College of the Ozarks Lady Bobcats head into the 2018-19 season with great anticipation after posting an outstanding 31-2 record last season.
Seniors Kelsie Cleeton, Cass Johnson, and Madi Brethower return for the Lady Cats – each one ready for their final season at C of O after having played a strategic role in their team’s success over the past three seasons. Cleeton, a remarkable player in all aspects of the game, was named an NAIA DII and WBCA First-Team All-American last season. Her name can be found throughout the 2018 NAIA DII Top Ten individual rankings. Cleeton also led her team in several statistical categories including: rebounds (374), assists (143), and steals (106), while also averaging 13.8 points a night. Cleeton also serves as the motor of the team, providing energy and excitement on both ends of the court. Johnson received 2017-18 NAIA and WBCA recognition as an Honorable Mention All-American. She is an excellent shooter and nailed 101 three-pointers last season, which ranked 9th in NAIA DII. Johnson also led her team in scoring with 16.09 points per game. The duo have both surpassed the 1,000th career milestone and are on track to set numerous school records before closing out their senior year. Brethower, a versatile guard, provides the Cats with toughness under the basket and a nice touch from beyond the arc. She quietly contributed an average of 8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last season. Madi can often be found doing the little things that go unnoticed but are instrumental to the team’s success.
Returning for the Lady Cats are junior guards Ashley Forrest and Aleksei Smith. Forrest, a great shooter and teammate, fought back from an injury last season and will provide valuable experience and depth at the guard position. Smith is a hard-nosed defender who can come into the game and make an impact with her toughness. Both players make smart decisions on the floor and play critical roles in helping the team succeed.
Rounding out the returnees are sophomores Abby Oliver, Grace Steiger, and Kyra Hardesty. Oliver had a phenomenal freshman season, seeing action in every game. She averaged 8.6 points per game, gathered 55 rebounds, and dished out 61 assists. Oliver is a double threat, possessing great outside shooting capabilities and a knack for getting to the rim. Building upon her first season’s experience, she is anticipated to have a great career with the Lady Cats. Steiger put in a lot of hard work this summer in the weight room and has made great strides because of her efforts. Her play possesses more confidence, and she will battle for some action in the paint this season. Hardesty came in as a three-year All-State player last season and has worked hard in making the shift to a collegiate style of play. She is currently rehabbing from an injury and will redshirt this season. The trio provides the Lady Cats with unique abilities and strengths on each side of the ball.
Newcomers for the 2018-19 season include four excellent freshman. Michelle Gabani (Bolivar, Mo.) can drive the ball to the paint or shoot from the outside; she also has a great ability to rebound the ball. Annie Noah (Gainesville, Mo.) will battle for minutes in the post this season with her nice touch around the rim and excellent passing abilities. Hannah Pfeifer (Mountain Home, Ark.) gives the team yet another great shooter with limitless range. Clare Shetley (Sullivan. Mo.) provides much-needed height to the team and the versatility to take it to the basket or step out and shoot the trey. Coach Mullis is pleased to find each member of the freshman class to be very coachable.
The Lady Cats anticipate their greatest challenge this season will be in the post, since it was primarily manned by two seniors last season. Young players will be counted on to do the job. As the season progresses, it is expected their in-game experience will serve the team well.
Becky (Vest) Mullis is entering her sixth year as the head coach of the Lady Cats. Under her guidance, her teams have won 24 or more games each season and have also qualified each season to play in the NAIA DII Women’s Basketball National Championship tournament.
The Lady Cats are poised for success with a skilled core of upperclassmen and outstanding, young talent. They will provide a great deal of excitement for their fans.
Coach Mullis and the Lady Cats are focusing on one game at a time, not overlooking any team, and getting better every day. Look for them to reach their goals and make their way to the 2019 NAIA DII National Championship.