COLUMBIA — Rock Bridge seniors Chayla Cheadle and Audrey Holt took some time after practice to brush up on their free throws.
The girls joked and laughed between shots, but when it came time to shoot, they were silent. Holt's face quickly went from smiles to serious as she dribbled the ball in a pre-shot ritual.
Rock Bridge Girls Basketball
Class 5, District 9
Coach: Jill Nagel, ninth year
Last year's finish: 25-5, Class 5 State Champions
Key players: Seniors Chayla Cheadle, Audrey Holt, and Bri Porter; Juniors Sophie Cunningham and Cierra Porter.
Holt focused on the backboard, set up her shot, and put the ball through the net. Easy shot.
Cheadle and Holt figured it was necessary to take some additional time to focus on shooting. After all, the two have been busy finishing up their final season on the volleyball team, winning the Class 4, District 9 title.
And they weren't afraid to admit that the transition from volleyball to basketball can be a little tough at first.
"In volleyball we don't do a whole lot of conditioning, so we got to basketball season and it was a huge transition and everybody was out of shape," Cheadle said.
For Holt, the transition isn't always a bad thing.
"I do notice when we go straight to basketball that I'm jumping better," Holt said. "But then my shot is completely messed up because we haven't had time to be in the gym. But once we get into the swing of things it's not so bad."
After free throws, Cheadle and Holt practiced a few more shots from the three-point line. At that point, they were back to joking and smiling. The transition to basketball season may be physically tough, but it was clear that the two were happy to be back on the court.
And why not be happy?
The girls basketball team has won back-to-back state championships the last two seasons, the first large-class public high school to do so in 24 years. The two also just signed letters of intent to play Division-I basketball — Cheadle to Kansas, and Holt to Missouri State. Joining them on signing day were two other teammates, seniors Bri Porter and Kayla Cheadle (Chayla's fraternal twin sister), who signed to play basketball at Missouri and volleyball at Kansas respectively. Juniors Cierra Porter and Sophie Cunningham have also verbally committed to Missouri.
Despite their recent success, the team doesn't plan on backing off the proverbial pedal. Their schedule won't let them. The Bruins' second game of the season will take place in Tennessee, where they are scheduled to face Riverdale, a team that was ranked No. 1 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 national rankings last season.
Rock Bridge head coach Jill Nagel, who is currently in her ninth year and boasts an overall record of 191-36, knows the team is ready for the competitive season ahead. But like every season, Nagel's teams always focuses on winning its district first.
"When you've won back-to-back state championships, yes there are high expectations," Nagel said. "But the kids know that you have to do step A before you can get to step B. And that (step A) is to win districts."
Returning four starters (and 81 percent of its scoring from last season), the team is equipped to make another run at the district and state titles. Cunningham, the 6-foot-1 All-State guard, has led the team in scoring the past two seasons and also leading the team in assists, steals, and free throw percentage last year.
Chayla Cheadle was second on the team last year in scoring and steals. She averaged 10.8 points per game and also shot 45 percent from the three-point line. Porter, who stands at 6-foot-4, lead the team with 6.4 rebounds per game last year and shot 38 percent from the three-point line.
As a team, the Bruins averaged 54.7 points per game last season, while only allowing 35.2 points per game. The team also earned a No. 30 national rank by MaxPreps by the end of last season.
The team knows the expectations are high, but Holt said the team will stay motivated in pursuit of a three-peat. She also pointed to the Bruins' potent team chemistry as a key ingredient to their success.
"We're all really close, so we know each other really well," Holt said. "We know what you need to say to each individual person to get them tuned back in. We're really good about picking each other up."