For the third time in as many years the RBHS girls basketball team will enter the Class 5 District 9 tournament with a giant target on their backs. Jill Nagel’s team is the two-time defending state champion in Class 5 and will host this year’s district tournament where four other area schools will try to knock the Lady Bruins off of their perch.
Crosstown rival Hickman will lead the onslaught.
The Kewpies are 23-1 on the season and ranked No. 4 in the state, their only blemish a 66-51 loss in the Rock Bridge Gym back in January. Coach Tonya Mirts’ team is defined by experience and led by senior guard Emily Miller, who is tied with RBHS junior guard Sophie Cunningham as the leading scorer in the district at 18.6 points per game.
Miller has also been efficient both on the boards and defensively as she has pulled down 6.6 rebounds per game to go along with a district best 3.5 steals per game. She is a dynamic player on both ends of the floor and the Bruins will likely focus their defensive efforts around her should they meet as expected in the championship game.
While Miller is definitely the number one scoring threat for the Kewpies, she’s hardly their only option. Senior guards Kendahl Adams and Jordan Matthews are averaging 12.3 and 11 points per game respectively with Matthews being the prime facilitator, averaging a district best 5.3 assists per game. Matthews has also shown to be potent from the perimeter, knocking down 36 three pointers on the season.
This is something to keep an eye on as Matthews shooting ability can spread the floor and open up more opportunities for Miller and Adams in the paint.
Beyond the Kewpies there are a lot of question marks.
Third seed Camdenton will face Hickman in the first semifinal game but with a record of 13-14, they don’t seem to pose much of a challenge. Sedalia Smith-Cotton (8-16) and Jefferson City (13-14) battled it out for the right to play the Bruins in the second semifinal. The Jays rolled over the Tigers 55-14 on Monday night. It would be a major upset if any of them advanced to the final game, let alone won the tournament. Then there are the Bruins.
Sitting with a record of 21-3 and ranked No. 1 in class 5, RBHS is led by Cunningham’s scoring and junior forward Cierra Porter’s rebounding and defense of the rim. Porter is averaging eight boards a game and is always liable to go on a scoring spurt if the Bruins start feeding her the ball down low. One of the things that makes RBHS so dangerous is the fact that nearly every player in their regular rotation is a serious threat to make a major impact in the scoring column. Cunningham stands out with her 19 points a game, but beyond her no Bruin is averaging upwards of nine. That is largely because they distribute their points so equally.
Porter enjoys a tremendous height advantage on nearly all of her opponents and can use that when necessary to go over people down low to score. Senior twins Kayla and Chayla Cheadle are dangerous long range shooters who use their considerable length to play the passing lanes defensively and wreak havoc on opposing offenses.
Senior forward Audrey Holt is a tough player down low who always grabs her share of rebounds and seems to do the little things night in and night out to help her team win.
Senior forward Bri Porter is another highly productive post player off the bench, senior guard Laurie Frew can come in and run the point well, and sophomore Bri Ellis can be a deadly 3 point shooter. With all these weapons at their disposal one would wonder how the Bruins could lose this week. Holt said that she thinks the biggest obstacle they will face will not be the Kewpies but themselves.
“At this point we’ve taken on the mindset that the only thing that can stop us is ourselves,” Holt said. “We have all of the tools to do it again, we just need to have everyone focused and giving 100 percent.”
“I think we’ll just have to try our best to focus on one game at a time and not jump ahead and just think about the championship,”Cierra Porter added. “First we have to see who wins the play in game and then we have to focus on them.”
While the Bruins stressed that they are taking things one game at a time, Cierra Porter admitted that they are also thinking about bigger things.
“Winning another state title would be awesome,” Porter said. “We don’t want to look ahead but in the back of our minds a 3-peat is definitely the goal.”
By Josh Ripley