COLUMBIA — When the Hickman Kewpies suffered their only loss this season, they bore no semblance of defeat.
They lost by 14 to their crosstown rivals, but no looks of failure crossed a Kewpie face.
On the night of Jan. 29, they started preparing for a district finals rematch.
Before their regular season even closed, the Kewpies seemed focused on getting their shot at redemption, which will come Saturday at 5 p.m. at Rock Bridge High School.
“We can’t wait to play Rock Bridge again,” senior guard Kendahl Adams said Monday, Feb. 24. “Since the day of the game after the loss, I’ve been waiting for a rematch."
“We’re going to play the game, that’s why you do it,” Hickman coach Tonya Mirts said that Monday. “If you look on paper, you think we should lose to Rock Bridge 100 times if we play them 100 times. But you know what? We’re going to play them.”
The Kewpies earned their chance to replay Rock Bridge in a 66-60 win over Camdenton High School on Thursday.
It was the type of scrappy game that can tire legs during a district tournament run.
Mirts, though, is less worried about her team’s recovery and more worried about its nationally ranked opponent, whose starting five is a combined 22 inches taller than theirs.
“Our issue is we’re the best little team around,” Coach Mirts said. “We’re just 5 feet 9 inches across the board.”
The 6-foot-1 Bruin guard, Sophie Cunningham, scored 31 in the last game. Earlier this week, Cunningham said she had no idea that the game was Hickman’s only loss.
“Our goal is to treat them like any other team,” Cunningham said.
While the Bruins may not have been anticipating this game like the Kewpies have, Rock Bridge coach Jill Nagel knows it will be one of the toughest stops on her team’s path to defend its state championship.
“I know that they are definitely going to be ready for us,” Nagel said. “Anytime you make a mistake, they find it and they capitalize on it.”
MaxPreps rates these two teams as the two best teams in Class 5 and the second- and third-best teams in the state of Missouri.
Only one of these teams will advance from the Class 5, District 9 finals Saturday, a reality Mirts calls “unfortunate.”
Fortunately for the Kewpies, junior forward Mikayla Logan, who was unable to compete in January’s game because of injury, will be a part of Saturday’s competition.
Logan is Hickman’s best rebounder.
The team’s best ball handler for most of the year, senior guard Jordan Matthews, will not take the court. Matthews chose not to return to the team after its Feb. 27 win over Sullivan.
Junior Katie Storm and freshman Cassie Kent will both have chances for increased minutes.
However, if Hickman is to pull the upset, the responsibility will fall on junior star Emily Miller.
Miller’s 23 points in the first game kept her team close throughout the affair. For much of the first half, the game seemed to be Miller vs. Cunningham more than Hickman vs. Rock Bridge.
Unlike Cunningham, Miller is quiet and reserved.
While Miller doesn't like to talk about herself, her coach loves to sing her praises.
“She is just amazing!” Mirts said. “She defends the best guard on the other team, she rebounds like crazy, she has lightning-quick hands, and the kid flat out can put the ball in the hole.”
Adams marvels at her teammate’s abilities.
“A girl that doesn’t miss — that’s how I define her,” Adams said.
Miller can't afford to miss often in her next game if she doesn’t want it to be her last.
Supervising editor is Wade Livingston.