It is rare to find a high school basketball game in early December that has the same intensity as a postseason game in March.
Then again, few games at any time of year stir emotions quite like a matchup between Hickman and Kickapoo, who meet at 3 p.m. Saturday in the second annual Columbia College High School Girls Shootout at Southwell Arena.
“I’m expecting a great game,” Hickman senior Stephanie Burger said. “There’s a huge rivalry between Hickman and Kickapoo … we’re really looking forward to it. It’s gonna be a tough game, like it always is. But we’ve been preparing for it.”
Much of that animosity stems from past postseason games. In March, the Lady Chiefs put Hickman’s dream of a state title to rest, beating the Kewpies 55-42 in a Class 5 quarterfinal. Kickapoo went on to finish 31-0 and win the championship.
It has been nearly nine months since then, but it certainly doesn’t seem as though time has helped ease any hard feelings the Kewpies have for Kickapoo.
“We’ve been looking forward to this game,” said Hickman’s Kaela Rorvig, a senior. “We’re just ready to get another chance to beat them.”
Both teams remain largely intact from a year ago. The Lady Chiefs return four starters, including All-State guard Molly Carter, who averaged 12.6 points and six assists last season. Kickapoo also features a pair of All-Ozark Conference guards, Heather Ezell and Greta Wiersch. Both scored 11 points per game.
A USA Today preseason poll ranked the Lady Chiefs 16th. Saturday will be their opener.
The Kewpies (5-0), ranked 24th by StudentSports.com, return eight seniors from last season’s 26-4 team, including two who have committed to play NCAA Division I basketball next year. Amy and Jodi Bolerjack, who combined to score about 30 points per game last year, are headed to Wyoming. Rorvig, who has a track scholarship at Missouri next year, averaged 15.2 points.
Burger, a point guard who averaged 4.3 points and 5.3 assists, committed to William Woods University on Thursday.
“We’ve got a lot of leadership, a lot of experience,” Hickman coach Tonya Mirts said. “Those things particularly early in the season tend to be very positive for teams on the floor.”
Hickman has had its share of good tests this season. The Kewpies won the 16-team Quincy (Ill.) Thanksgiving Tournament last weekend that featured four nationally ranked teams.
“I think our big thing is we’ve got to play competition,” Mirts said. “I think we’re definitely going to run into one of the best teams in the state of Missouri on Saturday, and we’ll find out where we stack up.
“We want any weakness that we have to be exposed in a game. I don’t think you can get that unless you play really good competition capable of exposing that.”
Mirts has put emphasis on rebounding early in the season.
“We’re going a little littler than we’ve been in the past,” she said. “You give up a lot of extra shots to a team they don’t have to shoot really well and they can still beat you.”
Senior Lauren Harris provided the Kewpies with a needed lift on the boards in the Quincy Tournament, pulling down seven rebounds in the championship on Saturday. Harris says her philosophy is to take a physical approach.
“Rebound … and be mean,” she said.
Having played five games gives the Kewpies one other advantage. Kickapoo hasn’t had a game to work out early season jitters and kinks.
“We’ve grown together as a team more this year … and it’s just the first five games,” Rorvig said. “I feel like we’re playing better together as a team this year than we did last year.”
The Columbia College Shootout starts at 1 p.m. when Madison (0-0) plays Sturgeon (1-1). At 5 p.m., Ohio Dominican (2-4) plays Columbia College (6-2), and the shootout concludes at 7 p.m. when Southern Boone (1-0) takes on Hermann (0-1).