It’s not particularly easy to trace the roots of the Kearney High School girls basketball team and its undefeated record this season. The Bulldogs are 14-0, and everyone — players, fans, even coach Troy Resler — seems to think there is a different reason for it.
As for Kearney senior Chandler Gallagher, she likes to think this winning streak started in a dimly-lit middle school gym, where six years ago a handful of middle school girls played dodgeball against their physical education teacher.
That’s when five seniors on this season’s basketball team first met Resler, the Kearney Middle School P.E. teacher who was hired in May 2012 to replace longtime coach Herb Webster, who retired as the winningest high school girls basketball coach in Missouri history.
“He (Resler) was a guy everyone loved having in class because he was so lighthearted about things — except he was always really competitive,” Gallagher said. “He would play all the games against us, and he never cut us any breaks. I think he just made everyone else more competitive.
“Looking back, I think that stuck with us. You want to give everything you have for him.”
It’s really not bad reasoning. And it’s echoed by Kearney senior Meagan Paul, who leads the defensive-minded Bulldogs in scoring, averaging 10.2 points per game.
As the rumors started to escalate nearly two years ago about who might take over for Webster, so did the anxiety for Paul. She must have heard nearly a dozen names in connection with the school’s month-long search to replace its coach of 33 years.
The final name brought more relief than anxiety.
“I hated P.E. until I had (Resler) in middle school,” Paul said. “He made it enjoyable. So when he was (hired), I had no doubt in my mind this was going to be something good.”
And it has been — the Bulldogs are 39-3 in the two seasons since Resler was hired.
The success is at least mildly surprising for Resler, who shared his players’ initial confidence, but also came in with a few uncertainties.
Kearney is his first head coaching gig and, therefore, his first time in charge of an entire program. And by the way, he took over for a man who won 903 career high school basketball games.
“Of course there were questions in my mind,” Resler said. “But would you rather take over a program that Coach Webster put together that has had so many wins, or would you rather take over a program that’s not any good at all and requires a rebuilding (process)? I looked at the situation as a positive.”
The hire also meant Resler would be coaching girls instead of boys for the first time since he began his career as a seventh-grade girls coach. But his basketball philosophy remains unchanged.
The Bulldogs are built on defense, and they even bring a motivational sign along for the bus ride each time they travel for a road game. They tape the sign — which reads “30” — above the door in the visitors’ locker room, representing their nightly goal to hold teams under 30 points. The players slap the sign on their way out to the court.
It’s obviously a lofty objective, but it’s one the Bulldogs regularly accomplish. They are allowing an average of 29.6 points per game this season.
That’s an improvement from Resler’s first season, when Kearney won 25 games and reached the Missouri Class 5 state quarterfinals before losing to Blue Springs.
“We have a drill called ‘perfect defense’ that we run (in practice) until we get a certain number of stops,” said Gallagher, who averages 8.1 points and a team-best 5.9 rebounds per game. “As a coach, he tells us to be perfect on defense. Perfection is, of course, this unattainable thing that no one achieves and we know we’re never going to get there, but you always want to keep trying to get closer.”
Unattainable? Perhaps individually. As a team, however, the Bulldogs remain just that — perfect.