COLUMBIA — “The wheels on the bus go round and round.” This familiar childhood song is a lifestyle for the Rock Bridge girl’s basketball team.
For a student athlete, keeping up with school and sports is hard enough. Mix in travel, and it becomes even worse. This season, the Bruins will not play in front of their home crowd until Dec. 13. They start the season with seven consecutive road games.
Hickman, Jefferson City and Helias are the only schools in Class 5A, District 10 located within an hour of Rock Bridge. Although both Camdenton and Smith-Cotton are also in Rock Bridge’s district, each school is at least an hour away. Because of this, the girl’s basketball team is forced to travel outside of their district if they want to play other Class 5A teams.
“Coming back home is always good,” senior Kelia Hardin said. “It is good for us, because when we travel, we are playing better competition. When we come home, we have to get down to business by preparing for the game and catching up on school work.”
According to Mapquest.com, the Bruins will spend more than 20 hours and 1,200 miles traveling on the road. Their shortest trip is a 30-minute drive to play Boonville. The mileage does not include a trip over Christmas break to Myrtle Beach, S.C., which is more than 1,000 miles away from Columbia. For this trip, they will leave the bus behind and travel by air.
“This tournament is something new that we were invited to, and you do not turn down things like that,” coach Jill Nagel said.
The Bruins normally travel using the standard yellow school bus. From time to time, they hold fundraisers to get a charter bus for the longer trips. This enables the team to watch movies and relax.
Although she enjoys playing in front of a home crowd, Nagel does not mind traveling, because it gives the Bruins a chance to sneak out of an opponent’s gym with a big victory.
“I love playing at home because we have great fans,” she said. “I think going on the road takes away some of the distractions. The kids are more isolated. Also, I personally enjoy going into someone else’s gym and taking a win.”
Bus trips are normally more than an hour and half long, and Hardin says she tries to take advantage of the travel time.
“I do homework and sleep mostly because your legs get tired and we all lack sleep,” she said.
According to Hardin, the team normally leaves school early during road games and does not make it back until around 9 p.m. On Monday, however, the team did not return until 1 a.m. after a game against Nixa. The team lost in double overtime and faced a three-hour bus ride home.
“I think we did all right with handling the situation, but not as well as our coach wanted, because we were really frustrated with ourselves,” Hardin said. “We realized that we just needed to keep our heads up, and that it is better to have the loss early in the season.”
With a few of these away games falling on school nights, the girls cannot sleep-in to make up for lost time.
“I always want to take the next day off, because you feel like you are not rested, but you have to get back up and go to practice,” Hardin said.
The best way to deal with traveling is trying not to think about it, Nagel said.
“We don’t ever talk about traveling being a negative because it is just something we have to do,” she said. “We went to Nixa on Monday, and now we are going to Springfield on Thursday, and it is never really talked about. We have to travel to play the teams that we need to play.”
The Bruins play in front of their home crowd in a week, but not before they travel to Springfield, Mo. this weekend to participate in the Springfield Kickapoo Tournament.
“We just want to keep getting better,” Nagel said. “We have been watching film, and the kids see what they want to improve on.”
Even with the constant travel, Hardin says the team can still perform at its best.
“We are able to perform well as long as we stay focused on the bus and mentally prepared,” she said.