College of the Ozarks Lady Bobcats are eager to take the court for the 2019-2020 season and continue their tradition of providing the hard working, high character, competitive basketball their fans have grown to love and expect. Their first regular-season game will take place on Friday, October 25th, at 7:30 p.m. in the Keeter Gymnasium.
The Lady Cats enter the season ranked No. 3 in the NAIA DII Women’s Basketball Coaches Preseason Top 25 Poll.
The team is coming off a solid 2018-19 season where the Lady Cats posted an overall record of 31-4, which included an A.I.I. Conference Championship and an Elite Eight finish in the NAIA DII National Basketball Championship. Despite the loss of All-Americans’ Kelsie Cleeton and Cassidy Johnson, alongside key contributor Madi Brethower, the Lady Cats look to continue their legacy as one of the top programs in the country.
Becky Mullis, in her seventh season as the Lady Cats’ head coach, is opening the 2019-2020 season with a big challenge. They will open the season with a classic tournament featuring No. 1 Concordia (Neb.), No. 2 Southeastern (Fla.), and No. 12 Sterling (Kan.). The Lady Cats’ first game will match them against Southeastern.
“While opening our season against such strong competition is not necessarily the ideal way to post an early-season winning record,” stated Mullis, “the opportunity to offer an amazingly high-quality tournament showcasing four premiere teams was just too good to pass up.”
The Lady Cats will be young this season, but they return two key senior leaders in guards Aleksei Smith and Ashley Forrest. Smith (Berryville, Ark.) is not only a vocal lead on the court, but she leads by example—setting the tone for her team. A tough competitor and great defender, Smith also has a sweet three-point shot. Last season, she averaged 7.6 ppg and 3.3 rpg, putting up 29 treys, shooting 48% from the field, and nabbing 38 steals. Forrest (Branson, Mo.) continues to be a great leader for the team, and it is expected her role on the court will expand this season. She is a smart player and a strong shooter. Forrest drained 41 three-pointers last season and averaged 5.6 ppg, along with 2.6 rpg.
Juniors Abby Oliver and Grace Steiger will also see their roles increase this season. Oliver (Strafford, Mo.) started every game last season as a sophomore guard and averaged 13.1 ppg and 2.7 rpg. Her shooting abilities added significantly to the team’s scoring, as she netted 83 triples and posted an overall field goal percentage of 44.3. Combining solid scoring potential with sound ball-handling skills, Oliver is expected to be a key component in the Lady Cat offense. Steiger (Cuba, Mo.), standing at 6’2 provides good presence under the basket. She has made tremendous improvement since joining the Lady Cats and is battling for a starting post position. In 2018-19, she shot at a 51.7% clip and blocked 11 shots. With scoring ability around the basket and improved free-throw shooting, Grace is playing with more confidence.
The sophomore class features Kyra Hardesty, Michelle Gabani, and Annie Noah, each of whom Coach Mullis expects to play greater roles this season. Hardesty (Washington, Mo.) red-shirted last season due to an injury and has made a great recovery. An exceptionally smart ball player and true point guard, Hardesty is proving herself to be a solid leader on the court. Her 3-point shooting and passing savvy are definite assets. Gabani (Bolivar, Mo.) gained valuable experience at guard last season, averaging 4.6 points and 3.3 rebound per game, blocking 13 shots and nabbing 21 steals. Gabani continues daily to improve her game, demonstrating her defensive prowess and rebounding abilities. Noah (Gainesville, Mo.) played in all but one game last season and contributed 5.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. An old-school post player, Annie is battling for a starting position. She has a soft touch around the basket and is a smart player, who has continued upgrading her game.
The Lady Cats have added four newcomers to their roster for 2019-2020, all of whom were All-State recipients in high school and are expected to have a positive impact on the Lady Cats’ success. Jordan Wersinger (Springfield, Mo.-Kickapoo HS) is a sophomore, who transferred from the University of Central Missouri. A 5’8 guard, known for her jumper and her ability to get the ball to the basket, is adjusting well to the Lady Cats’ system. Kayley Frank is a tough 5’7 guard from Strafford, Mo., where winning games is commonplace. She is a determined winner with a strong, physical presence, who can score in a variety of ways, and plays multiple offensive and defensive positions. Harper Little hails from Clever, Mo. and is a very athletic player. A 5’6 guard, Harper has a great shot—especially from three-point range. She will add depth and athleticism to the guard position. Julie Stone is smooth player with a great jump shot. A 5’7 guard from Thayer, Mo., Julie has a strong basketball IQ and will add positively to the Lady Cats’ bench.
This year’s squad is young, and the early-season schedule is tough. In addition, with the departure of three starters due to graduation, the team will experience the dynamic of adjusting to new and returning players serving in different roles. As a result, the Lady Cats know there will be challenges. Key to overcoming the challenges, however, will be figuring out the new roles and matchups.
As to strengths, Coach Mullis has a very talented team, with every player from 1-11 being able to step on the court and make a positive impact. A deep bench filled with quality players is an incredible asset.
“I am excited to be heading into the season with great team chemistry and solid leadership both on and off the court,” stated Mullis. “We are committed to focusing on how we, as a team—not just as individuals, will work together to fill the gaps left by last season’s senior leaders. I am incredibly proud of our team, as every player has proven to be hard-working, competitive, and very coachable. We are excited to see the season get underway.”
Best wishes to our Lady Bobcats for a fantastic 2019-2020 season!