Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
PEEBLES — In the second quarter of a district championship game this past year, Jacey Justice was fouled hard while rising to the basket in an attempt to score.
When Peebles’ junior hit the floor, the impact — and the moment that followed afterwards — sent a hush across a jam-packed gym. Justice stayed down for what seemed like forever.
But when she got back up, she hobbled to the free throw line and did something that will stand out as a moment to remember in her already-illustrious career.
“In the second quarter, I dislocated my kneecap and actually put it back into place at the free throw line. I was hurting and my teammates knew that. They stepped up and helped me out,” Justice said. “Playing the rest of the game was the toughest thing. I had to play on a bone bruise and a dislocated knee the next game against Notre Dame. The satisfaction of winning that game was amazing. We needed that. Being down and coming back is always a good feeling, especially with a district championship on the line.”
If that doesn’t perfectly encapsulate the player that Jacey Justice is, there’s not much else that will. Her teammates needed her and, like always, she was there to lend a helping hand.
But that’s nothing new. That’s the type of player Justice wants to be remembered for.
“It’s always really nice to hear that your team made history this season again. Just that right there is motivation,” Justice said. “I try to give some pep talks like, ‘Do you want your name to be on that roster for the team that did it all?’ You always see the team before you and just instantly hope girls take it as motivation. I want to be known as a player on the team that went so far, I want to contribute to that.”
Justice’s Indians beat Belpre that night by a 51-45 final … a game where she led the team in scoring with 24 points, 13 of which came in the first quarter alone.
It was the program’s second consecutive district championship and marked the first time it had ever won back-to-back district titles.
“Our season was a special one to remember. We grew as a team and we had girls step up,” Justice said. “We had varsity and tournament experience from the year before, which helped us a lot especially during tournament time. It was a record year. We had a goal this year, and we accomplished it. We had a lot of gut checks throughout the season, but we did what we wanted to do.”
Individually, Justice had one of the most prolific years in recent memory.
She ended the season averaging 26.3 points per game alongside 4.3 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 4.3 steals each night. The Indians went 21-4 overall and finished 11-2 in the SHAC.
All of the above led to Justice being selected as SOSA’s co-Girls Basketball Player of the Year — sharing the honor with Notre Dame’s Ava Hassel.
“Being Player of the Year is such an honor. From early in my life, I wanted to be successful in school and in sports by putting in a lot of time,” Justice said. “This is just an award for all the effort and hard work that I’ve contributed. I don’t think I could’ve ever been Player of the Year without my teammates and all the support they have given me, along with my family. It also makes me feel as if I’m following in the footsteps of my brothers, who have been Players of the Year in their careers.”
It’s certainly not the first such award Justice has won and it’s, in all likelihood, not the last.
Justice was also the SHAC, District 14, and Southeast District POY in Division IV. Those honors were capped by a first-team All-Ohio nod last week — her first such career honor.
Those accolades are well-deserved. After all, she became her program’s all-time leading scorer as a junior, after scoring her 1,000th career point as a sophomore.
But for Justice, even though she’s made a habit of lighting up nets, it’s not all about scoring.
“The thing I feel that I have improved on the most this season was getting assists. I went from just contributing my scoring to helping my teammates score,” Justice said. “I went from the year before, maybe averaging one or two assists per game to four or five assists this season. Some games, I even had triple doubles with assists, points and steals or rebounds.”
And, unfortunately for opposing defenses, she isn’t done tormenting them just yet.
Justice will enter her senior year with 1,720 career points. That total is aided by 304 rebounds, 318 assists and 302 steals. Her career scoring average stands at 22.9 points per game, and she’s shooting a whopping 51 percent from the floor — 41 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
But as always, there’s still room to improve. That will always be there.
Justice knows it and plans to take full advantage of every opportunity she gets to be better.
“Next year is going to be my senior year, which is kind of hard to believe,” Justice said. “The goal is for it to be our best year as a team. I will put in the work to improve on all of my weaknesses and make my strengths stronger. I know for a fact my teammates will. We have the determination and will to win. My coach [Billie Jo Justice] works so hard on and off the court. She’s a special one and I get to call her momma. We are super excited for next year.”