PANTHER OF THE WEEK: Holliday’s hot shooting, calm approach key for Lady Panthers

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By Lance Catchings

Sophomore Jessica Holliday got her first taste of varsity basketball last season as a freshman when she got moved up during district play. This season the 16-year-old, 5’7” sophomore starter is making the most of what she learned.

“What I learned playing with last year’s group was they used great on-court teamwork,” Holliday said. “That team had great passing ability and was extremely unselfish with the ball. I thought that was cool, and I wanted to bring it into my game for this year.”

Holliday is a speedster from her point guard position and has the handles to make any defender ease off. Over the summer, Holliday wanted to improve her shooting ability, so she got in the gym.

“My shooting has always been a big part of my game, especially this past year,” she said. “A couple years ago, I was really focused on dribbling and handling the ball. This past year, I was much more focused on dialing in my shot. I felt, with my size, I could be more of a threat from the outside. I focused a lot on shooting, footwork and technique in that area.”

The hard work paid off for the Lady Panthers over the past few district games. Entering the third quarter trailing Burnet, Holliday hit four three-pointers and a pair of free throws for a 14-point quarter. She finished with 18 points in the game.

“Against Burnet, I was really focused on the basket and making sure they would go in,” she said. “At that point in the game, if you were going to shoot it, they needed to go in. We needed the points, because we were down. I had to be confident when I was shooting and believe that I could make it. A couple of them went in and we played solid defense, which limited them scoring wise. I think that willing the ball to go in that night really helped.”

Although she believes in her shooting, Holliday feels her greatest attribute to her team has been handling pressure.

“I think my top strength, at least since we started district play, is how I handle pressure,” she said. “I think that came with going through this season and playing the tougher games we have this year. I had made some dumb mistakes, dribbling-wise, not able to bring the ball up against pressure early in the season, and now I don’t make those same mistakes.”

Liberty Hill runs a very unique starting set in which all three point guards are on the floor to start the game, with Holliday being one of them. The other two are seniors Breon Robinson and Gracie Whitten.

“Breon and Gracie are really diverse in what their abilities are, so they can move from position to position,” Holliday said. “We all start and try to make contributions. Then coach can take some of us out, and we can always still have a good ball handler in the game. Another pro is that we can all handle the ball, so we are not restricted to having one person bring the ball up court. I have learned so much from both. They are really composed when they play and highly focused. They know which passes to make, and they are more seasoned, which leads to good shot attempts. The drives and shots they take are not reckless, and they are confident with the ball when they have it.”

Holliday gets her own confidence from achieving personal goals in practice.

“If you know you can get to a spot and get the ball up, it makes driving to the basket a lot easier,” she said. “The drives and shots I do take are ones I have hit in practice, so it gives me confidence in what I can and can’t do.”

Entering the season, Holliday and her teammates had pressure on their shoulders to deliver another district championship to Liberty Hill.

“Our school has a tremendous track record, so there was a lot of pressure because the past four years, all the teams have been able to win district,” Holliday said. “At the beginning of the season, we felt people were doubting us, but we persevered through the game. We always believe we can win any game that we play. We try to have confidence headed into every game and how it’s going to go.”

The Lady Panthers suffered a minor setback last Friday night, dropping their first district game in four years to Lampasas. Despite the loss, Holliday said it has not shaken her or her teammates’ confidence.

“Our mentality right now is still positive, despite our tough loss to Lampasas,” she said. “We know what we did wrong, and we know what we need to do to fix it. We will not let any doubt in our minds or our capabilities. We know what our job is, so we don’t try to do too much. If we play solidly like we know we can, we should push through the final district games.”

Holliday and the Lady Panthers travel to Eastside Memorial Friday for another district matchup. Game time is set for 6:30 pm. They close out district play next Tuesday at home against Taylor.

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