Briggler, ‘united’ St. Joseph finishing strong

Levi GIlbert
St. Joseph High School’s Emily Briggler is a member of this year’s 501 Basketball Team, sponsored by Conway Regional Health System, First Security Bank and Conway Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Center. (Mike Kemp photo)

For Emily Briggler, basketball at St. Joseph could just as easily be referred to as a family tradition.

“I grew up as the youngest of four girls,” Briggler said. “With the gap in our ages, I was constantly on the road while my dad coached their travel team. From the moment I could keep a ball dribbling, one was in my hand so I could follow them around and be just like them. My whole childhood was surrounded by people playing sports, which helped me to realize that athletics was something that my whole family, including me, valued deeply.

“I started playing basketball because I felt like it was a part of my family tradition. My sister and cousins that I followed around were always involved in one sport or another. We spend a lot of summers traveling to basketball and softball tournaments, so when it was my turn to join in, I had no hesitation.”

Briggler, a senior point guard for St. Joseph, was selected to this year’s 501 Basketball Team — 41 players representing the best the 501 has to offer both on and off the court. The team is sponsored by Conway Regional Health System, First Security Bank and Conway Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Center. The senior was nominated by her head coach, Kay Lynn Hill.

“Emily is a solid competitor who fights hard from start to finish,” Hill wrote in her nomination. “She plays with all her heart and leaves it all on the court, walking away bruised and battered, if that is what it takes to get the win. As a coach, I want her on the court as much as possible because she has that rare and incredible ability to make all those around her better.

“Her teammates trust her leadership, and it strengthens our team. Last season, she led our team in steals with 55 and in assists with 69. We will continue to look to her to create opportunities for our team.”

Briggler and the Bulldogs (10-6, 3-2) are in a good position for a strong finish midway through the season, despite an incredibly limited bench.

“One of my main takeaways from this year is the truth behind the quote, ‘Teamwork makes the dream work,’” Briggler said. “It can be hard to believe that when you have a full bench of teammates that can be subbed in at any given moment, but for my team, our bench is limited to one person. The only way to success for us is for each of us to contribute with our full heart. When one of us is having a rough game, we have to find a way to become a united front in order to take home a win. Being united makes our team hard to beat because we all have to be guarded and shut down as we refuse to give up even when we are down.

“Part of our defensive strategy against other teams is finding a weakness in their teamwork abilities and using it against them. It’s crazy to see a good team entirely give up just because we can shut down the couple players that they rely completely on.”

St. Joseph hosts two games this week, starting with Hector on Thursday. But if most fans in Conway were being honest, they are probably looking ahead to Friday’s rivalry with Conway Christian.

“For me, what is so special about the Conway Christian and St. Joseph rivalry is how far back it goes in our history and how today it has become something other than just a crosstown rivalry,” Briggler said. “I remember how when I was younger and watched the two teams play that the whole event was extremely toxic when it came to the games and the fans. The rivalry was treated like a war in which both sides hated each other so much that any associating between the two was a big deal.

“I enjoy how today the teens from both sides have built strong and trusting relationships with one another that are not compromised when standing face to face on the court. When we play, the atmosphere is still cutthroat as in the past, but no matter who comes out on top, we still come together at the end and tell each other good game and close with saying the ‘Our Father’ in the middle of the court holding hands. That is a kind of relationship that most schools cannot say that they have with one another.”

In her final campaign for the Bulldogs, Briggler has been focused on making the most of the limited time remaining in the purple and gold.

“On the court, I have had to overcome my fear of being the person to mess up,” Briggler said. “I used to be so afraid to shoot because I did not want to miss a shot and give the other team an opportunity to get a fastbreak and easy layup. This year, I have learned that it is worse for me to play in fear than to work up the confidence to play to my full potential.

“I have found out that opportunities in a game only come so often, and my time left to play is short so I need to do what my coaches have always known I could.”

Off the court, Briggler is deeply embedded in the culture at St. Joseph High School, participating in safety council, interact club and student cabinet along with being the vice president of the National Honor Society and a senior representative of the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America. Last year, she graduated from the Conway Area Youth Leadership Institute.

“I am proud of Emily, not only because of her work ethic on the court, but off the court, as well,” Hill said. “As a student athlete, Emily works hard to balance the demands of honors and concurrent classes, while playing multiple sports. She maintains a 4.1 GPA and is vice-president of National Honor Society. In addition, she was selected by the faculty of St. Joseph High School to represent our school at Girls State.

“As a coach, what I love about Emily is her humbleness. She takes care of business and is never selfish. Her aggressiveness, toughness and determination are all qualities that every coach loves to see in their players. I know I can count on Emily to give 100 percent every time she steps onto the court.”

Briggler and St. Joseph return to action playing host to Hector at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 9.