CHAMPAIGN — A flight from Czech Republic to Chicago is only 11 hours but Petra Holesinska’s journey to Illinois takes a lot longer than that. Three years ago, head coach Matt Bollant was watching current Illini Jaelyne Kirkpatrick at the 17U World Championships when another player stood out.
Holesinska was playing for the Czech Republic team. She impressed Bollant enough to get an official visit to the UI campus in December of 2015.
“Well, it was my first time (in the United States) on my visit,” Holesinska said. “So this is basically my second time here.”
She may not be familiar with much in the U.S., but she knows all about the Illini. Holesinska played with Illinois’ all-time leading scorer Jenna Smith, while in the Czech Republic.
“We’re really good friends,” Holesinska said. “We were teammates so I was the only one who spoke English so we were really good friends. But I was 16 and she was 26, so it was kind of like weird.”
“She said she knew Jenna and obviously, I got excited right away,” Bollant said. “There’s a connection to Illinois and one of the best players in Illinois history and she had played with Jenna. So I reached out to Jenna to get a second opinion of her too, because you don’t always know what you’re getting in recruiting and Jenna said, ‘Oh yeah, she’s a really good player and great kid so I would highly recommend going after her’ and we had kind of started the process already but it just kind of affirmed everything that we thought and believed in her.”
Holesinska has started 14 of Illinois’ 16 games. She’s averaging 17 points per game through the first three Big Ten contests.
“She’s been good to start games and the start of the game is so important, especially with a young team because you have to believe that you’re going to win. You have to believe that good things are going to happen and if you don’t start the game that way, it’s hard to all of the sudden turn the switch on.”
That switch has already helped Illinois win as many Big Ten games this season (2), as they did all of last.