COLUMBIA — In her 19 years around high school girls basketball, Hickman coach Tonya Mirts has learned plenty.
She can teach the fundamentals and the Xs and Os. She can motivate her team and make the right substitutions. Mirts has led the Kewpies to eight district championships and four Final Four appearances. But getting a group of teenage girls to constantly get along? Not so easy.
“Guys will pass each other the ball whether they like each other or not,” Mirts said. “Girls don’t always do that. I’m fortunate to have a group that has committed to working. Have committed to holding each other accountable. That’s big.”
It’s something that Mirts said she can help develop, but ultimately is not in control of.
“You can try and foster it as a coach, but I think a lot of it has to do with your leadership,” Mirts said. “Your leaders have to be your hardest workers.”
Going into the Kewpies’ first game of the season Thursday night against Helias, Mirts said she couldn’t be happier with the chemistry of her team.
“I’m telling you, we are eons ahead of the game because we have a group that cares about each other as people outside the court as well as on the court,” she said.
It sounds like a quote Mirts could rattle off every year. That’s not the case. When Mirts talks about this team, her passion pours out, and her wide eyes and constant smile reveal her true excitement.
“That’s a big deal for girls,” Mirts said. “They’ve involved everybody. They all genuinely like each other. I’m telling you that’s huge. We’ve had a lot of success at Hickman High School in our girls basketball program, but that’s a key to having any success.”
Carrying off-the-court issues onto the court is something that Mirts must take account of. While she said her teams have been successful before when certain players didn’t get along, it makes things a whole lot easier when they do.
“It’s the difference between boys and girls I think to be really honest with you, and that just might be coach Mirts’ opinion, but that’s my experience with 19 years of girls basketball,” Mirts said.
Ridding her team of what she described as a “junior high attitude” is something Mirts focuses on with her team.
“Year in and year out we try to keep that away from our team,” she said. “Like I tell them ‘you don’t have to like each other. You just have to learn to play with each other.’ Most kids will buy into that, but these kids like each other. That’s why we’re ahead of the game.”
When asked to describe their team, upperclassmen Shaunece Ballenger, Aqua Corpening and Ashley Davis, three leaders on the Hickman girls basketball team, struggled to answer.
Competitive? Hard-working? Aggressive?
The words fit, but none were that perfect adjective. After a few minutes of debate, they settled on one — outgoing.
It wasn’t about their game play or skills, instead the girls chose to focus the team’s personality.
That’s exactly what Mirts wanted to hear. If her players enjoy being together, she’ll take care of the basketball.