As a class of five seniors walked off the court following a loss in the Division 1 sectional finals last season, Becca Bestul had to remind herself that next year’s roster wasn’t going to be completely devoid of upperclassmen.
Being that Brooke Rooney was quite close to the senior class, Bestul, the head coach of Chi-Hi girls basketball, sometimes considered her to be a part of that departing class.
Rooney returned this year as the one and only senior in the program, leading a team of talented sophomores for the Cardinals.
Stepping into the role as a team leader wasn’t seen as too big of a step for Rooney.
“Last year I had a great group of seniors to look up to and who really set a great example, so it was kind of easy to fill that spot,” Rooney said.
Rooney may not be the most vocal on the court, as she isn’t hesitant to concede to younger players such as leading scorer Caelan Givens or guard Ashley Hanley, but the coaching staff looks for her to lead when the team faces challenges.
“Brooke knows how to handle (situations) because she has been there and seen it done,” said Bestul, “Where some of the young kids haven’t necessarily seen that yet, they haven’t seen the intensity of some of the teams we played and they haven’t necessarily been in the situations where we are ahead by a lot or down by a lot and we have to come back.”
One of those tough situations occurred in game number one of the season, a loss to La Crosse Aquinas where Chi-Hi gave up 99 points. Bestul believes the losses still provided value for a young team.
“You never want to lose as a group but a group this young that has been so talented, we probably needed to lose a game to Aquinas and to (Stevens) Point,” Bestul said. “It’s been a good experience in both situations because we learned something about ourselves in both games.”
Since that game against Aquinas, the Cardinals have rattled off wins in five of their past six games, including a perfect 4-0 record in the Big Rivers Conference. Rooney credits the team’s renewed commitment to defense, the leadership of the four captains and the solidifying of the team’s rotation for the quick turnaround.
While Rooney deflects the team’s success to the other players, Bestul isn’t afraid to credit Rooney for her impact in hard-fought wins including four-point conference victories over Rice Lake and Eau Claire Memorial.
“Every game we played so far, when we need a big shot, it’s her that hits it or when we need a big defensive stop its her that gets the block out to get the rebound,” Bestul said.
The senior guard may not be a high volume scorer, at 7.1 points per game, but Rooney has made around 50 percent of her shots from beyond the arc and knows that her value to the team is as veteran presence. Rooney is second in the county in 3-pointers made (15), one off the lead of Bloomer’s Justyne Burgess entering play on Thursday.
“During games I guess I am not very vocal or loud necessarily, but if somebody is getting frustrated and I can see that I make sure that I go over to them to try to calm them down,” Rooney said. “If they are unhappy about a call, that is another thing where I am trying to step in and be a mediator between them and the officials.”
The sophomore class of the Cardinals gets well-deserved credit for the success of the team, but Bestul believes Rooney plays as vital as role and they need her valuable experience if the young and talented Chi-Hi team wants to achieve their goals.
“I think that people don’t necessarily notice what she does on the floor because she isn’t the stats leader in any area,” said Bestul. “But if it weren’t for her being there we would fall apart. She’s kind of our glue.”