Rock Bridge softball team bonds over dinner, cheering

Tuesday, October 7, 2008 | 10:58 p.m. CDT

When members of the Rock Bridge softball team went out to eat one night, junior Rachel Hughes found herself with a little extra pasta on her plate.

She did what seemed obvious to her: She made a portrait of the team’s coach, Joe Henderson. With noodles...

This type of fun has become a hallmark of a team that strives to be very tightly knit. A foundation of their team chemistry is their time spent going out to eat.

"I think that going out to dinner helps us bond more," said Nicole Jamison. " We’re able to relax in the dugout and have more fun."

Freshman Whitney Wipfler added: "And, I would say there’s a very close bond between all of us."

Henderson said he is impressed by the team's self-made unity.

"One night they went to El Maguey and I stopped by and, you know, there were freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors," he said. "It’s highly unusual for any sports team to have that much morale."

He also said he knows about the noodle portrait.

"It's on Facebook," he said, shaking his head.

After practice Monday, the biggest problem facing the players seemed to be where to eat that night.

Earlier in the same practice, Jamison and Wipfler had excitedly named off their favorite restaurants and dishes.

"Love Sonic!" announced Jamison. "Sonic Powerade slushes are the best!"

Outside of dinners, the closeness of the team allows the players to be more loose and friendly in practices. Sometimes things can get a little out of hand.

 "We’ve done pies in the face," said Henderson. "A couple of the assistant coaches got it."

During games though, the team’s closeness shows in another way.

The chain-link fence is always rattling and shaking as the team enclosed behind it bellows and hollers.

Although it may look like a riot or a prison scene in a movie, it’s just the team loudly expressing excitement and cheering on teammates.

The team has made it a point all season to be as loud as possible in the dugout. A few innings at any one of their games quickly proves that this is a mission well accomplished, and it looks to continue as they start district play in Jefferson City tonight.

"I feel like we always have to be loud in the dugout cause it’s kind of an intimidation thing," said senior Carly Levy. "They (the other teams) are kind of like, ‘Wow, they’re really loud. They might be pretty good.’"

Senior Sara Stafford said: "The longer we stay up, the better we’re going to play.

"And everybody is into the game and focused."

Levy said: "It’s just kind of a way that we can all come together.

"It’s just cheering on our teammates, which is always something we want to stress and encourage."

The loud dugout is really just the most visible (and audible) symbol of a team that excels due to the close relationships of it's players.

"It is unique," said Henderson. "To have everybody getting along, no problem. And to have fun at the same time."

To illustrate his point, Henderson tells a story about the past Friday night. The team had a home game that ended after the Homecoming football game had started.

"After that game, I walked over there," he began. "The entire softball team, except three people, went over there together, in their uniforms. That’s highly unusual. That’s just the way they are. They’re kind of a unique group."

He points out, also, that the fun and atmosphere has only helped the team.

"We ended the (regular) season 17-9. That's a record for most wins in the history of the program," he said.

The success and team chemistry is also surprising due to an influx of young players. An astonishing 20 out of 25 players on the roster are either freshmen or sophomores.

"To have 20 freshmen and sophomores play at the level that we have," said Henderson. "That’s probably the No. 1 reason, besides their hard work, is their ability to really enjoy each other’s company.

"They all gravitate toward each other. They have fun being around each other."

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