Woelk: Fifth-Year Proves Right Move for Hollingshed
Please note that the University of Colorado is still requiring masks to be worn at all indoor athletic events on campus
BOULDER — Unfinished business?
That's not Mya Hollingshed's style. The 6-foot-3 Colorado forward finishes what she starts.
Thus, despite the fact that a pro career was waiting in the wings a year ago, Hollingshed chose to return to the Buffaloes for a fifth season.
Now, as the calendar prepares to flip to March — the most important month in college hoops — Hollingshed and her teammates are ready to take care of the business that has been waiting for far too long.
"We want to put Colorado back on the map," Hollingshed said earlier this week. "We want to make an NCAA run and set up the program for the future. Future players can see what we have been able to accomplish and see that standard. This is the time to pick it up and play our best basketball."
Whether JR Payne's Buffs go on to earn that coveted NCAA bid remains to be seen. Currently with a NET ranking in the 30s and competing in arguably the toughest conference in the nation, the Buffs are at the moment pegged as a solid at-large bid team.
But what is not a matter of debate is the contribution Hollingshed has made to the team, the program and CU Athletics. When she plays what will likely be her last game at the CU Events Center on Saturday against Oregon State at noon (Pac-12 Networks), she will need no introduction.
Her career numbers speak for themselves.
Hollingshed, a Houston prep product, is already Colorado's all-time leader in games played with 136. She is also in the program's top 10 in 3-pointers made, career rebounding, scoring, minutes played, career double-doubles and rebound average.
It means her name is firmly established alongside such program legends as Lisa Van Goor, Shelley Sheetz, Sabrina Scott and Kennedy Leonard.
"To see my name up there with legends like Lisa Van Goor and Shelley Sheetz is amazing," Hollingshed said. "We've had a lot of great players and legendary coaches here. I'd like to think I've soaked up a little bit of that knowledge from them."
But while the numbers will be fun to examine years from now, the only thing Hollingshed and her teammates are concerned with right now is an invitation to the NCAA's postseason party. CU hasn't played in the NCAA Tournament since 2013 — and the Buffs have been building toward this chance for the last couple of years.
"Last year we needed one more win in the Pac-12 Tournament to probably make the NCAA and we didn't get it," Hollingshed said. "But I knew with all the players we had coming back and the new players coming in that we had a chance to be really good. It was also a chance to develop my game for another year. It was just an opportunity I couldn't turn down."
Hollingshed's career arc didn't start at the top. She played in all 29 games as a freshman reserve and posted decent numbers. A year later, she started in all 30 games and improved her production, including recording five double-doubles.
But she really began to hit her stride in 2019-20, her junior season, when she averaged 13.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. She bumped up those numbers to 15.4 points and 7.8 rebounds last season — and when given a chance for a "super senior" season because of COVID-19 allowances granted by the NCAA, she opted to return to the Buffs for a fifth year.
"Loyalty has always been big with me, and so is family," she said. "I've built a great family here in Boulder and I wanted to come back and take care of business and help this program get to the NCAA Tournament."
Indeed, while the individual honors have been plentiful, the most-coveted recognition — that of a team NCAA berth — has yet to be corralled.
Now it is in reach.
The good news for Hollingshed — and the Buffs — is that this year's squad might be the deepest and most-balanced team Colorado has had in at least a decade.
No doubt, Hollingshed is the focal point for opponents, as she is averaging 14 points and seven rebounds per game, giving the Buffs a terrific presence up front.
But the Buffs also have a solid frontline presence in Quay Miller and Peanut Tuitele, and a formidable backcourt/wing combination of Jaylyn Sherrod, Lesila Finau, Frida Formann, Tameiya Sadler and Kindyll Wetta.
Combined, they give Colorado the necessary depth and balance to compete with anyone in the Pac-12 — which means they can compete with anyone in the nation.
The Buffs started their season with 13 consecutive wins and earned a spot in the nation's top 25. But then came a stretch of six losses in seven games, including four losses in a row.
That might have been enough to shake many teams' confidence and send them into a spiral from which they couldn't recover.
But Hollingshed and her teammates refused to fold and have since won five of their last six, including a road sweep of the Los Angeles schools.
Now, they may be playing their best ball of the season at a time when it matters most.
"That stretch where we lost some games taught us some things," Hollingshed said. "Every game is a learning opportunity, but the losses hurt the most. Now we have to make sure we are at our best. We have to get in a groove and play hard every game, every possession. March is all or nothing."
Hollingshed hasn't had much time to reflect on what her last game at the Events Center will be like. She said she'll try not to think about it much before tipoff — "that's time to concentrate on the game" — but conceded that there might be a few tears after the final buzzer.
No doubt, she has made a positive impact on the program.
"Mya Hollingshed's presence has been felt throughout her entire career here at the University of Colorado," Payne said. " As a freshman, she was a long, athletic kid with a world of potential and a huge smile for anyone and everyone. As a fifth-year senior, she is a veteran leader with the confidence of a college graduate, a 1,600 point scorer and a leader in our Buff community. I am incredibly proud of all that Mya has accomplished in her time here at CU and I'm excited for her future. I have no doubt she will be a tremendous success as a professional basketball player and in life."
Hollingshed said she will leave CU with the comfort of knowing that she helped establish a strong foundation for the program. That, she believes, is a legacy that will last.
"I hope people remember me as a player who tried to step up every night," she said. "I didn't play for myself. I played for our team and the program. When I look back at my journey, I hope it sets an example. It shows that you can do anything if you put your mind to it."