Rock Bridge basketball games are an event.
When the Bruins play at home, parking is hard to come by, the gymnasium is packed, and most of the noise comes from the loud and passionate student section of the school.
But those who only attended varsity games missed a pair of special freshman programs, one of which averaged 58 points and another that generated 25 steals each time they played. entered the field.
They have played 33 games combined this season and have won all of them. From JV tournaments and competitive league games to playing for something bigger than basketball, these are seasons members of either team won’t soon forget.
A special bond
Ask any freshman basketball player at Rock Bridge what her favorite memory of an 11-0 season is, and it won’t take her long to bring up “the group chat,” but with a little laughing.
In a season that involved truth or dare bus games and “fall compilations,” the memory of a constantly active group chat may last the longest.
“We’re all really close, so we’re ready to joke with each other and have a lot of fun,” striker Eva Corrado said. “We will send TikToks and funny pictures. We just have a lot of fun talking with each other.
Many of the girls first played together in elementary and middle school, where they first worked with coach Justin Carter.
While the 2021-22 season was Carter’s first at the helm of Rock Bridge’s freshman program, the existing familiarity led to a natural sense of comfort across the team, which extended to discussion of group.
“I’ve been the butt of a lot of jokes,” Carter said. “They just like to have fun together. The jokes and nicknames that everyone has, it’s a fun time, and it’s a fun girl group.
The group discussion also facilitated camaraderie. For example, when the girls were watching the varsity team play, they would jot down anything and everything a freshman did to document in the group chat. Case in point: forward Malia Chievous went to a college game against Cor Jesu and converted a free throw late in the game that made the cat hysterical.
Another hit among the team was the “autumn compilation”. Every time a player stumbles or falls in a match, the coaches cut the footage and put the clips into a fun, sometimes slow-motion video – a guaranteed laugh every time.
The chemistry the team developed on bus rides, during practices and on their phones bled on the pitch.
“It didn’t matter who was scoring or who was successful,” Carter said. “They were just excited for everyone on the roster at all times.”
The Bruins had a small setback in their opener against Harrisburg’s JV team, turning the ball over 21 times in a win. But once they settled into the season, it was easy to see the raw talent and unmistakable chemistry.
“We could see how well we were all going to play together this season thanks to our close bond,” Corrado said.
This link was road tested against Helias. With Rock Bridge shorthanded because its two big starters — Corrado and Nyah Strupp — switched to JV that night, Chievous scored 19 points, pulled out 12 rebounds and had nine steals in the 41-35 win.
“They just wanted a win,” Carter said. “After that night we realized that if we win games against really good teams that are shorthanded, then we have a special group on our hands.”
Although unstoppable on the field, the Bruins met their match before the final tournament of the season: the weather in the middle of Missouri. A midweek winter storm system canceled the team’s final tournament of the season.
After trying to find a final game to close to no avail, on February 8, Carter broke the news to his team.
“Personally, I was upset because I wanted to continue playing with my team,” Corrado said. “I also wanted us to go on and win the Battle Tournament Championship.”
Although the season didn’t end the way the team had hoped, Corrado and Carter said they won’t soon forget an undefeated season that involved more lasting memories off the court than on it.
“The weather couldn’t have been worse for us,” Carter said. “We wanted to go out and end the season on a high. It didn’t happen, but one of the good parts of the season ending early is that we went undefeated.
Play for Davis
If you show up early to any Rock Bridge boys basketball game and pay close attention, it’s hard to miss the letters “DT” and the number “2” lining the backs of the Bruins green and yellow shooting jerseys. The initials belong to Davis Taylor, a Columbia kid who grew up playing basketball with those on this year’s freshman team.
For years, Taylor and his teammates dreamed of donning the Rock Bridge jersey. But just before the start of the season, Taylor was involved in an ATV accident, sustaining serious injuries that ended any hopes of him playing high school basketball and baseball. The news devastated the school community and hit her childhood friends exceptionally hard.
The tragedy brought an already tight-knit group of high school freshmen closer together and gave the 22-game season a distinct focus. Not a day went by that the boys didn’t think of Taylor.
“If we didn’t want to run a sprint or complete a practice, we just thought, ‘I think Davis would be able to pull it off and want to do it,'” Brady Davidson said. “That was the mentality we played with this year.”
Travis Gabel, who coached the Bruins freshman men’s basketball team for the past four years, first worked with his latest generation at Rock Bridge basketball camp last summer. After that, weekly one-on-one training sessions helped Gabel establish a closer relationship with his team.
At the start of the season, Gabel began leading what he calls “chalk talks” in his physics class. The hour-long sessions focused on personal character enhancement and involved watching a few videos or reading a few articles.
“Having these conversations was fun,” Gabel said. “It’s a fun-loving group of guys. They didn’t get too nervous, and that contributed to our success.
It didn’t take long for Gabel to realize he was working with another special group of freshmen. The Bruins have always taken care of business against JV and freshman opponents, starting in the first week of the season. In a game against Hickman, guard Dylan Davis scored 38 points, a new freshman team high.
A season filled with serious wins, hot shooting performances and competitive practices culminated in a memorable weekend of matches in the St. Dominic JV tournament.
Take the home-and-away semi-final against St. Charles. The Bruins entered the final period two points behind and found themselves one without the ball and with less than 30 seconds left.
Then, with 15 seconds left, Davis had a timely steal. Gabel set up the ensuing play for guard Josue Muhirwa, who dumped the ball to Davidson. The striker then swung a wraparound pass to striker Bailen Nickens, whose contested lay-up with four seconds left was felt.
“Our chemistry is so strong that we trust each other,” Davidson said. “We know we can win these types of matches.”
The Bruins contested the tournament championship the following day, defeating St. Dominic 54-45 in the penultimate game of a perfect season.
“This year we continued to win those close games that we may have lost in years past,” Gabel said. “This group has found a way to overcome adversity and finish games well.”
With six losses over the past four seasons, victory has been the MO under Gabel. But this season was noticeably different. Every win, practice, and team-building session actually meant something bigger than basketball.
The 22 wins were for Taylor, a boy whose players wore the initials on their backs every game day. Although his rehabilitation is going well, he really should have been on the pitch with them.