The 2013-14 season is the second in which a group of Fr. Tolton Catholic High School girls are playing varsity basketball, but it’s the first in which winning is an expectation and habit.
“In our past two years, we didn’t take things seriously,” senior Lacey Stephen said. “Now, we play to win.”
In 2010-11, the team did not compete on the varsity level, and in 2011-12 the Trailblazers finished 12-14 after dropping their first postseason game.
This season, the girls are 11-6 with four losses by fewer than four points, and it would seem that athletics director Chad Masters made a good hire this past July when he brought in Curt Riley as coach.
“He’s really had to pick this program up,” Stephen said. “Part of this is doing this for me, and part of this is doing it for him. I love Coach Riley.”
While the program builds, the team goals Riley espouses are not too lofty. After daily improvement, Riley says the top goal is just to win one more game than the team did last year. They're only two victories away from matching that feat.
Riley has a long-term plan in mind, but it's winning now that concerns him most.
"I think every coach has to have a long-term vision, but I’m not that patient,” Riley said. “I don’t want to wait until (freshman Lindsey Wright) is a senior to win. I want to win right now.”
Stephen might have even higher goals than her coach.
“I feel like our team is great,” Stephen said. “We’re not going to walk away from this year not being district champions.”
Before they get that far, the Trailblazers (Class 2) have to go through a brutal stretch this week, starting at 6 p.m. Tuesday in a game at Battle High School (8-11, Class 4). They will play again Thursday against Sweet Springs High School (13-4, Class 2) at home and then Saturday against Hickman High School (18-1, Class 5) at Hickman.
Riley said that the Battle and Hickman games — against teams in higher classes — will give the team a chance to measure itself against the town’s best.
“It’s something we need to do,” Riley said. “It’s good for Columbia.”
The girls, though, think that they have a real shot to win.
“At some point, it comes down to what’s in your head,” junior River Remis said. “We’ve improved so much that I think we can do it, definitely.”
“I think we have a shot at taking down both,” Stephen said. “I’ve seen them both, and if we play the game we’ve been playing, we’ll have a shot.”
One advantage the public schools may have, Remis suggested, is that their players have played together growing up.
The Trailblazers are from across central Missouri, with players such as Stephen making a daily drive from Moberly, roughly 40 miles away from Fr. Tolton.
Before putting on Trailblazers jerseys, none of the starters except sisters Hope and Lindsey Wright had played on a team together — and that was a soccer team.
Lindsey, a freshman, had never played basketball with Hope, a junior. This is partly because Lindsey, now the starting point guard, had not played organized basketball before seventh grade.
“I got good,” Lindsey said as her sister laughed, “and I enjoyed it. So, I continued playing.”
Off the court, they joke around a lot, maybe even tease each other.
“On the court," Lindsey said, "she’s never annoying.”
Supervising editor is Mark Selig