SEDALIA — In basketball, the “Sixth Man” is a name given to the first player off the bench. Usually, the sixth man is a team’s best bench player, one who coaches rely on to provide scoring, defense and intensity once they enter the game. Many coaches struggle to find one player who fits this role consistently.
For Hickman girls basketball coach Tonya Mirts, this is not a problem. She has two players that fill the role of sixth man for the No. 2 Kewpies.
Senior guard Ciara Tatum and junior forward Miriam Tesfamikael make Hickman one of the deepest teams in Class 5. According to Hickman senior Lauren Nolke, they could be starting for most teams in Missouri.
While many players with the talent that Tatum and Tesfamikael possess could sulk and complain, Mirts said that her two super subs embrace their roles.
“They’re both so invested in the team, and they want the team to be successful,” Mirts said. “They know they are as valuable as any of the kids in the starting lineup. If they didn’t feel valued, they probably wouldn’t be happy with their role, because they are great competitors and great players.”
Tesfamikael understands that, ultimately, each game is won by team effort.
“We know we’re part of the team,” Tesfamikael said. “When we get on the court, we’re just like anyone else, playing together as a team.”
Tatum agreed that starting doesn’t matter much, and said she enjoys her role as a distributor at point guard.
“You can’t satisfy everyone with the ball,” Tatum said. “If you get in, and it’s not your time to shine, then pass the ball and let someone else get the light.”
Nolke said that the starters look forward to the intensity that the two subs bring off the bench.
“(Tatum and Tesfamikael) know that it’s their role, and they don’t complain about it at all,” Nolke said. “When we know we’re in a tight battle, and we have a sub, there’s an immediate spark.”
Of course, the Kewpies haven’t been in many close games lately, and Saturday’s state quarterfinal at State Fair Community College against Nixa (22-9) was no exception. Spurred on by Yvonne Anderson’s 24 points, Hickman won 66-50. However, the importance of Tesfamikael and Tatum was nonetheless obvious. When starters Taylor Ford, Chasity Prince and Anderson found themselves in early foul trouble, Mirts motioned for Tatum and Tesfamikael to enter the game. Leading by seven at the time, both players forced turnovers and found the hot hand of Nolke, who had 11 first-quarter points.
“Whenever the other two (Tatum and Tesfamikael) go out, there’s no drop in confidence,” Nolke said.
“We were at the point where one more foul puts us in a situation where we don’t have the rotation we want,” Mirts said. “We want to keep seven in that rotation, not just four or five.”
Tesfamikael said that she understands her role in the rotation.
“When they get in foul trouble, we have to come in with a good head and make smart decisions,” Tesfamikael said.
Both Tatum and Tesfamikael bring different styles of play. Tatum is a quick point guard who provides more of a scoring option than freshman Taylor Ford, while at the same time allowing Anderson to keep her role as a scorer. Tesfamikael, a 5-foot-11 forward, can play four of the five positions on the court. Sometimes, she comes in for Anderson, and handles the ball at the top of the key. Other times, she is called on to fill the post positions of Prince and senior Shana White.
With the victory, Hickman comes home to Columbia for a semifinal matchup against Liberty (25-4). The game will played at 9:30 p.m. Friday at Mizzou Arena.