Senior's dream a reality in Rock Bridge girls basketball's state title repeat

Sunday, March 17, 2013 | 3:51 p.m. CDT; updated 11:40 p.m. CDT, Sunday, March 17, 2013
The Rock Bridge girls basketball team won the state championship for the second year in a row, playing Saturday evening at Mizzou Arena. The Bruins defended their title, beating St. Joseph's Academy 45-38.

COLUMBIA — The dream started off like it usually does.

With the raucous Mizzou Arena crowd chanting her name and Rock Bridge girls basketball fans giving her a standing ovation, senior Hannah Dressler gets off of the bench and hobbles toward the scorer's table one last time, checking into the Class 5 state championship game with her Bruins ahead by an insurmountable margin.

It's usually around this point that Dressler wakes up in a cold sweat and clutches her right knee, the one with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the one she hurt during the Bruins' matchup Jan. 23 against rival Hickman, the same one that was supposed to sideline the Bruins' leader for the rest of the season.

But this time it wasn't a dream. This time it was real, and Dressler was actually hobbling to the scorer's table with 11 seconds left in Saturday night's title game, a come-from-behind 45-38 Rock Bridge win over St. Joseph's Academy to successfully defend last season's championship.

As Bruins' fans began chanting her name in unison and tears filled the eyes of her teammates on the sideline, Dressler watched from the court as Rock Bridge sophomore Cierra Porter grabbed a rebound as the final seconds expired and threw the ball toward the ceiling.

Dressler had done it. More importantly, Rock Bridge (25-5) had done it, capturing its second consecutive state title after a stunning second-half comeback.

When her teammates ran to the middle of the court and leaped on top of each other in an emotional celebration, Dressler remained in the same spot on the court, hugging her teammate and cousin Taylor Dillard and crying tears of joy about the turn of events.

"Isn't that crazy?" asked Dressler afterwards, fighting back more tears. "We were planning to do (this) on Senior Night, but it just didn't work out. I didn't know anything about it."

Rock Bridge assistant coach Kelsey Gillespey, who had been a player and coach at St. Joseph's Academy before joining the Bruins, said she was taken aback by how emotional the moment was.

"There wasn't a dry eye on that bench," Gillespey said. "When Hannah went in, everyone just kind of broke down and started crying."

Earlier in the day, Dressler had mentioned the recurring dream on Twitter: "Dreamt coach called my name to go into the state championship right as I was about to go in I woke up and reality sunk in."

The Bruins, who also won the state title in 2008, almost had to grapple with the reality of coming up short in their bid to grab a third state title.

With Dressler looking on from the bench, Rock Bridge scuffled through a miserable first half and trailed 25-15 at halftime.

Rock Bridge head coach Jill Nagel made adjustments in the third quarter, and sophomore standout Sophie Cunningham took over the game, posting up the smaller Angels' guards inside and getting easy baskets to help the Bruins close the gap.

When Cunningham slashed past multiple St. Joseph's Academy (23-6) defenders and scored two baskets to tighten the score to 36-33, Bruins' fans could sense the momentum shifting.

After Kayla Cheadle stole the ball and sprinted down the length of the court for an easy layup to cut the deficit to just one, Dressler was the first one off the bench to give her teammate a high five, offering words of support after an Angels' timeout.

Junior guard Chayla Cheadle sealed the victory, knocking out one of her patented 3-pointers to give Rock Bridge a four-point edge with 1:20 left.

After a St. Joseph's Academy foul, the rally was complete, and Dressler's dream finally turned into a reality when Nagel took a timeout with just 11 seconds left on the game clock.

"It was a goal that I had been thinking about today," Nagel said, "and I didn't really say anything about it to anybody. It was great sportsmanship by St. Joseph's Academy, and they were the ones who actually yelled down to us to get Hannah in."

What will the Bruins dream up next?

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