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Mount Holyoke College News and Events College Street Journal Vista

SUMMER 2002 • VOLUME 7, NUMBER 1

BY ANNE KEYSER

 
 
BEN BARNHART
  Jessica Justice '03, new holder of MHC's all-time basketball points record.
Whether it’s fighting for a rebound or displaying great timing during a jump-ball, Jessica Justice ’03 makes it look easy. With her strength and speed, number forty-four appears born for the sport that began in a YMCA gym in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts. But Justice, like many great athletes, practices endlessly to develop the skills that make her play look effortless. And while nature provided her with a solid 6' 2" frame, it also--to borrow a baseball metaphor--threw her a curve ball that makes her journey to the position of leading scorer for Mount Holyoke’s basketball team a lesson in determination, character, and plain old hard work.

Justice was born with Erb’s palsy, a condition in which the neck and shoulder nerves that control muscles in the shoulders, arm, or hand are damaged during the birth process. For Justice, the injury meant complete paralysis in her right arm, and despite several operations that restored some movement, doctors said it would likely never be of much use--for sports or anything else. Challenging their predictions, Justice was on the basketball court by fifth grade, driven to keep up with four older brothers who were competing in a wide variety of sports, from soccer to wrestling to lacrosse. Justice’s right arm remains weak and limited in motion, but she considers herself lucky to have a fully developed arm, noting that some of those afflicted with Erb’s palsy suffer abnormal growth. "I do rebound and pass more with one arm than the other," she says, "but it still gets the job done for the most part."

For Justice "the job" is nothing less than reaching the top of her game. At Central Bucks East High School in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, she earned varsity letters, MVP/MIP awards, and recruiting offers from more than thirty schools, including Division I Cornell, Yale, Princeton, and Bucknell. During her first three years at Mount Holyoke, she set new records for most points and average points in a season and was named to the Seven Sisters All-Tournament Team and the All-Conference Team for the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC).

 
BEN BARNHART
 
Woman in motion: Jess Justice takes a pass in the lane.  

This season, Justice became one of only five women in Mount Holyoke history to score 1,000 points. And during the College’s Valentine’s Day win over Roger Williams University, she reached 1,118 career points, surpassing the fifteen-year-old career scoring record of 1,106 points set by Elise C. Wright ’87. "I couldn’t believe it was happening," says Justice of her record-breaking basket.

Other people weren’t so surprised. "Jess has a tremendous work ethic," notes head coach Megan Henry. "She has very high expectations of herself and her teammates and is committed to being the best basketball player she can be."

Justice practices with her teammates at least two hours a day during Mount Holyoke’s five-month season and dedicates the same time to running, lifting weights, and playing racquetball the rest of the year. The commitment translates into what Henry calls a "great presence" on the court. According to the coach, Justice moves quickly and "runs the floor" extremely well, a skill that is somewhat rare for centers. She also rebounds and "finishes" strongly, meaning that she makes a lot of the shots she takes, even with intense competitors "in her face."

While acknowledging hard work and the genetic good luck of being both tall and left-handed (a real advantage in defending against right-handed players), Justice credits her success to Henry, her teammates, and Mount Holyoke fans. "Even the losses were more competitive and exciting to watch this year because of the level of support and the caliber and intensity of the coaching and players," Justice says. She also points to the example set by her mother, who taught school while raising five children. "My inspiration is remembering my mom in action and just how much she got done by sheer perseverance," says Justice. "We both try to put more than twenty-four hours in a day."

Justice packs her days with classes and research in neuroscience and behavior (how human biology and chemistry contribute to feeling and behavior), relishing the strong science program that drew her to Mount Holyoke. She serves as a board member for the College’s social planning group, The Network, and cochairs the Student Athlete Advisory Council, which this year launched a community service program to help Mount Holyoke varsity athletes become involved in off-campus volunteer work. "It’s important to reach out to the community," says Justice, "especially to serve as positive role models for young people."

What’s left for senior year? "It’s going to be all about the team’s success," Justice says, encouraging Coach Henry’s hope that Mount Holyoke will finish in the top four of ten NEWMAC positions and host the first round of the conference tournament. "It’s a lofty goal," Henry admits, "but if we put all our efforts in the right direction, we’re capable of doing it." With Justice on the court, odds are that Mount Holyoke has a better than fighting chance.

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Copyright © 2002 Mount Holyoke College. This page created by Don St. John and maintained by Office of Communications. Last modified on August 9, 2002.

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