Adversity prepares Holmes for her senior season

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Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar

Senior forward Joyner Holmes embodies the comeback story. Since the conclusion of her freshman season in 2017, Holmes’ tenure at Texas has been characterized by a constant battle to get back on the court.

The Cedar Hill native was a key player for the Longhorns during her first season. In 32 starts, Holmes averaged 12.1 points per game and a team high 8.2 rebounds per game. Her play earned her All Big 12 First Team and Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors.

“It was good, it was fun,” Holmes said of her freshman season. “It was a lot to put on my plate when I first got here … but I mean, I just took on a role. It wasn’t too bad.”

Although Holmes excelled on the court, the struggle of transitioning from high school to college plagued her behind the scenes. As is common with most freshmen, time management and being away from home for the first time were difficult challenges to overcome.

“Everything is on a schedule (in college), so you have to be there on time,” Holmes said. “‘On time’ is not on time. It’s fifteen minutes before everything.”

After a freshman year that Holmes described as “rough,” things continued to crumble. The summer before her sophomore year, news came that Holmes would be suspended from UT after committing a University violation. The punishment also barred her from competing for the basketball team in the fall semester.

Athletes miss portions of their seasons all the time for various reasons, but Holmes said the fact that she wasn’t even enrolled in school took a toll on her.

“(The suspension) was hard,” Holmes said. “I don’t think many people have been through that here.”

Having parental support helped Holmes power through, as they refused to give up on her during the suspension. While she was away, her parents made her get a job. The experience of working was good for her and the lessons her parents taught her made a big difference in how Holmes spent her time.

“At first, I didn’t want to go out and do anything,” Holmes said. “But then, (I) was like, ‘I think this would be better for me to get out and meet new people and just do something. Don’t sit around and just be sad.’”

Head coach Karen Aston also stood behind Holmes, welcoming the forward’s future return with open arms. Holmes and Aston spoke with each other at least twice a week during the suspension, with Aston offering support to the young player. Aston could have pulled her scholarship at any time, but opted not to.

Aston witnessed Holmes’ resilience, which reinforced her faith in the player. However, there is still room for tough love in any coach to athlete relationship.

“She didn’t really ever bail on anything,” Aston said. “She owned up to mistakes. She handled her adversity. I think now she’s at a place where when you try to coach her hard ... she takes it and she understands that it’s to make her better.”

When Holmes returned to the court for the second half of her sophomore season, she took some time to adjust. Aston said the forward was “out of sync” after missing summer practices and the entire fall portion of the 2017-2018 season. The next summer, Holmes worked hard in the gym so that she could be in top form for her junior year.

Then, just weeks before the season opener, Holmes suffered another setback — a broken ankle. The injury would sideline her for eight games.

After missing the previous fall semester, Holmes initially had trouble coming to terms with another obstacle.

“It was just hard because it’s like at that point you’re just thinking  ‘Okay, why? Why me, God?’” Holmes said.

While she was hurt, Heidi Wlezien, associate athletic trainer for the women’s basketball team, was someone Holmes spoke with a lot. Wlezien has worked with Holmes since her freshman year and has seen the forward become a stronger person.

“She’s had to deal with a lot,” Wlezien said. “She’s always overcome it and gotten back on the court and back to performing.”

When Holmes steps onto the court for Texas’ scrimmage against Lubbock Christian University on Oct. 28, she will be starting her first fall semester of play in three years. It hasn’t been an easy road for Holmes, but it has been a growing experience.

“Adversity is going to happen,” Holmes said. “Look at me today … I think that all those issues have made me who I am today because I’ve overcome them.”