COLUMBIA — After graduating seven seniors from last year's state championship team, Rock Bridge girls basketball coach Jill Nagel knew that she would have some new faces to get used to. Lucky for her, two of those faces are the same.
Sophomore guards Allison and Megan Marshall are twins and two of the many Bruins that are being forced to take on a new role for this season's title defense.
Members of the junior varsity squad last season, the Marshalls watched the Bruins first run to the top of Missouri girl's basketball from the sideline. But this year, they have been thrust into the expectations that come with the championship banner that hangs next to the scoreboard in the Rock Bridge gym.
"Expectations" is the term that Nagel likes to use when referring to the team's unprecedented prominence. She says that her new players haven't felt like there has been too much pressure on them to succeed.
"It's an expectation to live up to that tradition," Nagel said. "We've established what we've called a winning tradition of excellence. And the kids have seen that, and they want to be a part of it."
The Marshalls say they agree with that attitude, but don't feel overwhelmed by any demands being placed on them. If they did, the returners from last year's team would've quickly made it a thing of the past. Megan Marshall says that those four returners have been the key in allowing the younger plays to adjust to the varsity level.
"We can really rely on the ones that went to state last year," Megan Marshall said. "They're really good at helping us out."
"The four returners are just teachers," Nagel said. "They don't see things as, 'We won a state championship, you weren't on the floor when that happened, so you're not as good as us.' There's not that thought at all. It's, 'You're coming on that ride with us again.' And you have to have that."
While the older players have eased the adjustment for the newcomers, the Marshall twins have already added their own contributions to the this year's squad. Both have been in the starting lineup at some point in the team's four games, and the defensive instincts that they bring has caused their coach to take notice.
"They're both so good defensively about knowing angles to take on the traps," Nagel said. "They're guards, but they're 5-9. They're so long that it makes them seem a lot taller."
The girls have played on the same team since sixth grade, and the same summer league team since seventh grade. Their summer league coach is the one that they credit with instilling that defensive mentality.
"He used to say that offense comes when you play good defense," Megan Marshall said.
While they began developing their knack for defense only a few years ago, the competitiveness that both girls bring to the floor is something that their father began stressing long before that.
"He said there's always going to be someone that's more talented than you," Allison Marshall said. "But you never have to get outhustled."
The twins' competitive streak is usually considered a positive, but there are times where the sibling rivalry can boil over.
"We don't like to guard each other in practice because it can get a little heated," Allison Marshall said.
The competitiveness has paid dividends in adjusting to the faster varsity game. While in the past talent often trumped execution, the speed and need for precision that comes with the new level of competition has been the most difficult transition.
"Execution is a necessity," Megan Marshall said. "From JV last year to this year, you definitely have to be more focused the whole entire practice. You have to be hooked in and focused every single second."
Keeping that focus and their trademark intensity not only in practice, but whenever the Bruins take the floor, will be key in allowing Rock Bridge to continue with the success and expectations that last year brought.
"We're the hunted now," Allison Marshall said. "We're going to get everybody's best shot."