It’s 3:30 a.m. With her alarm ringing in her ear, Samantha Holmes wipes her weary eyes and groggily fuels her body with half a peanut butter sandwich. Trapped by the warmth of her basketball patterned fleece blanket, the Castleton senior closed her eyes to steal a few more minutes of sleep.
Two hours later she awoke in a panic and bolted out her front door as her phone screamed in her pocket.
“Yeah, I overslept,” she laughed as she recalled the morning of her first and last basketball practice of her senior year.
Every college basketball player knows the second week in October mirrors no other. There is a certain spark in the air that fills your lungs. It is a rejuvenation of your passion, moments of triumph, and anticipation for the opportunity to reverse the lingering moments of defeat.
“It’s like that sound you get from new shoes-that squeaky sound,” said Holmes. “Even though it was 6 a.m., everyone was excited. It didn’t matter what time it was.”
On Oct. 15 the campus slept as the sweat began to pour in Glenbrook Gymnasium and the women’s basketball team kicked off their season with the anticipation of a three-peat in the championship ring.
After about 20 minutes of warm-up drills, the team delved into its first real drill.
“We were rebounding. I’d done it a million times. Out-letted to the guards a millions times,” Holmes said shaking her heard. “It was a freak thing.”
According to Holmes, Head Coach Tim Barrett tossed the ball off the backboard as sophomore Bryanna Dupont took off wide down the sideline for the outlet pass.
Holmes left the hardwood to tear the ball from the glass and came down with a pop.
“I crumpled,” she said. “I threw the pass to her and she put her hands over her face.”
Most teams hadn’t ventured from the warmth of their beds yet, much less laced up their sneakers, and the Castleton women were already frozen between the rims.
“Oh my God,” said junior forward Meghan O’Sullivan. “Half of the team closed their eyes and looked away and the other half couldn’t look away.”
As an athletic training major, Holmes said she knew the instant she hit the floor and heard her knee pop that she had torn her ACL. She would be one of three Castleton athletes to tear their ACL in a span of just four days.
What she didn’t know was that she had hit the trifecta tearing her ACL, MCL, and meniscus.
“Unhappy triad,” she laughed.
Barrett and the rest of the team were shocked to watch the season end almost as quickly as it had begun for a senior who has been the portrait of dedication and perseverance for three years.
Out of high school, Holmes said she was drawn to Castleton because of the quality of the athletic training program. Basketball was just a portion of her decision. She said she knew she would get more minutes at smaller schools, but her education was the most important factor for her to consider. She took a chance and tried out.
“I couldn’t imagine myself not playing – I had to give it a shot,” she said.
Three years ago, Holmes made the team as a walk-on and has been dedicated to its success ever since. Barrett said her work ethic is something to be admired.
Though she knew her minutes would be minimal, Holmes trained like she was playing the full 40.
Along with her transition from high school ball to college, she also had to change her number from 31 to 34 because Castleton didn’t carry a 31 jersey. Not being one for superstitions, Holmes said the number switch was a minor detail, she was proud to a Spartan.
“I would have been just as happy with zero or two,” she said. “It wasn’t about the number. It was about what was on the front of the jersey.”
However, the Celtics fan also said she didn’t mind sporting the same number as Paul Pierce.
“She hasn’t played a lot, but she’s been a great teammate,” Barrett said of Holmes. “She’s done everything we’ve asked her to do.”
Those who have played with Holmes echoed Barrett’s admiration for the tenacity she demonstrates day in and day out.
“She’s the most physical competition I have in practice,” said O’Sullivan. “She’s always been one of the most dedicated members and she’s cared whole-heartedly about our success as a team.”
Former Spartan Tarryn Bolognani said she was distraught to hear of Holmes’ injury and fondly recalled her three seasons spent with her.
“She is always concerned with the teams’ success rather than her own,” she said. “There is something about her, a spark that always energizes the team when she makes a big play.”
Despite the injury, Holmes said she’s not leaving the team now.
“I think what’s been impressive about her is how she’s handled it. Never once said, ‘poor me,'” Barrett said. “It’s not her make-up.”
After all that has transpired, her teammates also said they were not surprised by her dedication. Fellow seniors Alyssa Leonard and Stephanie Bull said their final season would not be the same without Holmes by their side.
“You can always rely on Sam to be a positive voice and pick you up if you’re not playing well. She’s just an all-around great friend and teammate to have,” Leonard said.
Holmes mirrored the respect for the individuals on her team. She said her team is her family and she could never imagine walking away from them.
“I just love my team, that’s the biggest thing. I think if it was any other group of people I probably wouldn’t stick with it,” she said.
Now that Holmes has hung up her practice jersey and accepted her new role on the team, Bull has transitioned from guard to forward to fill the void.
“I’m glad it’s Steph,” Holmes said of the position change. “Steph deserves it.”
Bull said she’s determined to perform well in her new role and is appreciative to have Holmes helping her through, though Holmes’ support is nothing new for Bull.
Recalling a game from their freshmen season, Bull said she sat next to Holmes on the bench cheering on the team.
“We knew neither of us would go in,” she laughed. “Then all of a sudden I get called in.”
Bull remembered panicking, her freshman nerves telling her she couldn’t do it. But then there was Holmes giving her the push of confidence.
“She’s just like, ‘You got it, Bully!'” That moment, and the nickname, have held strong for four years.
Although she was hoping to have her surgery over the Thanksgiving break in order to have the entire winter vacation to spend helping the team, Holmes goes under the knife Dec. 20. She said she is still deciding about redshirting this season, but knows she is getting back to the team’s side as soon as possible. She is even doing rehabilitation and strength training prior to surgery to ensure a quicker return.
“I’m going to be the loudest person on the bench, not that I wasn’t before,” she said with a laugh.
She may be their biggest fan, but Holmes is not taking her new role lightly and said she will be there every step of the way pushing her team to their full potential.
“I told them when I did it we need to win one more championship,” she said.