role in the NCAA Championship, finishing with 13 kills and four blocks against Penn State in the semifinals and seven kills and six blocks in the final.
“She was an honorable mention All-American, and she didn't even make all-conference,” Cook said. “You look at her stats against the best middles and you look at her stats in this NCAA tournament, and she had a heck of a tournament. So it's very rewarding to see what she's accomplished.”
Now, with a criminology and criminal justice degree in hand and a second national championship under her belt, Holman is looking ahead to the future. Whether or not she chooses to pursue a professional playing career (something she said hasn’t yet determined), she knows what she wants her post-playing career to include.
Holman said she wants to put her degree to use working with troubled youth.
“I feel like sometimes all these kids need is a little guidance and a little help,” Holman said. “That means a lot to me.”
On a championship squad filled with feel-good stories, Holman stands out as one particularly worth cheering for.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.