COLUMBIA — The Rock Bridge girls' basketball team lined up in single-file facing a blank piece of paper in its gym late Tuesday night. Coach Jill Nagel challenged the players to stand flat-footed and make a pen mark as high as they could reach. After each player completed this task, she told them to do it again, but to this time, reach higher.
Each player beat her first mark.
The Bruins’ first game is against Francis Howell Central at 4 p.m. Friday at the St. Joseph’s Academy’s Turkey Day Shootout in St. Louis.
This was just one of the activities the team participated in during its annual sleepover retreat. The team is required to sleep within the boundaries of the court because of its motto, "protect our house." Nagel said that the retreat is an important part of the team’s season.
“We’ve always felt that team chemistry is huge,” she said. “It helped us win the state championship (in 2008) and you’ve got to know each other off the court. I’ve always said, 'You don’t have to be best friends off the court, but you’ve got to be able to get along, and you’ve got to be able to learn how to communicate, and how you learn to communicate is off the court.'”
In addition to team-building activities, the 23 members of the varsity and junior varsity teams also enjoy putting on short skits within their classes. The subjects of the skits ranged from poking fun at the coaches, to a “battle of the classes” game show to an inside joke about a pterodactyl. Team members wiped away tears as they laughed at each other’s performances. Junior captain Allison Marshall said that the retreat and the skits are a way for the team to let loose before the season starts.
“It’s just bonding time for everyone, and after this we’re all closer,” Marshall said. “When we make mistakes, this is the time to make fun of it and have fun with it. If you don’t know us as a team, we make fun of everyone, and you might think we’re being mean, but we’re not. We love them. You just have to know that.”
A more serious part of the retreat is the time when the team comes up with the values and goals for the season.
“Some of our values were to just protect this team, be a part of the family and trust each other,” Marshall said. “We’re just working on becoming a closer family because we have a lot of tough games this year.”
At the head of the family are Marshall and senior captain and point guard Amaya Williams. Williams is a four-year starter and two-year all-state honoree. After the team’s leading scorer and rebounder from last year, Katherine Harry, graduated, Williams knows that its time for the rest of the team to work hard.
“We have a lot of depth at that position and a lot of good, young post players that are stepping up to fill that void,” Williams said. “As a team, the guards and posts are just going to have to step up and rebound more because it’s hard to fill the shoes of our 6-3 post player from last year, but we’re working on it.”
Although Harry helped lead the team to the state quarterfinals last year, Williams is confident in her team’s abilities and said its first goal is winning districts, which the team did the past two years.
“I think it’s going to be an exciting year, and it’s going to be a new kind of basketball you haven’t seen out of us,” Williams said. “I think we have a lot of athletes, and we’re looking to push the ball up the floor. We don’t have the height we had last year, so we’re looking to make up for that in other areas.”
Although the rosters are finalized for varsity and junior varsity, both teams attended the retreat. According to Nagel, 12 of the 23 players on the teams are underclassmen. Marshall said that they try not to make distinctions between the teams.
“We’re a really young team, so we actually have tons of underclassmen that haven’t been on varsity that are on varsity this year,” Marshall said. “It just helps to bring us together because we’re all one big family and it doesn’t matter if we’re on varsity or JV.”
After the pen mark activity, the team sat in a circle in the middle of the court and amid laughing and joking with each other, came up with reasons why the activity pertained to game situations. At the end of the conversation, Nagel summarized its importance.
“You proved that you thought you were giving something your all, but you could give it more,” she said. “…Remember this at half, or with two minutes left in the game when you’re dead-dog tired. Now, this doesn’t mean you don’t need to take a sub, but it also means you can always give it a little more.”