The Lady Bobcats headed north to Sioux City, Iowa on Monday morning with high hopes for a stellar performance in the NAIA DII Women’s Basketball National Championship.
They had worked hard all season, posted an impressive 26-4 record for the regular season, breezed through the A.I.I. Conference Championship with three victories to capture their fourth consecutive Championship crown and improve their record to 29-4, and were on their way to nationals.
The Lady Cats enjoyed returning to Sioux City and meeting up with their long-time (17-year) Honorary Coach partners from Great West Casualty Company. The team participated in the NAIA’s Champions of Character program by making a trip to Riverside K-5 to spend time in Ms. Marsh’s kindergarten classroom, and they joined with all qualifying teams in the Championship Banquet.
Throughout the week, the Lady Cats continued to practice and prepare for their Thursday, 3:30 pm, first-round matchup against Lawrence Tech (Mich.). However, just before noon, the NAIA announced they would be immediately canceling all Winter Championships due to the COVID-19 situation, sending the Lady Bobcats home without an opportunity to take the main court.
It was a disappointing blow—a decision made to protect the health and safety of the student-athletes, their coaches, and the team’s fans—that was season-ending for all and career-ending for Lady Cat senior guards Ashley Forrest and Aleksei Smith.
Ashley closed out her Lady Bobcat career by posting her strongest season, scoring 277 points on a 45.4% shooting percentage. She finished the season ranked NAIA DII No. 12 in three-point field goal percentage (42.4%). Ashley also drained 70 three-pointers, collected 110 rebounds, dished 67 assists, nabbed 27 steals and blocked 13 shots. Ashley’s career stats include: 731 points, including 163 three-point shots made, 301 rebounds, 164 assists, 81 steals, and 18 blocks. She shot 40.7% from the field and 39.1% from beyond the three-point arc. Ashley was also named the A.I.I. and NAIA Champion of Character. Ashley is also a regular fixture on the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll and has been named as an NAIA and NCCAA Scholar Athlete.
Aleksei has also been a key component of the Lady Bobcats, playing in 128 games throughout her career. This season, Aleksei tallied 226 points, including 29 treys, while shooting 51% from the field and 44.6% from downtown. She handed off a team-leading 92 assists, pulled down 139 rebounds, and swiped 22 steals. For her career, Aleksei scored 720 points, hitting 86 three-pointers, and shot 49.2% from the field, 43.4% from three, and 81.8% from the free throw line. Her career stat line also includes 377 rebounds, 245 assists, 93 steals, and eight blocks. Aleksei exceled in the A.I.I. Championship tournament, earning a place on the All-Tournament Team. She, too, has been a member of the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll the past three years.
During their tenure, Smith and Forrest helped the Lady Bobcats to a 119-15 record.
Head Coach Becky Mullis has been processing the season and recent events on the ride home and shares the following, “I am so proud of our team and the growth we had on and off the court. We accomplished our goals of being conference tournament champions and earning a high seed at the national tournament. We were ready to make our traditional deep run in the tournament. Unfortunately, we were not given that opportunity. It doesn't diminish what we accomplished this season. I am extremely proud of our team for their hard work, their commitment to one another, and continuing our tradition of Lady Cat basketball. I also want to thank our seniors Ashley and Aleksei. They have been tremendous leaders for our team. I am proud of them for staying the course and never giving up. I love them and will miss them. Thank you to our fans for their support this season, for packing Keeter Gym and traveling with us. We are grateful for you. Thank you also to the parents of our players who entrust their daughters to us. Finally, thank you to all who make our season possible. We are grateful.”
Congratulations to the Lady Bobcats, Coach Mullis, and Coach Hilton on another incredibly successful season! Our hearts go out to you as you deal with the disappointment of not being able to finish your season in Sioux City as hoped. We also congratulate Aleksei and Ashley on their great careers and thank them for their many contributions to Lady Bobcat basketball.