COLUMBIA — The Rock Bridge girls basketball team has a target on its back.
In March, the Bruins brought home their second Class 5 State Championship title since 2008. They know that the other teams are working hard to take their title away from them, but they're ready for what's to come.
"We worked so hard last year to try and knock off (returning champion) Incarnate Word Academy," Rock Bridge coach Jill Nagel said. "We knew how hard we had to work to knock them off, so we know the teams are doing the same thing in preparation for us. If anything, it makes us step our game up even more."
The Bruins began practicing on Oct. 29 and have been focusing on making sure they have senior leadership and their point guard position is taken care of.
The team lost five seniors from its championship team, including co-captains Carmen Boessen and Lindsey Cunningham. Cunningham was Rock Bridge's starting point guard for the past three seasons. For Nagel, Cunningham's departure was a huge loss.
"The point guard for me, as a coach, is my right hand," Nagel said. "Point guard is the quarterback, she runs the show for us. I knew it was going to be a big transition for me. And you don’t replace anyone, I always say that. Everybody brings something to the table that you just can’t replace."
In hopes of maintaining their title, the Bruins are looking to new senior leadership for guidance, as well as calling on returning underclassmen, such as Sophie Cunningham, to help with the transition. Sophie Cunningham was the leading scorer for the Bruins last year but is working through an injury.
Rock Bridge has three underclassmen who have made verbal commitments to Missouri. Nagel doesn't view the verbal commitments as added pressure and doesn't believe the girls do either. She said she is counting on everyone to continue to work hard and bring their skills to the court this season.
"We talk a lot about how we have a tool kit, and everyone has a different tool," Nagel said. "Everyone’s gotta bring their tool box to work each day and then we’ll be prepared and have all the necessary equipment that we need.”
The road to another state championship won't be easy. With the toughest schedule they've seen yet, the Bruins are going to need all the tools they can get. This season, the team will not face a single opponent that finished the 2011-12 season with a sub-.500 record. Seven of the scheduled opponents finished in the top three of their respective state class.
Rock Bridge will have its first game of the season in St. Louis against Troy Buchanan at 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 23. The game will be at St. Joseph's Academy as part of the Turkey Shootout.