By Blake Ells
This season, the Over the Mountain Journal’s girls Player of the Year is shared by the foundation and future of what may be the state’s next basketball dynasty.
Spain Park senior guard Claire Holt and Spain Park sophomore forward Sarah Ashlee Barker led the Jaguars to coach Mike Chase’s first state championship, just one year after falling in the championship game.
The duo equally impressed Over the Mountain high school basketball coaches to tie in balloting for top OTM player of the year.
Youth remains a bright spot for the Jaguars, with the entire starting five returned from that team.
“It’s truly one of my favorite things that I’ve accomplished in my life,” Holt said. “I’ve been in Spain Park schools all of my life. Spain Park had never won a championship; it wasn’t like we had a blueprint on how to do it. Coach Chase had never won a championship; he’d gotten to the championship game, but he hadn’t won. We weren’t thinking about that. We were just thinking about the fact that we were starting to build a program that we think will be dominant for a long time. It’s the start that’s the hardest part, and we got that part down.”
Holt scored 20 points, sparked by three 3-pointers, and she grabbed five rebounds and four steals to earn MVP honors for the 7A state tournament. She now passes the torch to Barker, who had 12 points, nine rebounds, three steals, two assists and a blocked shot in the 56-26 victory over McGill-Toolen. Both were named to the All-Tourney Team.
“Sarah Ashlee, from last year to this year, has stepped up a lot, and it made things easier for me,” Holt said. “Teams had to worry about covering both of us, and that allowed me to take more shots. It took a lot of pressure off of me, and it made us way better.”
Barker came into her own as a freshman, and she’s been making an impact on this team since. She was never intimidated.
“When I play in summer AAU, we’re playing against some of the best teams in the country,” Barker said. “When we go to state and I’m facing a great player, I already know how to play against them because of the competition we face in AAU.”
Starting With Experience
Three starters will return next season, setting the Jaguars up to be a favorite to repeat. Just Holt and forward Barrett Herring will graduate.
“We won’t have as much size as we’ve had with Barrett leaving, but I feel like we have enough experience that we will overcome it,” Barker said.
The example set by Holt is something that Barker will carry with her as she now steps into a leadership role.
“She was the hardest worker on our team,” said Barker. “We would scrimmage in the off-season. We’d play five-on-five or something like that and me and her would be guarding each other. We would push each other to become better.
“I really look up to her work ethic. Her work ethic is unbelievable. She’d be in the gym at 9 p.m. It’s something that I noticed when I was young, and it’s something that I want to follow.
“It shows on the court, because she can shoot really good. And that’s because of how much time she spent in the gym. The reason she’s playing at the next level is because of how hard she works. She’s a good person, and she’s a good leader and now I want to follow in her footsteps.”
Holt will play for the Richmond Spiders next season. Barker will assuredly have several college options of her own – she has seven scholarship offers as she enters her junior season – but there’s more to accomplish at Spain Park before that time comes.
“I’m following one of the best players to ever come out of Spain Park,” Barker said.
Barker has accomplished a lot a young age. She’s well on her way to cementing her own legacy in the same circle.