Family. To state it simply, the girls basketball team can be summed up in that one lucid word. Mothered by head coach Jill Nagel, in her eighth season in southern Columbia, this group might just be the most successful that the town has seen. During the 2013-14 season the Lady Bruins have collected 25 wins, four of which came against teams ranked in the top 25 in the nation, and have since climbed to become the No. 5 team in the country.
Late in the season they won two important games to clinch the district title, two more to reach the Final Four, and as is customary at RBHS, won two bragging rights games against the rival state-ranked Kewpies. Now just two more wins separate them from a Class 5 State Championship, a title that never gets old.
And this family should know.
Arguably the most triumphant team in school history at least in recent memory, the program has made its mark on the state. In 2008, the Lady Bruins captured their first district title in the program’s 33-year history against rival and city supremacy Hickman. Since, RBHS has added five more, failing only to rule the district in 2011, an uncharacteristic ‘down year’.
While they may not have made the tournament that year, they have done a pretty good job of keeping hold on the state. Following up a surprising performance with their first district crown, RBHS continued to shock the basketball community and won the 2008 state championship over national powerhouse Incarnate Word. In similar fashion, the Lady Bruins have continued to assert their dominance and have since won twice more on the final night of state basketball.
So on the eve of yet another Final Four, these ladies and their champion coach, find themselves in a familiar position. The target is again on their backs as St. Joseph’s, Lee’s Summit North and Eureka seek to become crowned the new champion of the girls basketball world.
But RBHS has what it takes to continue to be the queen of the court. An impressive gameplan that only three teams have been able to pick apart. A ‘tradition of excellence’ that has spanned the past seven seasons. A successful history to make them the premiership in prep basketball. And a coach that continues to hold all the pieces together.
With family as the basis, this tightly knit group will be the favorite yet again. The only question is can they write the correct ending to the story?
Regardless of the outcome, however, it will always be their story.
By Brayden Parker[/tab] [tab title=”In the beginning…”] [heading size=”18″]2008: the year it all began [/heading]
The banner rose to commemorate the hard work and determination. Forever they can look up on the wall and see this banner. No one can take that away from these girls. It’s a feeling that will last a lifetime. They get chills every time they see it.
“I can’t even describe that kind of emotion,” 2008 alumna Amaya Williams, who played point guard said. “That was everything we worked towards in the regular season and to have that come true, especially when we were kind of the underdogs, was fulfilling.”
On March 8, 2008, the Lady Bruins won the first state title for RBHS girlsbasketball, playing against Incarnate Word. The Bruins broke the school’s 35-year history and made history of their own. Along with the championship, they broke the 26-year drought in their quest for a district title.
“It’s special,” Williams said. “Especially now that it seems to be a staple for Rock Bridge girls basketball.”
The community involvement in 2008 astonished the players. The atmosphere at Mizzou Arena, from students to parents, really gave the girls the support they needed. Williams said it was impressive how so many people came to watch, even though they weren’t expecting RBHS to actually win.
We “didn’t have as much raw talent as we see today,” Williams said. “It’s kind of, luck. Every team needs a little luck, and that year, all the stars aligned.”
The state championship game wasn’t nearly as exciting as the district championship where the girls played crosstown rivals, the Hickman Kewpies, at Hickman High School. It was a sold out nail-biting game that RBHS won by a mere two points (52-50). No game was as close as districts on their journey to state.
“I think once the light bulb clicked in our heads, nothing or no one could stop us,” 2008 alumna and post player Kelia Hardin said.
Earlier in the season, the Bruins lost to HHS at home in a heartbreaking game. Winning districts was almost like state, emotionally, for the team. To beat HHS for the district championship was the monkey off of their back that gave the girls the push to go all the way.
“We were those kids on the playground that maybe didn’t look like we could play,” Hardin said. “But when we got in there we fought till the end.”
Many factors went into winning the state title, but the closeness of the team was most important to the coaches and the girls. They spent practically every day together, during the course of the season, as well as preseason.
“We were a family. Everything we did was family-like minded,” Hardin said. “We had to continually encourage and remind ourselves who we were, physically, emotionally, athletically and spiritually.”
She said that year they went back to the drawing board more than any team she had been on. They individually knew and would master their roles as teammates, which helped the team dynamic.
The 2008 team was a trailblazer for RBHS girls basketball. They set the foundation and tone for both district and state championships. But when talking to the girls, the name that most comes out of their mouths is Coach Jill Nagel, the head coach of the Bruins.
“I think when you get to know and encounter someone like Jill Nagel, you understand why Rock Bridge is a winning program,” Hardin said.
When mentioning Nagel, praise seems to always follow. Hardin, among others, say Nagel is known for coming into RBHS and completely turning the girls basketball program around. She came in with experience, knowledge and love for the game.
Nagel’s determination and heart shows through in her coaching. Since coming to RBHS, she has secured six district championships and three state championships. She’s given girls basketball a winning name.
“Just the kind of coach and type of person she is on and off the court,” Williams said. “It really makes you want to play for her.”
But when speaking with Nagel, she praises her players. Her love for coaching is expressed through humbly talking about the success of those around her.
“I’m very blessed to be a part of this group, whether it’s ‘08 or now,” Nagel said. “These are just amazing kids; They’re very talented basketball players, but they’re even better people off the court.”
She loves what she does and is very thankful for all of the opportunities and success she’s had. Nagel explained that even though she’s won three championships, it hasn’t changed her feeling after each win.
“It’s brand new each time,” Nagel said. “The feeling doesn’t get old.”
Not only was the 2008 state championship the first for the girls, but for Coach Nagel, as well. Nagel remarked on the team’s basketball IQ and how high their IQ was as a team. They took it one game at a time and would run a play until they got exactly what they were looking for; a skill that has carried on to today’s team.
“Coach Nagel taught me how to believe in myself,” Hardin said. “For that, I am forever grateful for her and always will be.”
By Renata Williams[/tab] [tab title=”Home sweet home”] [heading size=”18″]Spring break interferes with state tournament [/heading]
For the third year in a row, the girls basketball team will advance to the Final Four of the state tournament at Mizzou Arena. This year, however, the majority of the student body who have been with the team the whole season may not be joining them.
Unlike previous years, Columbia Public Schools scheduled spring break for the week of March 24-28, with the final day of school being March 21.
The Missouri State High School Activities Association scheduled the Class 5 Girls State Championship game for Saturday, March 22, the first day of spring break and a day when many RBHS students will be on airplanes heading to various destinations. This is an unfortunate coincidence for the members of the Bruin girls basketball team who, playing their biggest games of the year in their hometown, will miss a sizeable chunk of their fan base because of vacations.
“The timing is very unfortunate,” senior forward Audrey Holt said. “However, we all know that if all of the students were able to be at the game, they definitely would be. We get great support from our community and classmates, and I know they’ll be cheering us on from alternate locations.”
The Bru Crew, the RBHS student section, has been at all home games this year and will likely still be present at the Final Four, although how many students will make it up is a big question.
While junior forward Cierra Porter wishes the students could be there, she said it won’t affect the Bruins ability to bring home their third straight championship.
“Of course, we would love to have a big student section,” Porter said. “They’ve done an amazing job supporting us over these past two years. So the timing is unfortunate, but regardless of how big the crowd is we’re still going to play our hearts out.”
While spring break will affect the attendance at the Final Four, the games will not affect the Bruin players’ spring breaks. Since the games are on the first weekend they will still have plenty of time to enjoy their time off.
“A lot of people are still going on vacation,” Porter said. “The game would be on Saturday should we make it that far, so we can still go places.”
RBHS plays St. Joseph’s Academy in a semifinal Thursday, March 20. If they win that game they will take on the winner of Eureka and Lee’s Summit North in the other semifinal for the state championship on Saturday. Two wins this week would mean a third class 5 state title in a row for the Bruins and would mark the fourth in the career of coach Jill Nagel, further establishing the RBHS girls’ basketball program as a dynasty.
For players, it’s a chance to do something very few programs have accomplished before. Senior Audrey Holt said it is a chance to go out on a high note as she plays her final games for RBHS.
“All any senior ever wants is to go out on a good note,” Holt said. “For me personally, winning a third title means a lot because I know this group of girls is capable of making history.”
By Josh Ripley[/tab] [tab title=”Then there were four…”] [heading size=”18″]A quick look at the teams competing for the state title [/heading] [heading size=”18″]St. Joseph’s Academy [/heading] Nickname: Angels
Location: St. Louis
Type: Private (Catholic)
Head Coach: Julie Matheny
Road to the Final Four:
Hazelwood Central 56-45
Fort Zumwalt West 87-76 [heading size=”18″]Lee’s Summit West High School[/heading]
With a 73-36 rout of the Parkview Lady Vikings, the RBHS girls’ basketball team advanced to the Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 5 Final Four for the third consecutive year. Also, the Bruins are looking to win their third consecutive state championship, a rare endeavor even for the excellent athletic programs at RBHS, something only done by the boys’ and girls’ tennis teams in 2010, 2011, and 2012, and 1982, 1983, 1984, respectively.
As shown by the uncommon opportunity for this team to make history, the team has an exemplary 25-3 record, and has tested itself against tough opponents from all over the midwest, such as Incarnate Word Academy, Whitney Young High School (Chicago) and Blackman High School and River High School in Tennessee.
Senior Audrey Holt is a starting forward for the team, and is anticipating her final games as a Bruin. Her teammates are her favorite part of the playing for the program, and the source of her love for RBHS basketball.
“I’m going to miss everything about high school basketball,” Holt said. “Playing for Rock Bridge has been the best experience of my life. Honestly, we could be the worst team in the entire country, but I would have enjoyed every second of the season just the same because of the amazing teammates and coaches that I have been blessed with.”
Many starters will be playing in their final game including seniors Holt, Chayla and Kayla Cheadle, and Bri Porter. Holt says that high school basketball has been so rewarding for her and her teammates.
“My high school career has taught me a lot of things,” Holt said. “Being apart of a sports team in itself teaches so many life lessons about leadership, composure, hard work, and family. It taught me a lot about character, and what type of person you want to be.”
Junior Sophie Cunningham, whom Gatorade recently named their Missouri Girls Basketball Player of the Year, and junior teammate Cierra Porter will be the only remaining starters for the Bruins after this year. Cunningham is one of the highest scorers for the team, and will play college basketball at the University of Missouri after she graduates along with Porter. She is confident in her team’s abilities, but knows that the team will need to focus its full attention to achieve their goal as state champions.
“I believe that if we come out strong and play together we can do it,” Cunningham said. “We don’t look at other teams unless it’s our next game. We take one game at a time.”
Coach Jill Nagel downplays the importance of the three consecutive championship possibility, but that only this year matters for this team.
“I think it’s not about the three in a row, it’s this one,” Nagel said. “You know, this specific group itself hasn’t won a state championship before,” Nagel said. “Some members on the team have but every year’s team is completely different.”
Nagel says that the senior class is a very talented group and that she loves the players’ intense level of competition and wonderful growth as people.
“They’re just great kids,” Nagel said. “I think people look up to them off the court as much as they do on the court because of how they handle themselves. But I just love coming to practice and seeing their smiling faces.”
By Luke Chval