The high-pitched squeak of basketball shoes pivoting and shuffling filled the Hickman gym Monday night.
It didn’t feel like the first practice of the 2004-05 season for the Hickman girls’ basketball team.
Twenty-four girls, split up into three groups, executed passing drills. The coaches frantically dashed about, positioning players and sharply barking out instructions.
It felt like the team was getting a last-minute crash course before the state championship.
“It was tough,” sophomore Jabarbara Jennings said. “There are a lot of things you have to learn.”
The practice wasn’t so much a crash course for the state championship as it was a lesson on how basketball is played at Hickman.
Last year’s team was runner-up in the Class 5 state championship, losing to St. Joseph’s in the title game. The eight seniors integral to that team are gone. Replacing them is a group of talented but young and inexperienced players.
Megan McCabe is the lone senior and the only one who saw significant playing time last year.
“I just have to be there for the girls who are not experienced and be a support system for them,” she said.
McCabe can help the young players acclimate themselves to the high expectations of a basketball program that has appeared in the state title game two of the past three years.
“I’m demanding,” coach Tonya Mirts told the girls as they huddled around her after practice. “I want the very best out of you.”
This group may not have the experience, but “the very best” may mean another run in the state playoffs.
As the girls gathered outside the gym after practice, McCabe made a prediction.
“You know what,” she said. “We’re going to be good this year. We have a lot of young talent.”
And even though it was only minutes after the team’s first practice, one sensed that she might be right.
— Kyle Rogers
Rock Bridge basketball
The Rock Bridge boys basketball team looked like a tired bunch Monday night. Their hands rested on knees, heads hung low, dripping with sweat.
And this was only one hour into the first practice of the season.
Bruins coach Jim Scanlon focused on conditioning and fundamentals during his first opportunity to see this year’s Bruins team together. Lots of conditioning.
With cramps as common as basketballs on the court during the workout, assistant coach Brannon Bartlett had a helpful reminder of his teams’ motives.
“We’re trying to be great, not just good,” he shouted to the sprinting team.
Last season was a good one for the Bruins, who went from 9-15 two years ago to 17-8 in Scanlon’s first year of his second stint with the team. They lost in the first round of the district tournament , though, a finish they will look to improve on this season.
“I just want our guys to be as good as we can be every time we go out,” Scanlon said. “It starts with work; if we work well like we did tonight, we’ll be fine.”
Scanlon previously coached Rock Bridge from 1984 to 1999, compiling 331 victories.
Despite the physical fatigue, the Bruins were excited to be back on the court, and senior Terrell Turner, a North Central Missouri Conference honorable mention player a year ago, said it was more familiar this time around.
“It feels good to be back out here as a team,” Terrell said. “We know what to expect, we know what he expects and we know what our goal is.”
Said Scanlon: “I think it went real well, the effort was great. I don’t have any complaints.”
— Drew Bruno
Boys swimmers and divers from Rock Bridge and Hickman met at 3 p.m. Monday for the first day of practice. Newcomers and returning athletes played a game of follow the leader as they swam laps in the Hickman pool.
By 5 p.m., when coach John Hamilton told the swimmers to get out of the pool, the elite swimmers of the group had swam 5,300 meters of the 5,500 Hamilton had planned.
Although he considered it a light practice, Hamilton said it was successful.
“It shows they’re willing to work,” Hamilton said. “I’m pleased with that.”
Hard work and dedication are the corner stones of Hamilton’s coaching method.
Hamilton typed his philosophy at the top of the first page of the packet that each swimmer or diver receives on the first day:
“Our focus is not winning, we cannot control that and yet wanting to win is what drives us. What we do is concentrate on the ingredients it takes to win. We can control these qualities and that gives us the best chance of winning.”
He has not been forced to cut anyone from the team in previous years because the number of people interested has been manageable. Hamilton is expecting this year will be no exception.
“People don’t realize how difficult this sport is,” Hamilton said. “It weeds itself out.”
Hamilton said that many are surprised to learn students from both Columbia public schools are essentially on the same team. Each school attempts to best the other, but Hamilton, who has been involved in swimming 45 years, said the rivalry is good natured.
“When you’ve been in this sport as long as I have it’s something really nice to see,” Hamilton said.
— Chris Berg