Longtime Friends Bailey and Runyans Lead Lady Wolverines with Uncanny Chemistry
By Garrett Mitchell, Staff Writer
Brooke Bailey and Maddie Grace (M.G.) Runyans first shared a basketball court together in the fifth grade.
Eight years later, now seniors at Woodruff High School, Bailey and Runyans are still side by side on the hardwood and the undisputed leaders of the Lady Wolverines’ team which has for years been one of the top 3A programs in the state.
The Woodruff’s dynamic duo have been inseparable since childhood when they played together as members of the Woodruff Lady Wolverines’ developmental recreation team. Many years later, their unparalleled chemistry has morphed into near telepathy on the court.
“Our chemistry goes way back,” said Bailey. “From doing lay-up drills as kids and shooting from the free throw line, we both have always encouraged one another and we have a special bond.”
Runyans added that their friendship off the court has helped feed into hers and Bailey’s success on it.
“Me and Brooke are really close off the court, and on the court,” she said. “We have built that bond through volleyball and basketball and we can read each other’s minds, where I’m going to be, where she’s going to be, and I always know when to pass it to her.”
Bailey and Runyans have known nothing but success as athletes at Woodruff High School. Both were members of two championship basketball teams at Woodruff Middle School, have won consecutive region championships each of the past two seasons with the varsity volleyball team, and have been key members of the Lady Wolverines’ varsity basketball team since the ninth grade.
During that time, Woodruff has seen an emergence of girls’ basketball, with the Lady Wolverines becoming a powerhouse program in 3A. It is no coincidence that the arrival of Bailey and Runyans has continued to fuel success on the court. Bailey is the intimidating post presence around the basket, standing 6-feet-1 inches tall, with Runyans, at 5-feet-9, the perimeter scorer and lockdown defender.
Think of their games as fire and ice; contrasting styles, but equally effective and symbiotic.
“Going back to the whole gel thing, if M.G. is outside, I’m going to be under the basket,” Bailey said. “If I’m outside she’s going to be underneath in case there’s a rebound. It’s kind of a reliable thing; you rely on each other because together you know you can do anything.”
Runyans, who has always been a defensive specialist, began to develop as an offensive weapon two seasons ago and now leads the Lady Wolverines in three-point shots made in addition to shutting down opponents’ leading scorers.
“When I was younger, I really focused on defense,” said Runyans. “I was never the best player, but I was the best hustler on the team. I’ve been trying to work on my shooting and ball handling and this year my shooting is getting better. Even on my off nights, Brooke and my other teammates encourage me to keep shooting because they are going to be there for the rebound and give us another chance to score if I miss.”
Runyans was second on the team in scoring as a junior last season, averaging just over 13 points per game. This season she is averaging 10 points while also becoming one of the team leaders in assists and steals. Bailey, meanwhile, has been a force, averaging 13 points and 11 rebounds a game while also leading the Lady Wolverines in blocked shots.
Woodruff coach Jon Jansen took over the Woodruff program in 2018, when Bailey and Runyans were sophomores, and knew right away he had a special pair on his roster.
“I had acquired some film prior to accepting the position here in Woodruff, and in that film, I saw two young ninth graders that possessed talent, but more importantly, they out-worked everyone on the court but did it together,” said Jansen. “I knew in that moment I had found the heartbeat of our program for the next three years. Together they have won 46 games as varsity starters for me. I can depend on them every day to bring 110 percent.”
Bailey and Runyans have unfinished business to complete as well.
Woodruff won 21 games last season, the most for the program since 1988. In their second-round play-off match-up with fellow powerhouse Seneca, the Lady Wolverines led by 12 points with under four minutes to play in the game, only to see Seneca rally and steal away their season.
This year, both Bailey and Runyans want to vanquish the bad memories of that play-off loss and help Woodruff advance past the second round and beyond.
“Me and Brooke, we try to be the leaders out there, so we want to show our younger teammates how it’s done and pass down our tradition of winning,” Runyans said. “We want to show them how to win with class, maturity and sportsmanship.”
Bailey echoed Runyans’ sentiments.
“We know we can fight through anything we might face,” she said. “We can overcome anything and are stronger now for it.”
With Bailey and Runyans running the show, the Lady Wolverines won their first five games of the season and with region play underway, they have Woodruff in prime position for a play-off spot and postseason run yet again.
It is their team now, and it is all about the chemistry.
“We continue to build our bond, and that bond keeps getting stronger,” said Runyans.
Added Bailey, “It’s important to know each other and how each other plays. We can read each other’s minds and always find a way to make a play work.”
Jansen agrees, though what Woodruff’s opponents are finding out is something he has known for a while.
“It is such a strong bond I really think they can finish each other’s sentences on the court,” he said. (Brooke and M.G.) lead in practice every day with their effort which has resulted in a good start to their senior season.”