Laura Lee Holman entered her first year in charge of the New Hope High School girls basketball team by setting the bar at a milestone that hadn”t been reached in 18 years.
As a former Lady Trojan, she never experienced the joy of lifting a district championship trophye. Many players came before her and finished their New Hope basketball careers in the same fashion.
The goal, in all likelihood, was the same New Hope coaches before Holman had set.
Holman”s approach to her new group of players was simple: Push yourself to the limit in October and you”ll in enjoy it in February.
The New Hope players bought in, as Holman entered her second year of coaching with solid credentials.
As a starting guard and all-conference player at Troy University of coach Michael Murphy, Holman”s knowledge of the game gave her advanced insight and helped her take her first team, Cottondale High (Fla.), to the Class 2A playoffs.
Not surprisingly, she gave her Cottondale team the same preseason talk and set the bar at reaching the playoffs.
“I”m a dreamer and don”t believe in setting the bar lower than a championship,” said Holman, The Commercial Dispatch”s Large Schools Girls Basketball Coach of the Year. “The school I was at before this, the first interview I had with the newspaper I told them we were going to state. That was the headline for the story, and we went.
“I came into New Hope with the same mentality.”
Holman told her players, “You”re going to hate me in October, but you”ll love me in February.”
She wasn”t sure if her players understood the amount of work she would put them through, with three-hour practices and rounds of cardiovascular training.
Holman also wasn”t sure how the Lady Trojans would fare after they lost the first two games of the season and dropped both of their district games to West Point, or if they would hit their stride and play consistently to make a run at the Class 5A, Division 2, District 1 title.
The ups and downs within division landed the Lady Trojans a No. 3 seed in the district tournament.
“It always seemed like when I thought we were taking a couple of steps forward we”d have a game where I felt like we took two steps back,” Holman said. “There were times when we were inconsistent with our mentality, our play, or our effort. I think at the district tournament they finally took on what I was trying to get them to be as a team.”
New Hope beat Oxford 48-46 in its district tournament opener, but the true test of how far the team had come came against West Point in the district final.
Having lost to the Lady Wave twice during the regular season, Holman knew it would take a gritty performance to shut down Kelsei Ewings, The Dispatch”s Large Schools Player of the Year.
Ewings had 21 and West Point had an eight-point lead at halftime, but Kelli Petty and Kia Edmonds combined to score 26 points, which helped propel the Lady Trojans to a 42-40 win.
“Those first five minutes in the locker room, just to see that joy on their faces was incredible,” Holman said. “When we got in the locker room, the first thing they said was, ”Coach, you said we”d be having fun in February.” That was a special feeling to know they accomplished something that hadn”t been done in 18 years.”
The Lady Trojans moved on to the North Half State playoffs, where they lost to Canton 57-52 to finish 16-10.
Holman is excited to head into next season with the energy of winning a division championship.
“Being named coach of the year has more to do with my girls than what I did,” Holman said. “The things I learned at as a college player, the extra knowledge of the game, I passed on to them. But they made me work like I made them work. I can”t thank them enough, and because of the success we had this year we”ve laid a foundation for the program we”re building.
“I thank God for the opportunity to come back to New Hope and coach a great group of girls.”
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