COLUMBIA — When the Hickman Kewpies visit the Rock Bridge Bruins on Wednesday night, two of the state's top three girls basketball teams will be on the same court.
The Kewpies (17-0) are currently No. 3 in the MaxPreps state rankings while the Bruins (13-2) are No. 2 in the state and 13th in the USA Today national rankings.
No. 3 Hickman at No. 2 Rock Bridge
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Players from both teams would be excited anyway, but the rankings bring extra meaning to the game.
“If you have to get up for a rivalry game, you probably have to check your pulse,” Rock Bridge coach Jill Nagel said.
“It’s really exciting because you get everyone from the town to come out and watch,” Bruin senior Chayla Cheadle said.
The Kewpies remain undefeated heading into the game, though they have played a significantly easier schedule than their nationally-ranked rival.
The Bruins' only losses came in their first two games of the season — a pair of two-point loses — against two teams from Murfreesboro, Tennessee: Riverdale High School (16-4) and Blackman High School (21-1), which is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today.
“We’re not just talking about a good basketball team," Hickman coach Tonya Mirts said. "We’re not talking about, even, a great basketball team. We’re talking about one of the best basketball teams in the country."
The rivalry has belonged to Rock Bridge in recent years. The Bruins won the last seven matchups dating back to February 2008. Rock Bridge's dominance goes beyond Hickman, however, with no Class 5 Missouri team having beaten the Bruins since December 2011.
The Bruins are experienced with seven seniors on the varsity roster, including 2014 Missouri recruit Bri Porter.
“If we played them 100 times, they might beat us 99, but we’re given an opportunity that maybe that miracle might happen," Mirts said. "We’re going to play the game.”
Mirts' players would give themselves a better than 1 percent chance of winning this one, and they don't care too much for their rival's national ranking.
“That doesn’t bother us," Hickman senior Kendahl Adams said. "We’re ranked in the state, too. Just like them.”
The teams know each other well with many of the girls having played side by side for years at the junior high or travel team levels.
"We know how to guard them," Hickman senior Jordan Matthews said. "We know what moves they do from being around them for so long."
Mirts would argue that knowing the opponent is much different than knowing how to beat them.
“You know what they’re going to do, but you got to stop it, and no one’s been able to do that,” Mirts said.
Perhaps the first thing that the average Columbian will notice as the game begins is the height difference. Cheadle and Porter are 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-2, respectively, and Porter's younger sister Cierra Porter, who is also an Missouri recruit, is 6-foot-4.
Hickman's tallest player is listed at 5-foot-11, but Mirts says that it is a generous listing. Mirts says all her players are 5-foot-9 and shorter.
The Kewpies also expect to be without junior Mikayla Logan, who Mirts calls her best rebounder, due to injury.
Due to the height difference between the teams and the absence of their best rebounder, the Kewpies are concerned about even being able to get shots up.
“We’re just trying to figure out how in the world we’re going to score against them,” Mirts said. "There are so many things that we need to be concerned about as far as even trying to be in a game with them.”
Rock Bridge is used to being the taller team.
“There’s pretty much always a height difference,” Porter said. "We always try to take advantage of our height, but we’re not going to change anything.”
And as Nagel points out, height doesn't necessarily equal rebounds or a guaranteed victory.
“(The Hickman players) find a person every time, and they make sure someone is checked off with a box out,” Nagel said. “That’s a dangerous combination when you play a team that is undefeated, that is fundamentally sound."
The Kewpies will seek to upset the Bruins at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday night at Rock Bridge High School.
Supervising editor is Erik Hall.