VOLUME 7, NUMBER 1
BY ANNE KEYSER
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
Justice '03, new holder of MHC's all-time basketball points
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
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."
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
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
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.