What a difference a year makes.
Twelve months ago, the Rock Bridge girls’ basketball team was preparing for a district tournament that it was not given much of a chance to win, while Hickman, with eight seniors, geared up to make a run at the state title.
Hickman was the Class 5 runner-up, but this season Hickman has a younger team. Lone senior Megan McCabe helped the Kewpies (12-14) through a treacherous schedule, as they faced many of the state’s best teams including three of the top 10 in the most recent Class 5 poll.
This year, the expectations for Rock Bridge are higher, and the players are hungry to add to a season in which they have turned a once overlooked program into a winner. The Bruins will get their chance Wednesday night against the winner of tonight’s 6 p.m. game between third seed Hickman and sixth seed Camdenton in the first round of District 10 play at Rock Bridge.
Coach Kevin Giese said the tournament is setting up for what his team wants: The chance to beat Hickman and Jefferson City, its two biggest rivals.
“Very likely it’s going to be a rematch with Hickman (in the second round) and it will be on our floor,” Giese said. “The girls are excited about that.”
Rock Bridge (16-7) lost 43-25 at Hickman on Jan. 26 but has since gone 4-2 to close out the regular season. Receiving the No. 2 seed in the tournament has given the players a boost in confidence, and the four Bruins seniors are looking forward to completing the program’s turnaround in their final season.
Forward Ashley Stanfill said Rock Bridge has never been seeded close to the top four in the district tournament in her previous three years.
The high seed and the fact that Rock Bridge is hosting the tournament have made this year special.
“The beginning of the season, we didn’t know how it was going to work out, but I’m really glad with the outcome that we’ve had,” Stanfill said.
Guard Rachel Jones said the difference this year is the team’s morale.
“Last year we were looking for it to be over, but this year we’re thinking, ‘Hey, we’re just getting started,’” Jones said.
Jones said she, Stanfill and fellow seniors Erin McConachie and Bree Ginter are not ready to see their careers end.
Rock Bridge will have to keep its run going without four players. Andrea Seabaugh, Lauren Borduin, McConachie and Amanda Grayson cannot play in districts as part of sanctions handed down by MSHSAA in January.
Hickman’s victory Friday night against Jackson could not have come at a better time.
The Kewpies, who won 51-42 to close out their regular season, handed the Indians just their third loss of the year. More importantly, Hickman coach Tonya Mirts feels that the win could give her team a spark at just the right time.
“Our win Friday gave them a lot of confidence,” Mirts said. “They played the best that they’ve played all year. It ends the season on a high confidence note and hopefully we can carry that over (to districts).”
Hickman has not played Camdenton in a couple of years, but the last time the teams met was in district play.
Mirts thinks that the tough games her team encountered this season will pay off once districts begin.
“I hope that (our schedule) pays dividends,” Mirts said. “You can only get better playing better people. That’s always been our philosophy as a coaching staff.”