March 10, 2014 10:40:46 AM
Taylor Baudoin couldn't help but smile.
Asked if New Hope High School girls basketball coach Laura Lee Holman was prone to harp on the "little things" in practice, Baudoin smiled and looked to teammate D.J. Sanders. She and Sanders could afford to laugh about Holman's tendency to go over and over things in practice until the Lady Trojans get them right. On this night, a 46-38 victory against Oxford in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A, Region 2 title game, New Hope listened to Holman in the second half and put those details into action.
"In the first half, we really didn't come to play," Baudoin said. "We were playing like Oxford was just going to give it to us. We weren't doing the little things like coach Holman said. That is pretty much what she said at halftime."
Three games later, Holman and the Lady Trojans are two steps away from a state title. The next step will come at 6:30 tonight when New Hope (26-2) takes on South Jones (24-7) in the semifinals of the Class 5A state tournament at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. The winner of that game will face the winner of today's Natchez-Canton game at 6:30 p.m. Friday for the state championship.
Nearly five years ago, Holman never imagined she would be in this spot. After completing a standout basketball career at Troy, Holman worked as a physical education teacher and as a girls basketball coach at Cottondale (Fla.) High. She guided the team to a 22-9 record and to the Class 2A Final Four for the first time in the program's history, but she came away from the experience unsure she wanted to continue as a teacher and as a coach. Back in Columbus with her family to celebrate Father's Day, Holman thought she had a plan: She was going to go back to Troy and go to nursing school. Her father, Danny, thought he had a better plan: Apply for the job of girls basketball coach at New Hope High.
"Never, ever," Holman recalls telling her father.
Holman said she was still struggling with the death of her mother, Wanda, and that a part of her felt she was "running" from the opportunity to return to her alma mater and be a teacher and a coach. That's probably why she couldn't sleep that night and kept thinking about the chance to impact the lives of young people. Instead of fighting it, Holman got out of bed and typed up a resume and then delivered it to then Lowndes County Schools Superintendent Mike Halford. Less than a month later, Holman was a Lady Trojan again.
"I don't know what caused (the epiphany)," Holman said. "I remember sitting in bed thinking about what could happen and a conversation I had with coach (Kathi) Coleman when I was in fourth grade. She asked me, 'What are your goals in life?' I was scored to death and didn't have an answer for her. She pointed to the wall (in the New Hope High gym) and (the sign for) her state championship (girls basketball) season and said, 'You should make a goal to be a champion and put your name on the wall.' I shook my head and said, 'Yes ma'am.' "
Coleman also related another piece of advice -- develop your left hand -- Holman still uses today. Just like she did years ago, Holman brushes her teeth with her left hand. Now in her fifth season as girls basketball coach at New Hope, Holman continues to pass on lessons like that one she learned from Coleman and longtime coaches like Cary Shepherd and Wayne Ellis. She said all of those coaches played a role in her figuring out returning to New Hope was the right decision at the right time.
"I remember that night I couldn't sleep and I could feel my heart beating out of my chest," Holman said. "Maybe it was God tugging on my heart so I couldn't (go to sleep and pass up the chance to apply for the job)."
Holman credits all of her players for making her a better coach. She admits she has come a long way from her early years, especially a 6-16 season in her second year at the school. At the time, New Hope was working through growing pains with a young roster that included current standouts like Sanders and Moesha Calmes, who are senior leaders. Holman said there were times the Lady Trojans would commit 38 or more turnovers in double-digit losses and she would have the players start practice by running 38 line drills. She didn't know at the time that it was common for freshmen to make that many mistakes, but she didn't want inexperience to be an excuse.
This season, New Hope opponents have had the misfortune of committing that many turnovers against the Lady Trojans' pressure defense. Double-digit victories have been the norm this season, a year after a disappointing overtime loss to Jackson Lanier in the North State tournament. A year later, close games against Oxford and Center Hill (North State tournament opener) helped the team re-focus. Comfortable victories against Pearl and Canton followed to put New Hope in position to play in a girls basketball state title game for the first time since 1989, when the team lost to South Pike 68-50 in the Class 4A championship.
Throughout the process, Holman hopes the "little things" like boxing out and all of the items she has harped on have helped mold her players into young women. She said she has tried to teach her players to persevere and to fight through each blocked shot and turnover to get better just like they will have to bounce back when things don't go their way in life.
"I really felt like that is what God called me to do, to use this game I love with everything I have and turn the kids into better and bigger people so they can handle whatever life throws at them," Holman said. "Last Friday was nine years since I lost my mom. It has been a hard battle for me, but a lot of the things that made me get up and go were quotes and things I heard my coach say. It wasn't drills we did or games we won. It was the lessons they taught me that allowed me to pick myself up at a dark and hard time in my life to return the favors to these kids. I hope when life shows its ugly face that something I have said maybe helps give them a little more confidence so they know they have been through tough times and can bounce back. That is the kind of kid I want to leave my program. Yes, I want them to be champions, but that is just what the trophy represents. I hope we get to Friday and have that gold ball to represent what we have become."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.