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Examiner
  • Cats ready for familiar foe

  • For two squads separated by more than 100 miles, the Blue Springs and Columbia Rock Bridge girls basketball teams sure have seen a lot of each other the last two years.

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  • For two squads separated by more than 100 miles, the Blue Springs and Columbia Rock Bridge girls basketball teams sure have seen a lot of each other the last two years.
    When the Wildcats and Bruins meet at 8:20 p.m. Friday in the Class 5 state semifinals at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, it will mark their fourth meeting in the last two years. Last season, Blue Springs topped the Bruins 46-42 in the Norm Stewart Classic, but fell 52-41 in the state championship game. This year, the Cats will be looking for payback after getting trounced 64-32 by Rock Bridge in the second game of the season at Columbia College.
    Add in the fact that Blue Springs seniors Karyla Middlebrook and Lizzy Wendell are AAU teammates with several Rock Bridge players, and you’ve got a nice little rivalry between two of the state’s most successful programs.
    “I think Coach (Mark) Spigarelli would say we’d rather not be playing each other because of the respect we have for each other’s programs,” Rock Bridge coach Jill Nagel said. “But at the same time, we’re glad because that means we’re playing in the final four.”
    Spigarelli, who received a congratulatory email from Nagel earlier this week for leading the fourth-ranked Wildcats (28-2) to their fifth straight final four, said the respect between teams is mutual, even if they’ve been standing in each other’s way of the ultimate prize the past couple seasons.
    The two coaches took similar approaches to the regular season, scheduling two of the most difficult slates in the state. The second-ranked Bruins (23-5) played only two games in Columbia before January 12 and took on highly-ranked teams from Oakland, Las Vegas, Orlando and Chicago. That led to a rough 2-3 stretch over Christmas in the Nike Tournament of Champions – one of the country’s premiere prep tournaments – in Chandler, Ariz.
    Rock Bridge also took more than its fair share of injury hits. Before the season even started, 6-foot-3 junior Bri Porter, who has committed to play at the University of Missouri, blew out her ACL for the third time in three years and was finished for the season. In January, senior Hannah Dressler, a Drury signee and daughter of former Mizzou player Mark Dressler, also went down with an ACL injury.
    “Our kids have been resilient in being able to handle injuries,” said Nagel, whose squad’s only defeat to a team from Missouri was a 56-39 decision to undefeated Class 4 Incarnate Word on February 4. “That’s mentally as much as physically. Between injuries and our schedule, that’s part of the reason we haven’t been able to catch a rhythm in putting wins together until the end.”
    Those injuries were damaging, but Nagel’s program has the firepower to carry on. The Bruins feature a pair of sophomores in Sophie Cunningham and Cierra Porter – Bri’s sister who committed to Mizzou before playing a single high school game. Cunningham, a 6-1 guard, leads Rock Bridge with 15.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game and shoots 56 percent from the field. Cierra Porter, a 6-4 forward, posts 8.1 points and six boards per contest.
    Page 2 of 2 - Junior guard Chayla Cheadle (11 ppg), who led the Bruins with 12 points in their win over Blue Springs earlier this season, is also fielding Division I offers, and her twin sister Kayla Cheadle (2.3 ppg) is a Division I volleyball recruit.
    “When you think of Rock Bridge, you always think of height and athletic ability,” Blue Springs senior Tara Sheehy said. “They get up and down the court.”
    As lopsided as the teams’ regular-season meeting was, neither coach is putting much stock in that outcome. That’s because, for one, Blue Springs was running an offense reliant on dribble drives that Spigarelli ditched shortly after.  Middlebrook was also limited by an ankle injury that caused her to miss two practices leading into the game and went 0 for 9 from the field. And with a nine-player rotation that includes two freshmen and three sophomores, the Cats were a little overwhelmed facing the defending state champs.
    “I expect this one to be a lot closer,” said Spigarelli, whose team's only other loss was to St. Joseph's Academy, another Class 5 final four team. “I expect us to have a chance. And if you can hang in there at the end and have a shot, that’s all you can ask for.”
    Follow Shawn Garrison on Twitter: @GarrisonEJC
     
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