COLUMBIA — No seniors walk through Battle High School’s sleek metal and glass entryways each morning.
No seniors dribble a ball in its gym.
Despite its lack of experience, the Battle Spartans girls basketball team (12-15) advanced out of its district and became the only sub-.500 team in the Class 4 state tournament bracket.
And after another postseason win Wednesday, the Spartans are preparing for a Saturday matchup against Dexter High School (25-3) for a chance to go to the Class 4 final four.
“We’re starting to build traditions for the school and traditions for championships,” Battle coach Angie Roberds said.
Building a championship tradition is something traditionally done over multiple seasons. Roberds has done it in 70 practices and 27 games.
The Spartans worked on basics like dribbling from practice No. 1 to No. 70.
“Everyday we tell them, ‘Get better at fundamentals,'” Roberds said.
Roberds’ commitment to those skills does not intrude on her wish to challenge her players in practice and on game day. She said she believes pushing the team has been a major reason for its tournament success.
“Once you’ve been challenged so many times, you have to be confident and embrace the challenges,” Roberds said.
Early in its season, Battle was not quite up to the challenge.
The Spartans dropped seven of their first nine games. Only junior Ellie Johnson had starting experience at the high school level, and Roberds was still trying to implement her system.
“We had to put in every single detail that we could to play a functional ball game that first game,” Roberds said.
Roberds said the team improved with each game, but a look at the team’s schedule doesn’t say as much. The Spartans dropped the last five games of their regular season.
“It was hard on all of us, you could tell,” freshman Maya Mouton said.
Then “Thunder” and “Lightning” struck.
These are the nicknames for Roberds' athletic tandem of Johnson and Mouton. The two measure 6-foot-2 and record about nine points and seven rebounds per game.
However, they don't play like traditional post players.
“They got some handles,” Roberds said.
Johnson said quick dribbling is a focus at most practices along with “a lot of running.”
Being able to move the ball up and down the court quickly was a key to Battle’s 54-45 win over Festus High School (18-10) on Wednesday, Roberds said.
Battle’s meeting Saturday with the 25-3 Dexter Bearcats seems to be an entirely different challenge.
However, the Spartans are no strangers to tough competition. Battle played 11 Class 5 opponents this season, and while it dropped 10 of the matchups, the games prepared the Spartans for their current competition, Roberds said.
Roberds said her team is no David to Dexter’s Goliath. She said her Spartans are ready to continue making history for the brand new high school with the big, glossy campus.
"Yes, we took some brutal hits," Roberds said, "but every game we got better."
Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.