Just one month into her final season at AU, senior women’s basketball forward Michelle Holmes suffered a season-ending ACL tear in December 2015.
“It didn’t hurt when it happened, but I was shocked,” Holmes said a few weeks after the end of the 2015-2016 season. “I knew right away that something wasn’t right. It felt like my knee just gave out.”
Holmes started in all 11 games she played this season, averaging 9.7 points and nearly 8 rebounds a contest. After her injury, Holmes said she longed to be back on the court and that it was difficult watching the team compete without her.
“It sucked that I couldn’t play, but it’s a team sport, not Michelle and the AU Eagles,” Holmes said. “I needed to find ways to lead my team and feel like I could still contribute.”
Holmes said her injury compelled several younger players to take on roles they were not used to, but she served as a leader to her teammates off the court, reinforcing confidence in them and their ability to contribute to the team.
“When my teammates are playing well, I feel like I’m playing well,” Holmes said. “I tell them, ‘I’m living through you right now, so have a good game.’ I wanted to instill confidence in every player. We had a rough season, so the team gets down, but I tried to find ways to keep their spirits up.”
Holmes emphasized that her teammates could still find ways to contribute even if they were struggling in a game, and she said she had to do something similar while she was injured.
“Even if you’re having a bad game, or if you’re not doing well in your role that day, you can still find other ways to contribute to the game,” Holmes says. “That’s what I had to do after I got hurt. I wasn’t on the court, but I could still cheer my teammates on from the bench and tell them what to do. I still had to find ways to contribute even though I wasn’t on the court.”
Despite her injury, Holmes said she still had the will to win. She was a strong leader on the sidelines, a role she had not previously played.
“I’m more of a leader by example, so I would work hard and let my actions speak instead of words,” Holmes says. “I had to be a more vocal leader. It wasn’t something I was used to, but people were forced into positions they had not been in before.”
When asked what her impact was as a leader this season, Holmes said she showed her teammates to “not let little things get you down.”
“I was injured my senior year and not playing, but I demonstrated that I can still contribute to the team,” Holmes says. "I could have sat on the bench and sulked, but I didn’t. I think I showed that even if things don’t go your way, there’s still more to life and still other things you can do.”
Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant, Holmes’ two favorite basketball players, influenced her playing this season and her mentality of overcoming her injury and helping her team. Holmes previously said that she is inspired by Duncan’s focus on fundamentals and Bryant’s resiliency.
“Off of Duncan’s fundamentals, I feel like our team sometimes lost focus on doing the little things, like boxing out,” Holmes said. “When I was playing, I tried to focus on the little things every game because if we didn’t, they would turn into bigger problems. I told my teammates every game to think about what they did that contributed to them scoring.”
Bryant’s resiliency played a substantial role in Holmes’ focus on overcoming her injury and helping her teammates.
“Kobe’s resiliency helped me realize that my injury is not the last,” Holmes said. “It’s not going to keep me down. It’s one roadblock in my whole life, and I know I can overcome it. It’s not something that’s going to keep me down forever.”
Holmes said she told her teammates during games to “not focus on one bad play, [but instead] know that there’s so much more left to do.” Holmes was proud of the resiliency her teammates showed.
“It was great to see my teammates come back when we were down in a game,” Holmes said. “I said to them, ‘Keep fighting. Don’t let one thing get you down.’”
Holmes graduates from AU this spring with a major in Sociology and a minor in Public Health. Her post-grad plans are to attend graduate school and study towards a degree in social work. She is currently looking at schools both in the D.C. area and back home in Ohio.
Holmes said she hopes to have demonstrated the value of mentoring to her teammates and the importance of maintaining focus on their goals, regardless of any obstacles that may arise.
“I was part of the team that made it to the NCAA tournament for the first time, so I hope to leave that legacy here. I hope that I was able to mentor the younger players so they can see how it important it is to have someone to look up to. Also, I hope to show people that no matter what happens, there’s more to life than an injury, or anything that is bringing you down and taking away from your focus of what you want to do. Try to find positive in every situation that happens.”