One of the hardest things a high school football player must do is survive two-a-day practices at the start of the season.
The Rock Bridge Bruins began practice on Monday, but they have something helping them get through the early grind — unfinished business.
Last season, Rock Bridge went 8-4 and made it to the Class 6 state semifinals, where it lost to Rockhurst 46-13.
Senior linebacker Van Alexander said that loss has provided motivation for the Bruins.
“A lot of people might think last season was a fluke,” Alexander said. “We have a lot of talent on this team and I think we’ll show them that it wasn’t.”
A.J. Ofodile takes over as the Bruins head coach after serving as the offensive coordinator under Barry Odom last season. Odom left Rock Bridge in January and accepted a position with the Missouri football team.
Ofodile has a strong nucleus to build his team around. Senior quarterback Chase Patton threw for 2,670 yards and 23 touchdowns last season and is considered one of the top 10 recruits in the nation. He has received scholarship offers from 11 Division I programs.
Alexander was an All-State selection last season and will anchor the defense from the middle linebacker position. On offense, he will return to tailback after splitting time at tailback, fullback and offensive tackle last season.
“He does amazing things with the ball in his hands,” Ofodile said. “A lot of people know about him on defense, but Van is probably one of the top two or three offensive players in the state and I think that will show this year.”
Rock Bridge has some questions at wide receiver after losing Curt Bradley and Jason McCartney to graduation. Bradley earned All-State honors after catching 80 passes for 1,229 yards and eight touchdowns. He has a football scholarship with Northern Iowa.
Ofodile said it would be impossible to replace Bradley with one player but he expects junior Demond Thorpe and seniors Andy Burks, Scott Russell and Johnny Kruse to produce from the wide receiver spot.
According to Ofodile, the offensive and defensive lines are bigger and more athletic than last season, which will help the Bruins be more consistent.
Juniors Connor Price (6-foot-3, 280 pounds) and Chris Cottle (6-1, 275) are two of the linemen Ofodile expects to stand out.
“I think what we need to do (to succeed this year) is focus on the fundamentals,” Ofodile said. “Last year we were a big play group but we weren’t as consistent as we needed to be, especially in the play up front. I think that’s something that’s really improved this year.”
— Shawn Reid
Rock Bridge tennis
The graduation of Kristin Kornegay might have meant the end of an era for Rock Bridge tennis.
Although five of the top six players from the Bruins’ 2002 state championship team are returning, coach Ben Loeb said he knows the odds are against him.
“Historically it’s been very difficult for a public school to defend a state championship,” Loeb said. “I like to think we have a chance to do that.”
Rock Bridge hasn’t won back-to-back state titles in tennis since the Bruins won three straight from 1982-84.
Loeb said the key to a Rock Bridge repeat is the team’s five returning players. Senior Stephanie Smarr, juniors Kara Hickey and Whitney Reys and sophomores Karla Kruse and Ashley Miles will be back for the Bruins this year.
“I believe the girls we have coming back are better than they were last year,” Loeb said. “I still think we have a promising future.”
For the fifth consecutive year, St. Joseph’s Academy in St. Louis will be favored to win the state title, Loeb said, but he is quick to point out that Rock Bridge has won two out of the last four titles, in 1999 and 2002.
This time, though, the Bruins will have to do it without their No. 1 seed, Kornegay.
“It’s hard to replace a four-year starter,” Loeb said.
The Bruins will look to returning players as well as rising stars such as junior Sarah Seltsam to help fill the void left by Kornegay.
Senior Stephanie Smarr, last year’s No. 2 singles player, said she hopes to repeat last year’s success.
“We’re shooting to win state,” Smarr said. “That’s our main goal.”
Junior Whitney Reys said the experience of losing a title makes winning one even sweeter.
The Bruins were second to St. Joseph in 2000 and lost to the Angels in the semifinals in 2001.
“Last year it was a battle and now we all know what it takes to win state,” Reys said, “and some of us know what it’s like to lose it. It’s the worst feeling in the world. It makes you want to win it that much more.”
Junior Kara Hickey said the girls have become accustomed to winning.
“If you do it once you want to do it again,” she said.
Hickey said she doesn’t want to place too much importance on winning state.
“Of course we were state champions last year, but you can’t really put the pressure on yourself to do the same thing you did last year,” Hickey said. “I think we have a good chance, but it’s not going to be easy.”
Loeb said he is also wary of putting too much emphasis on a possible state championship.
“Right now my focus is more on getting better every day,” he said. “We talked about it today. Focus on the things you can control. That’s one of the secrets of champions, they focus on the things they can control. We do not have total control over the outcome, but we do have control over what we put into it.”
Loeb said he thinks his team has the ability to compete with the best teams in the state.
“I believe if things go well and we apply ourselves and make improvements along the way,” he said, “that maybe we will be in it at the end and have a shot to pull off something that has been difficult to do.”
—- Michael Jett
Two-a-day practices aren’t limited to football.
The Hickman boys’ soccer team began the first practice of the day and the season Monday with 65 players competing for spots on three teams.
Hickman coach Jon Strodtman said the Kewpies field a varsity team, a sophomore team and a C team.
Strodtman said he had disciplinary problems last season with several players violating team rules, but he is excited for the players returning this year.
“The kids heads were just not in the season last year,” Strodtman said. “This year it’s a lot more intense, but relaxed.
“It’s more of a group intensity I’ve seen. You get five or six guys out working as a group all together during their free time rather than individual stuff, so hopefully we have a much better core interested in team success than individual success.”
Strodtman said the coaches are looking to the seniors for leadership.
Of the 13 returning seniors, Strodtman said more than half are starters.
Center back Mike Moesel is one of the seniors Strodtman said he is counting on to excel.
“We have a lot of returning talent,” Moesel said. “We are coming back with a lot of varsity experience, so overall I think we should do really good.”
This year, the coaches will have the freshmen practice with the rest of the players.
“The freshmen have notoriously been pretty soft,” Strodtman said. “Physical play is just not in their repertoire. Hopefully by bringing the freshmen over they will get more ownership in our program and they will also see that we need them.”
Strodtman’s role with the team will be different this year. Because of health problems, Strodtman will not be able to be at all of the games. Though he will still take an active role as coach, Strodtman said his coaching duties while is he away will fall to assistant coach Jay Ward.
Strodtman said he is confident in Ward’s ability to coach the team.
“Coach Ward is an exceptional teacher and knows the game,” Strodtman said. “We are in really good hands. I’m still the coach and I’ll be here, but the kids are really going to have to step up this year.”
— Don Feitel
Kewpies coach Greg Gunn sent a message to his players Monday during the first of three days of tryouts.
Gunn made it clear that fitness was essential to a successful team. He ran conditioning drills for the last hour of tryouts, emphasizing abdominal, arm and leg strength.
Dani Newton, a senior setter, said the grueling workouts prepare the team for the season.
“It gets you in shape,” Newton said.
The Kewpies graduated one player, but there will be numerous seniors who saw significant playing time last year, according to Gunn.
“Any area that needed improvement from last year has improved,” Gunn said.
Senior middle blocker Brenna Schlader said most of the team plays in the off season and that she is confident the Kewpies can do well this year.
“We’ll win districts,” Schlader said. “We’re going to have some challenges, but a lot of us play club ball.”
Gunn is not as sure as Schlader about where the team will finish, but he said he does believe they can compete with the best.
“We have just as good a shot as anybody,” Gunn said.
Missouri high school volleyball will use rally scoring for the first time this year. In rally scoring, a team can score when not serving.
Gunn said rally scoring should not affect his team much.
“They all play rally scoring on club teams so I think more than anything it’s the referees that will have to get used to it,” he said.
Gunn said a big part of tryouts is planning for future success.
“You have to plan at least two years in advance,” he said. “If you get a good athlete that you can teach some skills to, then you can work from there.”
Hickman opens its season on Sept. 2 at home against Hannibal.
— Andrew Petersen
The Kewpies girls’ golf team began practice looking for players to step up and take another run at state.
Hickman held its first meetings and had practice Monday morning at L.A. Nickel golf course.
Hickman lost five seniors including three of its top four golfers. Coach Doug Steinhoff said that senior Rachel Jacoby and junior Payge Pleimann are the returning players with the most experience.
“Losing your best changes everything,” Steinhoff said. “It’s quite a new team this year. It’s going to be a lot harder for them because they don’t have a lot of experience.”
Steinhoff said that the team worked on the driving range and putting green on Monday. He said most of the golfers had practiced over the summer and were ready for the season.
Hickman finshed first in distrcits and third in state last year, but Steinhoff said it will be dificult to get through districts this year.
“Rolla is returning all their starters from last year’s team,” Steinhoff said. “Helias is also improving and Jeff City is tough.”
Jacoby said the team has high hopes, though.
“We lost a lot of girls,” Jacoby said. “But as long as we have enough leadership, we should be able to get to state.”
Steinhoff said there is talent among the younger golfers, but it will take hard work to get better.
“They have to potential to do really well,” Steinhoff said. “Last year the junior varisty team shot a 171 and there are a lot of varsity teams that can’t shot that.”
Steinhoff said those that settled for playing on junior varsity are going to have to step up.
“They are going to have to develop consistency,” Steinhoff said.
Steinhoff said there is no specific area that needs improvement, but the golfers need to accept the challenge of improving their game.
“Some of the girls have lots of trouble with the short game and some have trouble on the green,” Steinhoff said. “In the past they just excepted that, but in order for them to do well they are going to have to step up.”
Jacoby said her and some of her teammates need to work on their short game.
“Our short game is my main concern,” Jacoby said. “The short game is crucial for any good team.”
Steinhoff said the team will play its first nine hole round today to prepare for upcoming tournaments.
— Jack Hanney
Rock Bridge softball
Jennifer Mast, Rock Bridge softball coach, knows what her team needs, but she isn’t sure if there is enough time for it.
Bruins started fall practices Monday, and 27 players are hoping to make the team.
Mast said building solid defense in the preseason will be a key for the Bruins.
“If we can (improve the defense), we are going to win more games because offensively we should be a good team,” Mast said.
Mast said the team batting average was about .250 this past season, but the Bruins still finished 9-16. Mast said Rock Bridge committed two or three errors a game.
She said the only way for the team to acquire solid defense is by repetition. There is less than three weeks that the Bruins can practice before the season starts. So, the Rock Bridge practice included a scrimmage, even though Monday was the first time the team got together.
Mast said at a varsity level she expected that players were fundamentally ready to play the game.
“We are more focused on game play and situation work,” she said. “If we have two months, that would be different.”
Despite its weak defense, the Bruins have an advantage in experience. Seven starters from last year’s team will return and the Bruins did not lose any pitchers. Also, 10 newcomers give Mast more choices. Bruins catcher, Heather Walters, said she thinks the team’s prospects are good.
“I think we’re going to have a good season.” Walters said.
The Bruins open the season at home against Sedalia Smith-Cotton on Aug. 27.
— Kosuke Kinashi