The Big Red blocking machine

More news about: Denison
Jordan Holmes averages nearly 39 minutes per game and is dominant on the shot-blocking and rebounding end for Denison.
Lynchburg athletics photo

By Rob Knox

Long before Jordan Holmes blossomed into a shot-blocking force, she had doubts.

“I was terrified,” said Holmes, a 6-1 junior at Denison. “I didn’t think I was going to play at all. However, a lot of the upperclassmen at the time made the transition from high school to college so easy for me.”

Those thoughts seem laughable after watching Holmes’ nightly block parties. With her game-changing and unique ability to swat shots, Holmes has provided another entertainment option. Her teammates along with cheerleaders and fans have provided the latest tunes with constant cheering and clapping.

During her spectacular career, Holmes has been a historic tower of power. She demolished the Denison record book for blocked shots. Most of all, she’s having a blast helping Denison to an 12-3 start to the season, including last week’s significant 63-54 road victory over DePauw, snapping the Tigers’ 96-game regular season home conference game winning streak.

It was also the first victory for the Big Red over the Tigers since they joined the NCAC for the 2011-12 season. Holmes recorded her 11th double-double of the season after posting a team-high 13 points and a game-best 14 rebounds against DePauw. With her 14 boards, she moved into fourth on the NCAC's career rebounds list with 1,031.

Currently, Holmes leads the nation in total blocks (94), defensive rebounds per game (13.5) and total rebounds (265). She ranks second in the nation in blocks/game (6.29), double-doubles (12), total rebounds/game (17.6), triple-doubles (two) and is fifth in field-goal percentage (68 percent). Holmes is also scoring at a 14.6 point per game clip.

With five career triple doubles, Holmes ranks seventh on the Division III career blocks list with 403 rejections. She’s 107 away from tying record of 510 set by Liz Hickey, a All-America selection for Mary Washington 2005-08.

While the numbers are impressive, they only tell part of the story.

“What makes her special and unique is she’s an outstanding player, who doesn’t like a lot of attention,” Denison coach Sara Lee said. “Everybody really likes her. She’s humble, respectful and doesn’t want to stand out. We felt she may take a year to develop and we didn’t think she would be impactful right away but with her uncanny ability to block shots that changed quickly.”

All Holmes did in her first year was set an NCAA Division III freshman record for blocks with 154, breaking previous mark by 44. She set Denison and NCAC single-season marks for rebounds and blocks while adding a school record for rebounds per game. Her 394 rebounds were the fourth most by a freshman in Division III history.

Holmes has anchored Denison in more ways than one.

She provided stability after the Big Red sputtered to a 2-2 start and saw key players Gabrielle Nottage and Akilah Fletcher miss significant time early in the season with injuries. Denison has won five straight games and 10 of its last 11 games. Nottage has returned and is averaging 8.4 points per game and Kellie Arter, who leads the team with 31 3-pointers, adds 9.7 points per outing. Emily Krumpe, who has started every game, scores at a 7.8 point per game clip.

Holmes’ biggest strength is patrolling the paint and protecting the basket like security around Beyonce. That has helped Denison apply more pressure on the wings and even if they drive by their defender, Holmes is there to erase any shots. Many times, Holmes snatches the ball out of the hands of opposing players or stuffs shots back into their faces.

With long arms and a thin build, Holmes avoids foul trouble, doesn’t fall for pump fakes and has a natural ability to be in perfect position whenever a poor, unsuspecting player attempts a shot. According to Lee, many of Holmes’ blocks are quiet, meaning she usually doesn’t punch shots halfway to Columbus or celebrate with a finger wag like Dikembe Mutombo.

“For me, it’s all about timing,” Holmes said. “I stay behind my opponent and stay on my feet. Once you block a lot of shots, basically they’ll stop shooting. If one of my teammates gets beat, they know I’ll be able to block that shot. Teams have tried to get me away from the basket, but normally I am on a post that can’t shoot that well plus my teammates do a good job of switching and going out on the player.”

Jordan Holmes has blocked at least one shot in every game this season.
Denison athletics photo by Jason Miller

Holmes has added additional facets to her game as the Pittsburgh native has matured as a player. She’s a legit scoring force as well as one of the top rebounders in the NCAC. She grabbed a career-best 21 rebounds in a loss to No. 1 ranked Thomas More. Holmes opened the season with a 30-point performance against Case Western Reserve. Holmes also has incredible stamina as she has played the entire 40 minutes 10 times this season.

Earlier this season in an overtime win against North Park, Holmes broke the North Coast Athletic Conference's blocks record previously held by Denison standout Kristen Sheffield (336 -- 2003-07). In a win against North Central (Ill.), Holmes added another record to her growing collection by breaking her Denison and NCAC single-game blocks record with a 14-block performance, besting her own record of 13 set earlier in the year, which tied for the fourth-highest single-game mark in Division III history. Her 14 blocks are the most by any NCAA basketball player this season both men's and women's.

Basketball is in her genes as her father, Cornelius Holmes, played at Robert Morris in the late 1970s. Her father grabbed 15 rebounds in a game against Point Park, which is the 10th best single-game total in Robert Morris history.

“I always had a ball in my hand growing up,” Holmes said. “We had a basketball hoop in our driveway and he always helped me work on my shooting. He’s always pushed for me to play basketball. I also danced too growing up, but that got lost.”

Holmes won a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association championship at Mount Lebanon and was a teammate with current Notre Dame standout Madison Cable. Holmes has also played big time basketball with her AAU team. It was during an AAU tournament in Washington, D.C., where a Denison assistant coach spotted Holmes. It has been a match made in heaven.

“It’s been a great experience and I am very happy with my decision to come here,” Holmes said. “Coach really helped me develop a scoring mentality. I knew I wanted to play Division III and I wanted to focus on academics at the same time. I fell in love with the campus during my visit here.”

Holmes has made a difference in the community as well. A member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Holmes has assisted with the Columbus marathon and kids in the neighborhood. She’ll earn her degree in the spring in psychology. Holmes is also minoring in women’s studies. Her future goal is to become a clinical psychologist working with disorders.

However, there could be more records on the horizon that are attainable for the affable Holmes, who needs 140 points and 103 blocks to become the first person in Division III history with 1,000 points-1,000 rebounds-500 blocks for a career. She needs 140 points and three blocks to become only the second Division III player in history with 1,000 points-1,000 rebounds and 400 blocks for her career.

“Once the season is over, I’ll look at all my stats and be like wow, ‘did I do that?’ ” Holmes said. “I am not one to pay attention to my statistics. I definitely understand the accomplishments that I have been blessed to achieve. To me, it’s just doing my job.”

900 and counting

Congratulations to Franklin & Marshall coach Glenn Robinson on recording his 900th career victory last week in a 57-54 win over Swarthmore.

Already the most victorious coach in NCAA Division III history, Robinson joined the Mount Rushmore of coaching legends: Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Philadelphia University's Herb Magee and former Indiana general Bob Knight as the only NCAA men’s basketball coaches to win 900 or more games. 

All Robinson has done since taking over the helm in 1971 is be named National Association of Basketball Coaches Region Coach of the Year 12 times, conference Coach of the Year 12 times, 1991 Basketball Times Division III Coach of the Year and 2009 Coach of the Year. A deeper dive of his 900 victories uncovers 93 postseason triumphs and 42 NCAA Tournament wins.

Robinson has guided the Diplomats to 20 or more wins in 26 seasons. F&M has made 23 NCAA D-III Tournament Appearances, 16 trips to the Sweet 16, 10 trips to the Elite Eight, five trips to the Final Four and one appearance in the national title contest. He’s also had 25 players selected for All-American honors.

I’ll remember Robinson for his helpfulness to me when I was a student at Lincoln in 1993 and we were preparing to host the Diplomats, who at the time were the No. 1-ranked team in Division III. Even by 1993, F&M had a sterling reputation that Robinson has continued to enhance and polish over the years. Lincoln didn’t have a sports information director at the time and as an enthusiastic basketball lover, I took the reins and worked with F&M’s SID at the time, Tom Byrnes (now Capital Athletic Conference commissioner) on making preparations for the game.

The game itself was a classic played before a rocking capacity crowd at Manuel Rivero Hall with the entire gym waving their arms side-to-side in the air as Naughty By Nature’s “Hip-Hop Hooray” blared over the speakers late in the game. The noise was earsplitting. With the Lions ahead by two points and three seconds remaining. Robinson remarked to me afterward, that “the gym was so loud that he didn’t know if his team heard him.”

Lincoln provided a definite home-court advantage, but it didn’t matter as Dave Jannetta broke our hearts on that Monday evening with an off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer that banked off the glass for a 60-59 F&M victory in which it rallied from an 11-point second half deficit.

Robinson saw me in the hallway on the way out and thanked me for helping to generate excitement for the game by getting our student body to the game and being gracious hosts. Somehow word had trickled to him that I had placed posters across campus and really hyped the game up. Not sure how he knew that, but Robinson knows everything. That meant the world to me coming from him.

It was always a treat to play in F&M’s tournament because they knew that Lincoln would always bring out the best in them. Playing in the Mayser Center was very intimidating too especially when the Diplomats ran out to “Welcome to the Jungle.” You can see the flashbacks that I am having already.

Robinson is very deserving of the recognition and his teams have always played the game right way. It has been an honor and a treat to have had the chance to interact, interview and share a laugh or two with him. We also share the distinction of being born and raised in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.

However, the most important accomplishment for Robinson is that all but three players to earn a varsity letter in basketball have earned a degree, a statistic of which few, if any, other college in the nation can boast. Now, that’s something really worth celebrating.

Balance fuels Keene State women

Keene State had its 11-game winning streak ended by Southern Maine last Saturday, 65-59. Despite that setback, Keene State (13-1 overall) enjoyed its best start in school history. The 1989-90 team had won its first eight games. The Owls were one win shy of setting a new school record for consecutive victories.

The Owls entered the season confident despite being picked fourth in the Little East preseason poll. Keene State returned All-LEC guard Kelsey Cognetta, All-LEC Defensive guard Stephanie D'annolfo, and All-LEC Rookie Sandi Purcell.  Make no mistake, Cognetta has been the engine that has powered the Owls during the early part of the season.

Averaging 11.6 points per game, Cognetta has twice been named to the New England Women's Basketball Association Honor Roll. She is the Owls’ second leading scorer behind Sandi Purcell, who is averaging 14.2 points per contest. Together they have formed one of the most electric backcourts in the Little East Conference. Both players have lit up the scoreboard this season with monster performances.

Purcell scored a career-high 26 points in a 60-56 win over Endicott. Purcell surpassed her previous career high of 24 points set against Southern Maine last season by knocking down five of 10 three point attempts and five of seven free throws.  For the season, she has scored in double figures 10 times, including in eight of Keene State’s last 10 games. Cognetta dropped a season-high 24 points on UMass-Boston.

Making the Owls tough has also been the stellar play of the Stephanie D'Annolfo, Amanda Petrow, Valerie Martin and Sarah Kober. All four players average at least 7.5 points per outing. The 5 foot, 10 inch D’Annolfo is second on the Owls in rebounding at 7.4 per game.

Keene State rebounded from its defeat by defeating WPI, 71-53, in a rare Monday afternoon tilt behind Purcell’s 23 points. She was also 5-for-7 from 3-point distance. Cognetta scored 16 points and passed out five assists.  Kober pulled down 10 rebounds, her fifth game this year with 10 boards or more.

Matthews making Rowan go

There’s a new skyscraper along Route 322 in Gloucester County, New Jersey and her name is Kate Matthews, a graduate student making plenty of special things occur for the Rowan women’s basketball team.

Matthews is averaging 11.4 points and 12.5 rebounds per game for the Profs, who are 13-1 overall and 7-0 in the rugged New Jersey Athletic Conference. It’s their best start since beginning the 1997-98 campaign with an 8-0 conference mark. Matthews tallied her sixth straight double-double and the ninth of the season with 17 points and 15 rebounds during Rowan’s exciting 103-97 victory over Kean last Saturday. She also had four assists. Rowan scored more than 100 points for the first time since a 105-65 win over Penn State Brandywine on January 5, 2009.

That 100-point effort was the icing on the cake of a memorable week for Rowan, which knocked off nationally-ranked Montclair State, 68-64, for the first time since 2011. The Profs had not won at Montclair State since February 22, 2005 in the NJAC tournament. The previous regular season triumph in Montclair came on Dec. 2, 2000 (85-83). Matthews led the way for Rowan in that victory with 20 points and 17 rebounds.

Of course, the Profs’ success hasn’t been a one-woman show as Kaitlin Schullstrom leads the team in scoring with a 16.6 point effort and guard Anyssa Sanchez contributes 11.1 points per contest. Melissa Lake is a nine-point per game scorer for the Profs, who are averaging 81.2 points, which leads the NJAC.

Rowan also leads the conference in assists (16.9), steals (14.9), assist to turnover ratio (0.9), rebounding (49.6) and scoring margin (plus-15.3). 

Help me

I am serving as the national columnist this season for for a second season. To help with telling the best stories, delivering fun and insightful nuggets while providing teams the recognition they deserve, please add me to your email list for press releases and postgame releases at Don’t worry about flooding my inbox. Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter @knoxrob1.

Around the Nation was writen by Rob Knox during the 2015-16 season. A former Division III Sports Information Director at Lincoln University, Rob Knox also worked at Coppin State, ESPN, Kutztown and at the Delaware County (Pa.) Daily Times. He was inducted into the Lincoln University Athletics Hall of Fame, named the CoSIDA Rising Star Award College Division winner and won three writing awards for various game stories including the 2007 D-III sectional triple-OT game between Guilford and Lincoln. In the past, he has also written articles for SLAM magazine and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He is a die-hard Philadelphia sports fan, a graduate of Lincoln and is from Chester, Pa.

Ryan Scot

Ryan Scott serves as the lead columnist for and previously wrote the Mid-Atlantic Around the Region column in 2015 and 2016. He's a long-time D-III basketball supporter and former player currently residing in Middletown, Del., where he serves as a work-at-home dad, doing freelance writing and editing projects. He has written for multiple publications across a wide spectrum of topics. Ryan is a graduate of Eastern Nazarene College.
Previous columnists:
2014-16: Rob Knox
2010-13: Brian Falzarano
2010: Marcus Fitzsimmons
2008-2010: Evans Clinchy
Before 2008: Mark Simon