This story, written by Sam Stolte, was originally published on Floridagators.com.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - For a former point guard and hoops-a-holic, making the transition to coaching was a perfect match for Holly Hoopingarner. Almost as perfect as the connection between her last name and the game she loves. But Hoopingarner, who starred at IUPUI from 2016-20, figured she would have at least one more opportunity to lace up her sneakers and take the floor as a player before shifting her focus to what's next.
In fact, she earned it.
Hoopingarner never did get that chance though as she, like so many others across the country, saw her senior season upended in real time by COVID-19. On March 10, Hoopingarner was the driving force in IUPUI's 51-37 victory over league stalwart Green Bay in the Horizon League Tournament's championship game. The tournament's most valuable player, Hoopingarner poured in 16 points and celebrated with her teammates as the Jaguars clinched an NCAA Tournament bid forthe first time in their program's history.Two days later, the NCAA canceled its postseason.
"I'm very blessed in the fact that we did get to play and we did get to finish. I have that forever. Not everyone can say that they went out winning a championship," Hoopingarner said. "At the same time, we had this feeling that we are on cloud nine because we had achieved our goal after working so hard for it all year, but two days later it was just like a gut punch. It almost felt like it got ripped away, but I tried to find the positives of it. We made history, we did something our school had never done. The group I got to do it with was amazing.
"It was so bizarre you know because you're playing basketball and going to school and then it just ends," Hoopingarner continued. "I didn't even have any classes left. The second everything got cancelled, my college career was over. It was sad, honestly, because I knew I wasn't going to see anyone anymore. That chapter just closed. It was really hard for a while, but I just had to turn the page and start focusing on what was next for me."
The 5-foot-5 guard knew she wanted to stay involved in the game and began focusing on landing a position in coaching. As she made calls and connections, Hoopingarner took a job at an Amazon warehouse to save money for her next step.
Then she heard about a potential opening at Florida, a program she was familiar with.
Hoopingarner, who was a standout at Greenwood High School in suburban Indianapolis, was recruited by Gators head coach Cam Newbauerduring his tenure at Belmont.
"[Coach Newbauer] actually recruited me out of high school, so we had had a previous relationship," Hoopingarner said. "We had a home visit and I had been down to campus a few times. I knew his personality, how he likes running his program and I respected that."
After a call on behalf of IUPUI head coach Austin Parkinson, Newbauer and Hoopingarner connected.
"We got in contact, did a few phone interviews to catch up and see what I've been up to the last four years," Hoopingarner said. "We picked up right where we left off and I was fortunate to get the position."
In addition to their relationship on the recruiting trail, Newbauer and Hoopingarner actually shared the court in matchup between Belmont and IUPUI in Nashville, back in 2016. Belmont - which finished 26-6 that season and earned its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance - won the game, 78-72, in overtime. Hoopingarner, then a freshman, played just 14 minutes due to an injury but still remembers the matchup.
Hoopingarner, who helped lead the Jaguars to an 89-39 record, four consecutive 20-victory campaigns, and three postseason runs during her four years on campus, developed into a leader and, as most point guards do, became an extension of her coach on the court.
"I always felt I needed to be a leader on the team being a point guard, but once I got to IUPUI, Coach Parkinson helped me step it up," Hoopingarner said. "He was a point guard at Purdue, and he had a whole different expectation for how I was going to manage myself and my teammates on and off the court. He gave me a lot of opportunities to grow in that area. I think that's one of the main reasons that I want to get into coaching."
She began playing in church leagues at the age of four and, after playing a few other sports growing up, realized that the hardwood was where her heart was.
Several days will have gone by in between Hoopingarner's final collegiate performance and her debut as a graduate manager. She admits while this experience will be different, she is excited to start a new chapter in her life.
"I think at first it's going to be a weird transition ... but I'm excited for the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes with it," Hoopingarner said. "I'm looking forward to learning from such a great staff and expanding my knowledge of the game and everything that goes into it."
While her official playing days are over, Hoopingarner looks forward to participating in the beloved "manager games" several staff members and program managers play in throughout the season. Hoopingarner will have big shoes to fill as she takes over for Kat Wright, who finished her graduate position in the spring and was regarded as a prolific scorer in the recreational contests.
"I'm pretty pumped," Hoopingarner said. "[Kat] told me, 'You think Division I basketball games are intense, wait for these manager games.' I think I can bring a little bit and help the team out. I'm excited to get out there again."