Back to Top

How Jenna Hollar became ONU’s most notorious base thief

Hollar broke ONU's career steals record two weeks ago in the team's final spring break contest. The senior has led the team in stolen bases all four years. (photo/ ONU Sports Information)

Under an overcast spring sky, on a diamond lined with palm trees which swayed lightly in the wind, there stood Jenna Hollar.

After leading off with a single, she positioned herself on first base, rocking back and forth in an athletic stance. Her left foot in front and her right foot on the bag, she swayed as McDaniel (Md.) pitcher Cassie Rickrode began her motion.

It was the final game of Ohio Northern’s spring break trip, where they played 12 games in six days amid the Kissimmee, Fla. heat. While mentally and physically drained, Hollar knew what was on the line.

Dressed in all black, the senior prepared to pull off her biggest heist yet.

As Rickrode took the ball out of her glove and began to lurch her arm back, preparing to wind up and hurl it towards the plate, Hollar rocked one final time. She leaned back, putting all the weight on her back foot. Then, when Rickrode’s right arm wound all the way up and reached the apex of its motion, Hollar took off.

She burst off the bag like a cheetah, going from stationary to steamrolling in a split-second, and by the time the ball reached the plate she was already halfway to second base. Her arms and legs moved as one as she took long strides toward the bag. After nine steps, she tucked her left leg under her right and slid. McDaniel catcher Kara Flynn had launched the ball towards second and now it was a race against time.

The ball stood no chance.

Hollar slid in and stood up all in one motion, producing a cloud of dust in her wake. McDaniel second baseman Maryanna Lynch collected the ball but knew the effort was futile.

“SAFE!” the umpire proclaimed.

As Hollar stood up, a prolonged “Yeahhhhh!” beamed from the Northern dugout. Then a chant began.

“You say broken, I say record!” one of the players yelled, as a verbal volley ensued.

“Broken…”

“Record!”

“Broken…”

“Record!”

Standing on second base, dust still hanging in the air, Hollar looked towards the dugout and smiled. She had just made history. The senior had broken ONU’s career steals record, taking her 99th base.

As she stood there on second base, it was probably hard for Hollar to keep focused. It was adrenaline and relief and accomplishment, all converging in one moment. But there was also an element of serendipity to it all.

What was it that brought her to this point? After all, four years ago, Jenna Hollar thought she was done with softball.

***

Laying in a dogpile behind home plate at Akron’s Firestone Stadium, Jenna Hollar embraced her teammates in joy. It was Hollar’s senior year at Lima Bath High School, and the Wildkittens had just won their first state championship since 2001.

After the game, she was asked a question.

“What do you think about playing college softball?”

It was Hollar’s high school coach, Hannah Slavin. Slavin had played college softball at Toledo with Ali Hess, ONU’s head coach at the time. When Hess saw Hollar play at state, she was impressed. As Slavin recalls, Hollar recorded multiple hits, stole a few bases and scored on several different occasions during Bath’s historic 7-2 win. “She was basically unstoppable,” Slavin said.

Hollar was also dominant in the state semifinal game, when Bath beat Tallmadge (and, coincidentally, also beat Hollar’s future four-year teammate, Kirsten Lightel).

While Hess may not have been recruiting Hollar before Bath’s state tournament run, she was now. Hollar had already committed to Ohio Northern to play basketball in the coming school year, so Hess wanted to see if she’d be willing to come out for the softball team as well. Hess asked Slavin to talk to the senior about continuing her softball career in college.

When Slavin approached Hollar with the idea after the state semifinal game, she dismissed it. But Hess wouldn’t give up. After Hollar’s killer championship game performance, she asked Slavin to bring it up again.

And again, Hollar turned her down.

Walking away from Firestone Stadium that day, medal around her neck, Hollar thought that she’d played her last softball game. But about a month after her softball career ended, she couldn’t stop thinking about what she might be missing if she hung up the cleats.

“People were like, ‘You know, you should look into it and give it a shot,’” Hollar said. “People started putting it in my head.”

She was good at it, too. She’d been a key component to Bath’s championship run and had broken the school’s single-season steals record that year, as she was only called out once in 48 tries.

“She was our leadoff hitter. And basically, if she got on first base, we knew that within a couple of pitches, she would be on third,” Slavin said. “If Jenna got on, we had a good chance of scoring in the first inning.”

What held Hollar back from playing at the next level was the fact that she’d already committed to playing basketball at ONU. She feared that she’d struggle with time management during her freshman year.

“I guess I thought it’d be too hard. I didn’t know if it would be possible to do both and successfully go to school,” Hollar recalls. “And grades are the most important thing to me. I’m very hard on myself when it comes to my grades, so that wasn’t something I was going to put on the backburner.”

But after her senior softball season ended, Hollar couldn’t stop thinking about the opportunity to keep playing. She'd just completed her most productive season, won a state title, and was going to call it quits? Why stop now?

Eventually, she went on a summer visit to Northern and talked to both the softball and basketball coaches about how they could make this work. Just over a month after she had turned Hess down twice, Hollar agreed to pick up softball as well.

Things wouldn’t pan out like she thought they would, however.

***

Growing up, basketball was Jenna Hollar’s first love.

She played basketball all year round, starting in second grade. And heading into her senior year of high school, both Hollar and Slavin agree that softball definitely took a backseat.

“Softball just was kind of my secondary... it was almost my get-away,” Hollar said. “It was just kind of like my relaxing period, it was more of a fun sport. Like, I took it seriously, but it was kind of on the backburner for a while.”

Heading into her senior year, though, things changed. Hollar began coming to every offseason open hitting session, working to improve her slap-hitting and bunting. She knew that if she got on base, she could use her speed to help take her team to new heights.

After her senior year, she had seen the fruits of her labor in the form of a state trophy.

In her freshman basketball season at ONU, Hollar appeared in 23 of the team’s 26 games. She showed promise, one of just five freshman to dress on the varsity roster that year. On the softball field, however, she dominated. She led the OAC in steals as a freshman, while also holding a team-best .384 batting average. She also played in 37 of the team’s 38 games.

When Hollar’s sophomore year rolled around, injuries clouded what could have been a breakout basketball season. She played in just seven games and as her classes started to become increasingly difficult, she knew she had to make a tough decision: whether to stick with basketball or softball.

Just two years after she was convinced she would only play basketball in college, she chose to take on softball full-time.

“I guess I was more successful on the softball field. And my passion in high school was definitely basketball, but once I got to college it kind of switched,” Hollar said. “It was definitely softball.”

While she was more successful on the softball field, Hollar said it was hard to describe why basketball had fallen behind. She liked her teammates and coaches, but after years of playing it nearly year-round, she felt like there was nothing left.

“I honestly think that I got burnt out on basketball,” Hollar said. “Because I absolutely loved the game, loved the sport, loved the girls, but since that’s all I did -- that was my primary sport in high school -- I just kind of got burnt out.”

“And softball was like this new love, I guess you could say.”

Because Hollar still wanted to be a part of the basketball team, head coach Michele Durand let her stay on as a student assistant coach. She would help the team out at practices, coach JV games, and gain valuable experience on the bench for the rest of her college career. Hollar says that she might want to become a coach one day herself.

But without the grind of basketball season, which begins in September with conditioning and ends in March, Hollar could focus her full attention to softball. That’s when things got serious.

***

According to Hollar, it takes her approximately 2.5 seconds to get from one base to another.

And even though she led the conference in stolen bases during her freshman season, she says that time has dropped since then.

Because Hollar could now focus her entire training regimen on softball, she noticed herself becoming faster as the years went by. She became “tremendously stronger,” in her own words, by being able to lift during the winter. This helped with her short bursts off the bag, and the results showed on the diamond.

After being caught stealing five times during her freshman year and three times during her sophomore year, the center fielder was caught just twice last season. This year, it took 12 games before she was tagged out for the first time.

A large part of Hollar’s success on the basepaths can be attributed to strength training, yes. But some of it is simply natural speed.

“She’s one of the fastest runners I’ve ever coached and ever seen, to be honest with you,” current ONU head coach Jackie Price said.

That’s saying something, too, because Price played alongside Ohio Northern’s previous steals record-holder, Mandi Fought. Fought set the previous record in 2010, when Price and the Polar Bears won 41 games and made it to NCAA Div. III Regionals.

With Price now at the helm, Hollar said that Fought came back to practices last year to give her and some of the team’s other slap-hitters advice.

“She’s personally worked with me to help my batting and things like that. So she kind of indirectly helped me break her record,” Hollar said laughing. “I do know Mandi and she knows me, so that makes it even neater.”

Hollar has not only gotten faster and stronger over the past few years, but she’s also added to her hitting repertoire. Traditionally, Hollar has been a slap or bunt hitter, which means that she will hit the ball lightly while running towards first base, using her speed to make it there safe.

Recently, however, she has worked on her ability to hit the ball into the outfield and to opposite field, in an attempt to keep the defense honest. They can no longer creep in towards the plate when she bats, as she will simply hit it over their heads.

“That’s really important because, especially in the OAC, they all know how fast I am. So the infield moves in on me because they know I bunt and soft-slap a lot,” Hollar said. “I really tried to improve my hard-slap and my hitting away, so that when all those infielders move in, I can hit it over their heads into the outfield. I think that part of my game has already improved a lot heading into this year.”

Hollar is off to a blistering start at the plate this year, batting .544 through 16 games. Previously, her highest average in a season occurred during her freshman campaign, when she batted .384.

The senior is also off to a productive start on the basepaths, accumulating 20 steals. Her previous season high was 31, during her sophomore year. ONU’s single-season record is 33. There are still 24 games remaining on Northern's schedule.

Hollar says that she’s gotten smarter when stealing over the years as well. She studies the pitcher while they warm up, taking mental notes from the dugout as they prepare to face the conference's most dangerous leadoff batter. She notices their rhythm and flow, trying to emulate when she might take off to steal as the pitcher goes through their motion. Hollar says it only takes two pitches for her to gauge an opponent’s timing.

As much as Hollar is blur-inducingly fast, she’s also a tactician. She plays the game, and she plays it well.

But above everything, Hollar is a competitor. She was only called out once during her senior year of high school, and she remembers everything about it -- the umpire said that she left early, thereby disqualifying the run. “I was like, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me,’” she recalls, still a bit irked.

Everyone in the OAC knows what Hollar is going to do once she gets on base. Hollar knows this -- she’s known it since her freshman year -- and she has upped her training so that people still can’t throw her out. She’s competitive enough to continually outrun her competition, even when they know it’s coming.

Over four years, Jenna Hollar’s work has paid off. She has led the team in stolen bases all four years, led the team in batting average in three of them, and has guided ONU to two top-three OAC finishes in her first three seasons.

Most importantly, though, she realized where he passion lay and she chased it. She made a tough decision, and it paid dividends.

After she graduates, her record likely won’t be broken for years to come. The next closest career stolen base total is 58, over 40 away from Fought’s previous record. And the record is rising, as Hollar still has over half of her senior season remaining.

Standing on second base in Florida two weeks ago, with dust hanging in the air, Hollar knew what she’d done. She knew the magnitude of the moment, a tangible marker of just how fast she had become. It was a result of sacrifice, of trust, and a touch of serendipity.

Hollar’s approach to the game mirrors her approach to opportunity, when chasing what feels right over everything else.

“Run fast,” she says, laughing at the simplicity of it all. “Honestly, run as fast as you can.”

Follow us on social media

WONB-Radio

Navigation