The game tipped-off just like any other high school boys basketball game on a windy and chilly Friday night in January across the state. Halfway, the opponent of the Dadeville Bearcats, scored the first basket to take an early 2-0 lead on the Cardinals’ home court. After that, though, the Dadeville steamroller kicked into high gear, as the Bearcats used a 19-0 run to lead 19-2 at the end of the first period, and 34-8 at halftime.
Dadeville cruised to yet another blowout victory, this one by a 63-22 count. The Bearcats, who at press time sported a perfect 8-0 record and the No. 2 state ranking in Class 1, are on a mission. Dadeville posted a 30-3 record last season, which included the school’s second trip ever to the Final Four.
However, the Bearcats were shell shocked in the state semifinals by defending champion Scott County Central. Dadeville got off to a slow start, trailing 22-8 at the end of the first quarter, and 53-24 at halftime. Scott County Central, which is currently perched above Dadeville with the No. 1 ranking in Class 1, cruised to an 86-53 victory. The Braves notched their second-straight state championship the following night with a 96-47 demolition of Pilot Grove.
“It was a new experience for all of us,” said senior point guard Trent Bergmann. “We had never played in an arena that large before. We were kind of shell shocked in the first game. I wish we could have given (Scott County Central) a better game.”
Dadeville rebounded in the third-place game, though, destroying Braymer by a 62-31 count. “We got to end the season with a win,” said senior sharpshooter Zach Medley, an All-State performer a year ago. “Only two teams in each class can say that. We got to send the seniors out with a victory.”
“The whole experience was a blast,” said head coach Mike Linehan, now in his fourth season at the helm of the Bearcats. “The biggest thing was seeing the kids, and how excited they were. The kids gained valuable experience and confidence in getting there. Certainly, you look back and have regrets about how the Scott County game started.”
“It was kind of a humbling experience,” said the Bearcats multi-talented Dakota Webb. “We got to play on the big stage and we definitely want to do it again. We prepare every practice for our ultimate goal.”
Heading into the 2010-11 season, optimism was high for Dadeville, but the big question mark was the loss of three seniors who had spearheaded the deep state tourney run. This season, the Bearcats would be without the services of All-State center Brock Toler, as well as starting off guard Cole Long, an All-Conference and All-District player, and the team’s sixth man in 6’5” 250-pound Andrew VanHooser.
“Those guys aren’t replaceable,” said Linehan. “With the loss of them, our team dynamic has changed. Guys like Dakota Webb have to take on new roles. Jacob Goodman was a role player last year, but he has stepped up and is starting this season for us and has brought some added toughness to the line-up. We won’t be the same team we were last year, but we’re every bit as good as we were last year.”
From the final horn in the third-place game, throughout the summer and into the start of this season, the ultimate team goal has been to not just return to the Final Four, but to win a state title. “Being there last year and having it go the way it did has just made us more determined,” said Medley, who along with Burgmann and Webb is a team tri-captain. “The goal seems more realistic now. We know it’s possible for a school like us to get there.” Burgmann agrees. “We know what it takes to get back,” he said. “We’ve worked hard over the summer. We won’t be so overwhelmed this time around.”
Dadeville participated in basketball camps over the summer and played dozens of games, many against much larger schools. The Bearcats held their own, and that momentum has carried over into this season.
Dadeville features a talented and experienced starting line-up comprised of five seniors. Burgmann directs the offense from his point guard position. “He simply makes no mistakes,” said Linehan of his point guard. “At the pace we play, it’s rare for a point guard to average less than one turnover a game, but that’s what he’s doing.”
Medley, a sharpshooter from the outside, and Jacob Goodman, who Linehan described as “a tough farm kid,” operate on the wing. The 6’4” Webb roams the frontline. “Dakota is an athletic playmaker with good court vision,” said Linehan. Ben Dobbins, a 6’4” bruiser, does the dirty work down low. “He’s our garbage man,” said Linehan of Dobbins. “He’s a physical player who’s a good screener and rebounder, and has a soft touch on his shot.”
Dadeville opened the season by manhandling the competition at the Humansville Tournament. The Bearcats defeated Everton 92-36 in the first round, and Hermitage 69-33 in the semifinals, before winning the tournament title with a 95-62 victory over Fair Play.
“We didn’t know how good we’d really be,” said Medley. “We went to camp over the summer and played a lot of games against good competition. Playing so well in the Humansville Tournament was a big confidence booster.”
Dadeville followed up the Humansville Tournament with five more regular season victories over Everton (94-34), Golden City (64-35), Hermitage (80-29), Fair Play (75-52), and Halfway (63-22). The Bearcats are currently averaging 79 points per game, while giving up less than 42 points per contest to their opponents. Dadeville is beating its opponents by over 41 points per game on average, which leads to the question of how the Bearcats can improve by playing in blowout after blowout.
“The kids are motivated to improve and pick up the slack,” said Linehan. “We try to focus on anything that can be a weakness. In every game, it doesn’t matter who we are playing, we’re trying to get better. We have to learn lessons from every game we play. Whether we win or lose, we have to evaluate our performance and fix any mistakes or weaknesses. I preach that a lot to these kids.”
The Bearcats use each game to focus on at least one aspect of their game. “In every game, Coach gives us one or two things to focus on and get better at,” said Burgmann. “He’s always telling us not to play down to the level of our competition.”
Medley echoed those thoughts. “No matter what the score is, we pretend it’s 0-0,” he said. “We try to slow things down and execute. We try to get better with everything we do. We want to develop good habits regardless of the level of competition.”
Despite the team’s gaudy record and stats, Webb knows the Bearcats have room for improvement. “We’re a great fast break team, but also a good half court team,” he said. “Sometimes, though, we lack in offensive rhythm. We get over anxious and think we need to score quickly.”
Linehan identified the team’s strengths as hustle, intensity on defense and the ability to get up and down the floor. However, he said that the team needs to improve its rebounding, and also needs to slow down and execute the offense at times.
One of the strengths of the Bearcats is their team chemistry. “We’ve been together since we were all in kindergarten,” said Burgmann, adding that Webb joined the group in sixth grade. “We’ve been playing ball together since we were old enough to throw it in the goal.” The character of the team is also a plus. “It has been an absolute blast coaching these kids,” said Linehan, noting that the team GPA is 3.6. “They are good kids both on the floor and off.”
Another strength is the coaching received from Linehan, who was a two-time all-conference and honorable mention All-American player at Evangel in the mid-1990s. “He’s an incredible coach,” said Webb. “He’s very savvy basketball-wise, and has a very intense mentality that we just thrive off of. He’s a great guy and an amazing role model for us to look up to.”
At least one alumnus believes The Bearcats have another deep tourney run in them. “These seniors have had the same coach now for the past four years,” said Toler, an All-State senior on last year’s squad. “They’ve been running the same system since their freshman year. They know exactly what they need to do. They know what Coach Linehan wants, so they just need to fine-tune everything. If they just go out and perform on the floor what they have been taught, then they can get back to State.”
Finally, the support the team has received from the Dadeville community has been outstanding. “We have amazing support from the Dadeville fans,” said Webb. “We’re a very blessed team. God has given each of us great talent, and has surrounded us with amazing family and friends.”
The senior class had posted 73 wins entering this season, meaning that the 100-win plateau is within reach. The Dadeville steamroller is rolling along nicely so far this season, and has its sights set on a return to Columbia and the State finals. “We hope to keep this rolling,” said Burgmann.
Originally published in the January 2011 issue of Ozark Preps Illustrated.