North Branford Alum Holly (Oslander) Ismail to Be Inducted into Volleyball Hall of Fame
When Holly (Oslander) Ismail opened the email telling her she was being inducted into the Connecticut Volleyball Hall of Fame, she laughed. Though she started playing both volleyball and basketball in middle school, it was basketball that paved her way to college as she played four years at Syracuse University on a full ride.
"I was completely surprised," says Holly. "Basketball has been my life from college on so when I got that for volleyball it was a nice surprise. I think I laughed out loud because I would've expected the basketball and it's quite an honor that somebody would remember me for that."
Holly, who graduated North Branford High School in 1989, continued both sports into high school, excelling in both. For volleyball, she was a four-time First Team All-Shoreline selection, three-time First Team All-State honoree, and a three-time team MVP for volleyball.
All of this success came from a sport Holly started in 7th grade in her front yard with her sister, Michelle, and one volleyball camp before high school. Holly did have height on her side, though, as she was 6-foot-1 her freshman year and 6-3 by her senior year.
"I always looked up to [Michelle] and wanted to be like her, but we never got to play together because she was four years older," says Holly. "She was my first teacher and first coach. The coach I had freshman year, Paul Theese, was a great teacher of the game and I progressed tremendously in that one year."
While Holly experienced a slew of success in volleyball, it isn't the wins or awards that stand out to her now-20 years later.
"I remember my teammates and how much fun we had," she says. "I can't pick out a game or situation-the biggest thing I remember is having so much fun with my teammates and winning along the way."
Holly's success continued right through the winter season on the basketball court. While Holly was with the T-Birds, the team won the state and shoreline championships three times and she was a three-time All-Shoreline selection, a two-time First Team All-Stater, and a Converse All-American.
"Looking back 20 years, I realize what an accomplishment it was [to win the state championship three times] and they haven't been to state finals since," says Holly, whose #32 jersey was retired after her senior season.
Upon graduating high school, Holly had offers from colleges for both sports, but it was basketball that won out as she accepted a full scholarship from Syracuse University where she is the
No. 1 all-time leader in blocked shots for a season and a career and No. 1 all-time leader for points in a season and most 20 points-plus games in a career. She is also No. 4 on the list for career points and No. 5 for career rebounds.
"Basketball just took the forefront during high school and that's why I went that direction in college," says Holly, who was a member of Syracuse's first-ever All-Big East team that traveled to Finland and Sweden to compete.
After graduating with a psychology degree, Holly wasn't away from basketball for long as she was an assistant coach at Quinnipiac College the year after she graduated. She then got married and traveled as her husband played in the NFL.
Despite moving around, Holly stayed involved in coaching as she started a new program at West Boca Raton Community High School in Florida and saw the team win two district championships. After moving to Maryland, she started coaching her daughter, Qalea's, elite AAU team, which won the state championship this year and stands at 113-11 over the past two years.
"I love being able to give back and teach and watch kids grow," says Holly, who also has an 11-year-old son Qadry and nine-year-old son Qadir. "Coaching is one of the greatest things that's come out of sports. My daughter looks up to me and she wants to play in college and beyond and it's fun to help her get there."