She was a three-sport athlete, not only in high school but also in college, and that wasn’t even the best part. She listened to coaches at every turn, picking up subtle strategies – in practices and camps – that would become significant years later.
And then Julie Carver took a phone call in 1989. Holden High School, west of Warrensburg, needed a volleyball coach.
“I never looked back,” Carver recalls. “For some reason, Superintendent Robert Hoffman decided to take a chance on me with no high school coaching experience.”
Well, look who turned Holden volleyball into a winner. That’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Carver with the Class of 2023.
Her teams built a 679-230 record between 1989 and 2022. Most of her success played out at Holden from 1989 to 2011 and again from 2019 to 2022. In between, she had stops at Rolla (2012-2014) and Lee’s Summit (2014-2017).
Four Holden teams reached Final Fours in Class 2, winning state championships in 1995 and 2003. Her 2002 and 2004 teams both placed third.
Overall, her record includes six Elite Eight appearances, 17 district titles and 20 conference championships.
Carver was the Coach of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Associations in both 1996 and 2004. She later was inducted into the Missouri High School Volleyball Coaches Association in 2019.
All this from a player who put in the work in high school and college. Well, that and listened to teachers who became mentors. Among them was middle school teacher Donna Williams, and three high school coaches in baseball’s Rick Wolverton, volleyball’s Larry Tesar and girls basketball’s Debbie Easley.
Carver wanted to emulate Williams’ passion for students, took Wolverton’s advice about following dreams and playing college sports, and learned about life and perseverance through Tesar and Easley.
And, at Graceland College in Iowa, it was volleyball coach Stew McDole, who didn’t point out the team’s flaws but instead asked players what went wrong in losses.
All of which set her up for coaching success.
“The first couple of years (at Holden) were tough. It was a long road!” Carver said. “I remember my mom came to one of my games that first year, and she overheard some guy say, ‘Looks like the same old stuff to me.’ Like he expected to see change overnight. These kids were athletic farm kids, but they didn’t have volleyball IQ.”
Presented that challenge in a basketball town, Carver rolled up her sleeves, so to speak, and went to work in recruiting athletes. Among her first students in middle school physical education was Betsy Cast, a basketball player who took up Carver’s suggestion and not only became an All-State volleyball player but helped the team win a state title.
Fortunately, Carver’s strategy focused on far more than Xs and Os.
“I emphasized winning at life and becoming a better person, student and athlete,” Carver said.
Trips to summer camps, ice cream parties and sleepovers at Carver’s house and scrapbook-making for each player became standard. So did requirements for weight training classes and playing multiple sports. Club volleyball also gained steam, and coaches Susan Jennings, Anita Anderson and Debbie Riley readied players to know Holden’s varsity plays.
“Graceland Volleyball was a family, so I had four years in that program to see and learn what building more than a team and building a family culture required,” Carver said.
The 1995 team and the 2003 team solidified Holden’s prowess.
“(The 1995 team) was the most competitive group of kids I have ever coached,” Carver said. “I was their PE/weights teacher and it didn’t matter what sport we were playing – soccer, dodgeball, kickball – they always wanted to win and, when they didn’t, they were ticked off.”
“The 2003 team, they were more prepared for the whole thing,” Carver said. “This team was super-athletic, loved to compete, loved to win and played together very well.”
Carver also coached her daughters, Jordan and Kelsey, and was inducted into the Halls of Fame at Graceland and Holden. She also thanks assistants Kelli Spies, Debbie Riley, Cindy Keller, Anita Anderson and Tonya Mallinson.
“I honestly feel thankful for those ladies and their families for letting me be a part of their lives during high school,” Carver said. “We spent countless hours together – we laughed, we cried, we persevered, we won, we lost, we grew. And they taught me as much as I taught them.”