Holtzen accomplishes rare feat earning 12 varsity letters
Isabelle Holtzen became the first female athlete in Louisburg High School history to earn 12 varsity athletic letters after finishing out her senior season. Holtzen earned letters in cross country, basketball and track and field in each of her four years of high school.
Once Isabelle Holtzen received her diploma and walked out of Louisburg High School for the last time as a student, she officially became one of the most decorated female athletes in school history.
No, she doesn’t have any individual state championships, or even one as part of a team. Holtzen’s decorations aren’t ones in the form of trophies or all-state honors, but instead, they can be found on the front of her letter jacket.
Holtzen became the first female athlete in at least 20 years to earn 12 varsity letters, which means she lettered on the varsity level in three sports in each of her four years of high school.
In research done by Louisburg Sports Zone, it was unable to find the last athlete to accomplish the feat, which could mean Holtzen could be the first Lady Cat to do so.
The last athlete to come close was in 2001 when Krystal Bowes earned 10 varsity letters before moving on to a collegiate track career at Wichita State.
“The biggest thing that it means to me is to just have an opportunity to participate in three sports at a school like Louisburg,” Holtzen said. “The bigger the school that you go to, the harder it is to play multiple sports at the varsity level and I think Louisburg is unique in that fact. The best part of this whole journey was I think my freshman year because there was no pressure and no one was expecting anything from me. It was surprising and exciting to be able to letter in all three sports.”
Thoughts of finding her way onto the varsity team her freshman year was one she couldn’t even fathom four years ago. She wasn’t experienced in cross country. She enjoyed basketball, but didn’t even dream of playing with the school’s best.
In track, Holtzen would qualify for state in the pole vault for all four years of high school and earned two state medals. It was that sport where she almost didn’t get a letter her freshman year.
It is the same sport where she earned a Division I scholarship offer to pole vault at Northern Iowa University next season.
“I was not very good my freshman year,” Holtzen said. “I wasn’t that great in pole vault and I remember throughout the season that I would add up all my points to see if I was going to have to have enough to letter. I actually barely lettered my freshman year. I think you had to get 20 points and I ended up getting 20.5 or something like that.
“In basketball, I was not expecting to letter at all and it didn’t even cross my mind that it would. We had some really good seniors that year in Natalie Moore, Kirstin Lowry and Kallie O’Keefe and they were all playing at a high level. I just remember standing next to them and I was about 4-5 inches shorter than they were and I felt like a little freshman. I wasn’t expecting to play any varsity at all. I thought freshman and maybe a little JV, so it was surprising when I got a few minutes on the varsity level.”
However, it was in cross country where she first realized that she had more to give and it was thanks in part to a special conversation from a senior.
Holtzen found herself holding back in practice and not wanting to pass the team’s upperclassmen. She was told that things needed to change.
“My freshman year I had some of the best seniors that I have ever gone through here,” Holtzen said. “Mary Kate Roy always pushed me in cross country. One time at practice she pulled me aside and told me that if I want to be faster that you are going to have push yourself and don’t be afraid to go ahead of us.
“Her saying that really impacted me because I was all about running with my friends, but I realized that I needed to push myself for my teammates and have a chance to get team medals and individually get better too. As a scared little freshman, what she said really meant a lot.”
Very quickly, Holtzen found her way to the varsity level in cross country and stayed there through her four years. This past season, Holtzen was on the Lady Cat squad that became the first team in school history to qualify for the Class 4A state meet.
“It is a big accomplishment to earn a varsity letter in any sport, but to do that all four years in three sports is amazing,” Louisburg cross country coach John Reece said. “Most freshmen find themselves waiting their turn to see varsity time and understand their role. Isabelle was looked to by her coaches to step up and fill voids at the varsity level as a freshman and even be a top performer for the team in some cases.
“She was prepared in her athletic skills to do so and also went through the growing pains of mentally developing at the next level of competition. Because of her never quit attitude, she took coaching criticism, both positive and negative, and used it to get better. In cross country, she ran her way into the top seven and never looked back. She was always a top five runner for the team and was that kid that would run their guts out to support her teammates in front of her.”
After seeing a little varsity time her freshman year in basketball, Holtzen eventually worked her way up the ranks to where she found herself as a starting guard and team captain her senior year.
“To accomplish something like this requires such significant commitment and determination,” girls basketball coach Shawn Lowry said. “She’s such an impressive student-athlete because of the leader she was for multiple teams at Louisburg High, her high level of success in the different programs and her outstanding academic performance.”
Earning 12 varsity letters might be impressive enough to some, but it certainly wasn’t enough for Holtzen as she also had a lot of success in the classroom.
Holtzen was No. 1 in her class with a 4.0 GPA and was a fixture on the Wildcat debate team. She went on to finish third in the state in the 2-speaker competition for two years and was also a member of the 4-speaker team to take third at state last season.
To find time to participate in three sports, debate and find a way to get her school work done, Holtzen had to become a master planner.
“The biggest you thing you have to do, no matter what activity you are doing, is you have to prioritize your time,” she said. “You have to choose what is the most important to you and what is going to help you most on the long run.
“For me, it was having good grades. Learning in school is going to transfer in my job later in life and the odds of me actually pole vaulting professionally are really, really slim, so you have prioritize getting your homework done and staying on task in class. A lot what I tried to do was to get as much stuff as I could in class and then after school I could I just go to my sport and finish up the homework later.”
In a time where specialization in sports has become the norm, the multi-sport athletes are becoming harder and harder to come by.
At a smaller school like Louisburg, many believe it is important to have athletes out for multiple sports if it wants to compete at a high level and Holtzen enjoyed her time with the different activities. In fact, she believes it helped her in her sport of choice – track.
“On the athletic side, playing multiple sports keeps you from getting injured because you are working different muscles constantly and not overworking the same ones,” she said. “Outside of that, I like doing different activities because it is fun and I get bored when I have to do the same thing over and over again. Being active helps keep it more fun and exciting. Each sport taught me something different.
“Cross country teaches you to push through how hard it is because it is a big mental game and the most successful runners may not be the fastest, but they are most mentally strong. In basketball, I think it teaches you a lot of hard work and commitment and you have to work with other people and not just yourself. With doing pole vault, it is just fun for me because you have to learn a lot of different things and it teaches you patience.”
However, the drawback of being involved in so many things is that sometimes they will overlap, which has happened the last few winters with basketball and debate. Holtzen has had to miss games to attend state debate competitions.
“Basketball season is when it got the hardest for me because it was the same time as debate,” Holtzen said. “Both of those are team activities and I don’t get to set my own schedule. It was hard for me to balance the two and I definitely thought about quitting one or the other a few times, but I didn’t because I enjoy them way too much.
“It is really hard when I have to tell my coach I am not going to be able to be at the game, because it is going to be hard for the team. Everyone on the team has a role, and whenever I am not there to fill my role, it is hard for them and hard for me. I don’t want to miss any games because it is so much fun and you make memories from those.”
Despite all the hustle and bustle of being a 3-sport athlete and achieving academic success, Holtzen would do it all over again if she could.
“It will mean more to me later,” she said of the 12 letters. “My parents have always told me to do three sports and to be involved in as many things as you can. For me, I was going to do it no matter what. I know not everyone thinks that way or has the opportunity. When I look back at high school knowing that I got everything out of it that I could by being involved in three sports and other activities, I will definitely appreciate it more later on.
“It is awesome to see other people doing multiple sports because it is extremely fun and you get to meet and be involved with different people. You get to have a lot of memories with these girls and I think that is one of the best parts of high school.”