COLUMBIA — Rock Bridge girls basketball assistant coach Cameo Holly stopped at half court and looked around, fighting to hold back tears.
The final buzzer had sounded, and the raucous crowd filled with Bruins fans and Hickman supporters had already begun to turn its attention towards the boys district championship game nightcap.
After a win over rival Hickman on Saturday night, Rock Bridge advanced to the Class 5 Round of 16.
WHO: Rock Bridge (22-5) vs. Waynesville (13-13)
WHERE: Camdenton High School
WHEN: Wednesday at 7:45 p.m.
But Holly lingered, almost as if she didn't want to get into the visiting locker room, didn't want to become a sister again.
"I'm very happy, but I'm sad for my sister," she said.
Her sister, Hickman senior star Jade Holly, sat in a folding chair 20 feet from Cameo Holly while the Kewpies made their way to center court to accept their Class 5, District 9 runner-up plaque. Hickman (22-5) had fallen short against Rock Bridge, 50-38.
Jade Holly, the "engine" that made Hickman go, had played her last high school game, managing just four points. No. 2 Rock Bridge (21-5) successfully focused its defensive efforts on containing her jump shot.
Holly shook her head and looked down, later admitting she didn't want it all to end.
And then she got up and walked out of the gym toward the locker room, toward the next step in a twisted journey for the Holly sisters that could symbolize the courteous, but intense rivalry between the respective athletic programs of Hickman and Rock Bridge.
Cameo Holly's path to Rock Bridge started at Hickman.
After spending her freshman year as a Kewpie, Holly made the decision to transfer to the rival school across town, and she had no trouble earning a spot with the Bruins' basketball team.
"I just liked the atmosphere and I thought I would get a better education," Cameo Holly said.
After a successful run with Rock Bridge concluded with her graduation in 2006, Cameo Holly made her way to William Woods University.
Cameo Holly earned her minutes as an intelligent player willing to do whatever it took to win.
Then, a call came from Rock Bridge head coach Jill Nagel.
"Honestly, I had no idea I was gonna be a coach," said Cameo Holly with a grin. "The situation was presented to me coming out of college, asked if I wanted to be an assistant coach ... I plan to do this until I can't anymore."
"She's easy to talk to about basketball," said Rock Bridge senior Chayla Cheadle after the Bruins collected their fifth district title in six years. "She calms us down when we're nervous and tells us we're gonna do well."
Bruins' sophomore Sophie Cunningham laughed and added, "She's 100 percent Rock Bridge. All the way."
After a topsy-turvy game featuring numerous runs finally tilted Rock Bridge's way behind the inside-outside tandem of Cunningham and sophomore Cierra Porter, Cameo Holly's inner-coach was happy, excited to see the Bruins advance to the Class 5 round of 16 to face District 10 champion Waynesville (13-13) Wednesday in Camdenton.
She tempered her excitement, though, expressing sorrow for her sister's high school career coming to a close.
"I'm gonna be a sister and get her ready for college," she said.
On the other side of the building, Hickman coach Tonya Mirts stood in a hallway lined with trophies, including one honoring Hickman's 2011 district title over Rock Bridge. The coach showed signs of fatigue and weariness as she talked about the loss of Jade Holly, who was still in the locker room 25 minutes after the game ended.
"She's been with our program for four years," Mirts said. "She came in when we were 11-17, she came out and we went 22-5 ... what more can you say? I think those numbers define her career."
When Jade Holly finally emerged from the Hickman locker room, her eyes were bloodshot and red. She looked down as reporters lobbed questions her way, blinking back a fresh wave of tears and trying to hold back her emotions.
"It was a great game," she said with conviction. "I enjoyed the big crowd, it was all I could ask for. I would have loved to get the 'W', but you can't win 'em all."
Holly admitted that she hadn't talked to her older sister prior to the game, instead waiting until after the game to share time with Cameo Holly.
With college basketball on the horizon, Jade Holly, who has committed to Southeast Missouri State, will now turn to her sister as a role model moving forward.
As she wheeled around to leave, her older sister walked through a set of wooden double doors that separated the hallway from a corridor outside of the Hickman gym.
All of the emotion that Jade Holly had choked back just moments before came tumbling out with renewed force, as she burst into tears and shook her head.
"Oh, c'mon," Cameo Holly said, pushing back her own tears. "It's going to be okay, it's going to be okay."
As a crowd of people chatted outside the doors, the sisters embraced each other, walking out together again.