SHEFFIELD — If you’re a Brookside basketball player, this is the most wonderful time of the year.
For the first time in recent memory the Cardinals started the season with four consecutive wins, including victories over Patriot Athletic Conference rivals Keystone and Columbia — teams that have had their way with Brookside in the past.
At 4-1, the Cardinals know the pieces are in place to carry the momentum through the holidays and into the toughest portion of the schedule.
With Christmas music blaring from the speakers at a recent practice, Brookside coach Brad Barhorst explained that with five new starters in the lineup this season, even he didn’t expect the team to come together this quickly.
“I knew we had talent. I knew this team had a lot of potential,” he said. “But to say we were going to start the year 4-0, I would have been surprised. The key has been we’re not a one-man team. We’ve had different kids leading in scoring every night. It’s been a nice feeling to go into games knowing even if they shut one girl down, we’ll have others who will step up.”
When senior post Ellexis Tracy was younger, she went to school with many of the players on the Keystone team, so Brookside’s 42-35 overtime win over the Wildcats, the Cardinals’ first win in the series since December of 2013, had a little extra meaning.
“The Keystone game was so exciting because I went to school there and one of my best friends, Taylor Stefan, plays there,” Tracy said. “We’ve been looking for a game like that to show what we can do and what we’re made of.”
The 5-foot-9 Tracy is averaging 8.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
“We want to leave it all out there in our last year in the PAC,” Tracy said. “To win something this year would mean the world to all of us.”
Senior guard Hanna Begany, who is averaging 8.8 points, 3.3 steals and three assists, said there is a different vibe around this year’s team.
“When we get out on the court, we just put our worries away and focus on the game and playing for each other,” she said. “It’s been so exciting. It’s a complete change this year. I had higher expectations this year, but I didn’t think we’d start this well.”
The biggest surprise for the Cardinals has been the play of freshman Jenna Rothman. The 5-foot-10 post is the area’s leading rebounder at 16 per game and she’s also Brookside’s leading scorer at 9.3 points per game.
Not bad for someone who didn’t even expect to see much varsity action this year.
“Coming in as a freshman, I was extremely nervous when I was told I would dress for varsity,” Rothman said. “Then before the season started, they told me I would be a fulltime varsity player and I was even more nervous because the high school game is so much faster and the girls are so much more aggressive than in eighth grade.
“Now that I have four games of experience, I don’t feel so nervous anymore. I’m getting the feel of the high school game. It’s really fun.”
Prior to the season, the school record for rebounds in a game was 13. Rothman broke it in her first game and has set the bar higher since.
Currently, the record is 19, which Rothman set in the Cardinals’ win at Open Door.
The banners hanging on the walls of the Brookside gymnasium remind this current crop of Cardinals that sustained success has been hard to find. Brookside hasn’t won a conference title since 1976 in the Lakeland Conference and hasn’t won a sectional tournament title since 1996.
“I’m excited to see if we can keep improving and if we do where we can be come January and February,” Barhorst said. “We’ve never played a tournament game at home. It would be nice to be good enough to host a tournament game and play against a team you should be able to beat.”