Blue Springs girls basketball coach Mark Spigarelli was not in the best of moods Tuesday afternoon as he stood alone in the high school’s gymnasium.
Most of his players had checked in and were waiting to watch film of Camdenton, tonight’s Class 5 sectional opponent, but a few stragglers had the veteran coach frustrated.
“Biggest game of the season, and we have some girls who are going to stroll in here and tell me they need to go to the training room while everyone else is waiting to watch film,” said Spigarelli, who led his Wildcats to sectional play after overcoming an 0-6 start to the season and then stunning No. 1 seed Columbia Rock Bridge in the district championship game.
As the girls arrived, Spigarelli calmly let them know they were late, that they needed to join their teammates in the film room, and off they went.
“You might notice,” he said with a grin, “we weren’t talking about my seniors. Reggie (Kanagawa) and Sy’Miah (Smith) were already down here getting everyone ready. We’ve had a great run with a lot of young kids, but we don’t have that type of success without our great senior leaders.”
With seconds left in the Class 5 District 9 championship district game at Blue Springs last Thursday, Spigarelli had two freshmen, two sophomores and Kanagawa on the court.
He was not rewarding the youngsters with token minutes at the end of a stunning 52-34 upset victory over Rock Bridge.
“Those were the kids that played such an important role in that win,” Spigarelli said, “and I thought they deserved to be out there at the end of the game to enjoy those final seconds.”
Spigarelli – who owns four state championships from his coaching days at Pembroke Hill and five consecutive state final four appearances with past Wildcat teams – might have turned in the greatest coaching performance of his career this season as his youthful team started 0-6.
“When we were 0-6, we were a different team,” said Kanagawa, the Wildcats’ heart-and-soul leader who finished with 14 points and nine rebounds against the Bruins. “We were young, but we were still trying to become a team.
“Now, the girls are battled tested. You couldn’t tell by watching us play (last Thursday) if a player was a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior. I’ve had so much fun watching the girls grow up right before my eyes, and their experience has led to a lot of success.”
Smith nodded in agreement.
“This season has been a blessing,” she said. “You want to have success your senior year, and Reggie and I knew we were better than an 0-6 team back when the season started. We’ve watched our young players grow up right before our eyes and it has been so much fun.
“We won a district championship no one thought we could win and now, we’re playing a sectional game tomorrow night. It’s amazing, a real blessing.”
Few people thought the Wildcats could get past a Rock Bridge team that finished third in the state last year. Even some of the Wildcats themselves were skeptical.
“I don’t think anyone really thought we would beat Rock Bridge. I don’t know if I did,” said Bello, who scored 14 points and turned in a masterful defensive performance. “I thought we would come out and compete hard. I didn’t know if we could win, but I knew we’d try hard and give it everything we had.
“We got off to the good start and kept playing hard. And that’s what we have to do against Camdenton. We can’t be intimidated, we just have to go out and play like we did against Rock Bridge.”
The Wildcats led 9-3 early against the Bruins and padded that lead to 31-13 at halftime on the strength of a 15-4 second quarter that saw Bello score seven points and sophomore guard Jayla Sample eight.
Now they face a 19-7 Camdenton team at 6 p.m. today at State Fair Community College in Sedalia.
“Tomorrow night, we have to limit our turnovers and slow down the pace of the game,” said Sample, as Kanagawa, Smith and Spigarelli all grinned.
“She should be our coach,” Smith said with a laugh, “that’s just what Coach told us.”
With perfect timing, Spigarelli added, “That’s what I want to hear! They are paying attention!”
“Coach is very special to me,” Sample added. “He makes me work hard. He makes me work hard because he told me early on that he knew I could be a better player than I knew I could be.
“He pushed me harder than any other coach I have ever had. And we finished strong and won district. All the hard work paid off.”
As his team began to rebound from the 0-6 start, Spigarelli saw a glimmer of hope because of his senior leadership and outstanding underclassmen.
“About a month ago, when we were getting close to being a .500 team after that 0-6 start, I told the girls our goal was to make it to the district championship game,” he said.
But that goal changed as they approached the big game against Rock Bridge.
“Then we played Rock Bridge, and our goal was to win that game, and we did,” Spigarelli said, “and now our goal is to go Sedalia and win that game, too.”