The Lady Bobcats and Head Coach Becky Vest enter this new season with high expectations. The team posted an immensely successful 2016-2017 campaign, going 28-5 and advancing to the Elite Eight in NAIA DII National Championship play. Returning nine players alongside three strong recruits, the Lady Cats have their sights set on a National Championship run.
This year’s team features three seniors: Lakin Simmerman, Shelby Roberts, and Madison Wells. Simmerman (Ash Grove, Mo.) has played in 98 games, scoring 997 points with 56 blocks and 504 rebounds. Simmerman is a quiet leader for the team and Vest will rely on Lakin to be the team’s post presence as she continues to gain confidence in her scoring ability and inside post moves. Roberts (Bolivar, Mo.) has played in 99 games for C of O, accumulating 531 points, 205 assists, and 96 steals. Roberts, a solid ball handler, is the Cats’ defensive stopper and a glue-type player who brings her teammates together on the court. Completing the senior lineup is Wells (Nixa, Mo.), who competed in 83 games during her tenure and is a very smart player. Wells was the back-up post last season. She plays within herself and will be a good leader this season.
The highly talented junior class consists of key playmakers who were integral components of the Lady Cats’ success last season. Cass Johnson (West Plains, Mo.) is a fierce competitor, earning 808 points, including 177 three-pointers over two seasons. She is an impressive shooter and has improved her ball-handling skills in the off-season. Johnson collected Honorable Mention All-American honors and was the leading scorer on the team last year. She is looking to make more big things happen for her team. Kelsie Cleeton (Hillcrest HS) is coming off a breakout season, where she was named 3rd Team All-American. As a sophomore, she recorded 346 boards, 393 points, and 75 steals, while impressively posting double-doubles (pts./reb.) in 21 of 33 games. Vest anticipates Cleeton will be an even better version of herself this season. Madisen Brethower (Preston, Mo.) brings a gritty and competitive spirit to the court. Playing in 66 games over the past two seasons, she has a good understanding of the game. Brethower is a player who does little things that often do not show up in the stats. Rounding out the class is Tristen Underdown (Alpena, Ark.), who has the ability to score inside and out. The Cats anticipate Underdown will expand her role from last season.
Sophomores Aleksei Smith and Ashley Forrest will provide experience and determination that will certainly enhance the team’s success. Smith (Berryville, Ark.) is a hard-nosed and resilient competitor who returned in great shape for the season. Forrest (Branson, Mo.) played in all 33 games last season and steadily improved as the season progressed. Having come back quicker and stronger this season, she will likely expand her minutes on the court.
Three freshmen join the Lady Cats and are expected to make an immediate impact. Grace Steiger (Cuba, Mo.) is an extremely athletic player who runs the floor well and is very coachable. Vest believes Steiger will be a “very good college player before all is said and done.” Kyra Hardesty (Washington, Mo.) had an impressive high school career, where she was the floor general for a team that compiled four district titles. Hardesty is a tough, athletic player who does the little things right. Abby Oliver (Strafford, Mo.) has two state titles under her belt, including an undefeated senior season. Vest describes Oliver as, “fearless and athletic, with a really good feel for the game.” Look for Oliver to be a difference-maker in her inaugural season.
Entering her fifth year as the head coach of the Lady Cats, Becky Vest’s goal for the season is to win the National Championship. “This is the most experienced team I’ve coached,” said Vest. “We have all the pieces and understand what it takes to stay in Sioux City for five games.” Vest is also focused on seeing her team represent College of the Ozarks well with Christ-like character as they continue the winning tradition of C of O Lady Bobcats’ basketball.