COLUMBIA — Laughter and fumes from spray paint lingered in the pavilion next to the Rock Bridge track.
After a grueling practice, the Rock Bridge girls soccer team escaped the artificial turf to a neighboring outdoor building to transform white T-shirts into wearable encouragement. It has become a tradition for the team to design shirts the night before its last home game against rival Hickman each season.
The Bruins (6-11) play the Kewpies (6-10-1) at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Rock Bridge.
Each T-shirt created over the past decade has displayed a different slogan that represents the team during the season.
Last year, the Bruins sported tie-dyed shirts with the words “Beast Mode” written in permanent marker. Inspiration for the slogan came from the song “Chain Hang Low” by rapper Jibbs. The Rock Bridge girls basketball team initially chose the slogan, inspiring the girls’ soccer team to use it in the spring.
“It really got them pumped, and they won state," returning senior Kelsey Konrardy said. "So we decided to adopt it.”
Tuesday night, players positioned “Just Play” duct-tape lettering on the front of T-shirts before covering the surrounding material with silver, gold, black and orange spray paint.
Players said this year’s motto originated at practice during a team keep-a-away scrimmage. Senior Gabe Dobbins said after the ball repeatedly went out of bounds, some ‘competitive’ players starting yelling “just play” to keep possession.
The slogan started as a joke among players, but transcended into a team mentality in games.
“We decided that it was a really good motto. It’s kind of like the Nike ‘just do it,'” Konrardy said. “That motivating ‘get out there and go your hardest.'”
Bruins coach Marc VanDover said the team gathering serves two purposes, to relax after practice, but also to motivate the players before the next day’s game.
“It’s definitely a relaxing time for them, it is downtime,” VanDover said. “I think it’s as much of a bonding thing as anything else. They’re playing their crosstown rivals and that’s always huge for them. Playing against kids they’ve known for years and years. Nobody wants to lose that game.”
Junior Kayla Hauck said the tradition is an opportunity to strengthen team relationships while preparing for Hickman off the field, in a less intense environment.
“It’s like a different kind of focusing,” Hauck said. “You’re with the people you’re going to be with tomorrow when you’re playing for a big game, but it’s not as serious. It’s just a good time to be with our teammates.”
VanDover leaves team captains Kelsey Konrardy and Kelsey Eckenrode to determine the team’s game-day wardrobe at school. The players said they avoid dress clothing, and often opt to wear Rock Bridge soccer apparel.
“Many people on the team really like to wear comfortable clothes, so we usually just wear our game shorts and our warm-up jackets,” Konrardy said laughing. “It’s more comfortable at school, as opposed to wearing heels and possibly spraining your ankle walking through the hallways.”
Although the dress at school is casual most game days, the team reserves two days each season for dramatic, eye-catching attire: one home and one away game played against Hickman.
“We always make the T-shirts crazy on the day we play Hickman,” said senior Rachel Rutter. “It brings attention to us. People ask why we are so bright that day and we can tell them it’s because we are playing Hickman.”
Before the first Rock Bridge-Hickman meeting earlier this season, Bruins players decked out in camouflage clothing. The team said the dress represented war mentality.
“Hunting for a win,” Konrardy said.
Hauck added, “Getting our battle on.”
Last month, Rock Bridge defeated Hickman 1-0 in double overtime after a successful penalty kick by Hauck. The Bruins say they think they will win again Wednesday.
“I’m expecting a win,” Konrardy said. “I think the first time we played Hickman we played really well, and we got a win out in the end. I think we’re improved a lot as a team since then, so it should be an even better game.”