2/14/2013 11:26:00 PM Bradshaw girls hoops team's push toward a title starts Friday
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier BEAR DEN – The Bradshaw Mountain girls’ basketball team gets in some last reps at practice Thursday night in Prescott Valley as they prepare for Friday's state opener against Notre Dame.
PRESCOTT VALLEY - Like the rest of her fellow teammates, Kylie Morris has a piece of paper taped up at home that simply states the goals her squad planned to accomplish during the 2012-13 season.
A starting junior forward on the Bradshaw Mountain girls' basketball team, Morris uses the words on that sheet as motivation to help the club maneuver toward capturing the ultimate prize: a state championship.
Friday night at 7:30, the Division 2 No. 1-seeded Bears - who own a 29-1 overall record and have won a whopping 29 straight games - will begin their quest for a crown by hosting No. 16 seed Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep in the second round of the Div. 2 state tournament.
"From the very first practice, we sat down and made our goals," Morris said from practice Thursday night. "We had 'fewer turnovers than last year' was one, 'rebounds,' and 'staying together as a team.' And our No. 1 goal was 'to win state.' We all keep that as a reminder on our mirrors at home. That's the thing that keeps pushing us."
For the second straight postseason, Bradshaw received a first-round bye and will lock horns with the Saints. In last year's second round at home, the then-fourth-seeded Bears edged Notre Dame Prep, 47-45, in overtime to advance to the quarterfinals, where then-No. 12 Phoenix Thunderbird upset them, 50-42.
Last Saturday in the Div. 2, Section 2 title contest, Bradshaw gained a measure of revenge on T-bird, defeating the Chiefs, 42-20. Not only did the Bears garner a plaque, they received a huge confidence boost on their ride toward redemption.
But they know they still have a lot of work to do.
"Keeping the girls together is the No. 1 priority," second-year Bears coach Efren Badilla said. "We can't get to the point where we are so focused on any stat, any record that we have. We've got to stay level-headed and continue playing the way we've been playing to actually get to that accomplishment."
BMHS graduated two senior starters off its 2011-12 team, but it hasn't skipped a beat this season.
Badilla made slight alterations to his lineup, although he's benefited from a core group of returnees who have been playing basketball together since the sixth grade at Glassford Hill Middle School, where they went undefeated for two years.
In 2012-13, history seems to be repeating itself - only on a much bigger stage.
Senior co-captains Angie Banks and Jessica Olivas, and juniors Morris, Kirsten Smith and post Dacie Clark form the backbone of a squad that hasn't lost since its season opener Nov. 23 versus Tucson Catalina Foothills at the Desert Edge Scorpion Shootout tournament in Goodyear.
Bradshaw has now gone almost three months without a loss and needs just four more wins to hoist the coveted state trophy.
"We don't try to think about it too much - or, at least I don't," Smith said of the Bears sustaining their lengthy winning run. "If someone talks to me about it, I'm like, 'Yeah, you know, this is how far we've gone, this is what we are, and this is when our game is.' But after that, it's kind of like you knock on wood and you keep going on. The feeling kind of stays with you, but it doesn't last very long."
If the Bears win the state tournament on Feb. 23 at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, they would conclude their magical run on a 33-game winning streak.
Considering what Bradshaw has endured and accomplished over the course of this winter, that feat is no longer implausible.
A 29-game winning streak for a basketball team at most any level of competition is one that should be marveled.
It requires heavy doses of experience, good health, hard work and preparation, as well as a little bit of luck. But when you add chemistry, unselfishness, loyalty and trust among teammates into the mix, that's when what initially seemed impossible turns into a stunning reality.
The Bears have all of this going for them in spades, and their dream no longer seems unattainable.
"We just keep playing our game," Olivas said. "We know that if we think about it too much, we're going to feel all that pressure."
An extremely well-conditioned team, BMHS plays a solid brand of zone and man-to-man defense, in the full-court and half-court sets, and capitalizes on opponents' turnovers. They run their foes up and down the court in hopes of physically draining them.
"We outrun teams in the fourth quarter, because they get tired," Olivas said. "Once their second string is in, we attack that."
No achievements in life come without pain and frustration. It's how you respond to those nagging obstacles that allow you to mature and grow.
In Bradshaw Mountain's case, one of the major tests came only this past week in the first half of a sectionals win over Flagstaff at Prescott High.
Clark suffered a high left ankle sprain after she inadvertently stepped on an Eagles defender, rolled the ankle, and was carried off the court.
"At halftime, right after that, when we were in our huddle or whatever, we all knew we had to step it up for Dacie," Olivas said.
Almost exactly a week later, on Thursday night, Clark practiced for the first time since her injury. She went through several rounds of physical therapy and says she's ready to go and will play tonight.
"I'm not going to lie - it's doing really good," a grinning Clark said of her ankle. "Usually a high-ankle sprain takes about a month to heal, but I'm feeling great."
For this evening's game, Bradshaw's players are encouraging their fans to wear red attire for a "red-out," while they're in their home white uniforms.
A pep rally was scheduled at the high school's main courtyard at 7:20 a.m. Friday.
"That's going to be very exciting for the girls," Badilla said of the gathering. "They're very deserving of it."