The College of the Ozarks Lady Bobcats jumped into 2022 with both feet as they traveled to University Park, Illinois to participate in the Jaguar New Year’s Classic, January 1-2. The Lady Cats faced Indiana University-Kokomo in the New Year’s Day contest, then the host, Governor’s State University in the Sunday matchup.
CofO vs IU-Kokomo
The Lady Cats wasted no time starting the 2022 fireworks as they used a Kayley Frank three, a pair of Annie Noah baskets, and a Jordan Wersinger three to open the contest on a 10-2 run. Kashlin Biffle responded for the Cougars to put their first five points on the board but the Lady Cats onslaught continued. Kayley Frank connected on another pair of baskets and a three, and Blythe Benefield added a basket for a 19-9 lead at the end of the opening frame.
The second quarter started with defense on center stage as neither team could score in their early possessions. Annie Noah scored at the 8:47 mark off a pass by Kyra Hardesty and the Lady Cat offense was on the move again. Jordan Wersinger found her groove and scored eight of the Lady Cats next ten points and Blythe Benefield and Katie Mayes each chipped in a basket to boost the lead to 33-11, with 5:28 remaining. The Lady Cats continued to dominate on the defensive end and the Cougars struggled to find an answer. A trio of shots beyond the arc by Anya Friend and Shamaria Walker helped cut into the Lady Cat lead, but the attack and defensive pressure was too much The Lady Cats took a 46-25 advantage into the intermission.
The Lady Cats kept their foot on the gas in the second half and opened the third quarter with an 11-4 run. A host of Lady Cats put points on the board and the solid defense continued to stifle the Cougars. Another solid quarter found the Lady Cats in command 66-36 heading into the final frame.
Noah and Frank teamed up for the first five points of the final stanza and Lady Cats were cruising to the opening round win. Katie Mayes, Stevi Jones, and Blythe Benefield would round out the Lady Cat scoring on the way to the 82-48 victory.
Jordan Wersinger led all scorers with 21, and Kayley Frank added 19. Annie Noah recorded another double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds to go along with 10 points from Katie Mayes, eight from Blythe Benefield, seven from Kyra Hardesty, and five and two from Stevi Jones and Michelle Gabani respectively.
CofO vs Governor’s State University
With the new year already off on the right foot, the Lady Cats looked to post another dominating defensive performance squaring off against the host Jaguars of Governor’s State.
Things didn’t start out as planned as the Jaguars opened the game with a 7-2 run. Annie Noah scored the first four Lady Cat points and a deep three by Kyra Hardesty tied the score at 7-7 with 4:27 remaining. Annie Noah and Michelle Gabani hit a pair of baskets to put the Lady Cats on top, 11-7 before a Sharnita Breeze basket and free throw ended the Jaguar dry spell. Kayley Frank’s traditional three-point play and a pair of Noah baskets put the Lady Cats ahead 18-13 to end the opening frame.
Noah made it rain from three-point land to open the second quarter, but Kennedy Weigt answered with a basket for GSU. The Lady Cat scoring continued with a Blythe Benefield basket, and Noah followed for a 25-16 Lady Cat advantage. The teams would trade baskets over the next several minutes with the Lady Cats unable to pull away. A Gaetana Davis basket cut the Lady Cat lead to five, 25-20 before Katie Mayes, Jordan Wersinger, and Kayley Frank fueled a 12-0 outburst to put the Lady Cats up 37-20 with 2:50 remaining in the half. A Michelle Gabani free throw capped off the 13-0 run before free throws by Cashay Dixon and Angelique Cowan broke the ice for the Jaguars. Noah and Frank combined for four free throws to wrap up the Lady Cat scoring and send them into intermission leading 42-26.
Michelle Gabani opened the Lady Cat scoring in the third quarter and Kayley Frank followed with a trey. With 4:51 remaining, Gabani and Frank had combined for all 10 of the Lady Cat points and the lead was 52-31. Kyra Hardesty expanded the lead with a deep three before GSU began to chip away at the lead. The Lady Cats continued to battle on defense and held off the third quarter push.
Leading 59-42 heading into the final period, the Lady Cats were determined to finish strong. Wersinger, Hardesty, and Noah maintained the Lady Cat lead on offense while the team defense held off the scrappy Jaguars. With 1:19 remaining in the contest, Michelle Gabani nailed a pair of free throws. Kyra Hardesty followed suit with a pair of her own at the 1:02 mark and the Lady Cats were on their way to their second win in as many days, and third in a row. Blythe Benefield scored with :21 left to seal the win and the Lady Cats took the Classic sweep, 78-59.
Annie Noah led all scorers with 24 points and narrowly missed another double-double with her nine rebounds. Three other Lady Cats recorded double figure scoring with Kayley Frank pouring in 13, Michelle Gabani added 12, and Kyra Hardesty tacked on 10. Jordan Wersinger added eight, Blythe Benefield chipped in six, and Katie Mayes added five.
Coach Mullis was proud of her team stating, “We were locked in defensively in both games this weekend and it showed on the scoreboard. Our solid defensive effort combined with good motion offensively allowed us to get good looks at the basket and we capitalized. I am proud of our team. We played well, and it’s great to get the new year started with a pair of solid wins.”
Three Lady Cats garnered All-Tournament Team honors. Kayley Frank, Jordan Wersinger, and Annie Noah received the recognition, with Noah receiving Tournament MVP honors.
The Lady Cats will be back in action Wednesday afternoon, January 5, as they host Champion Christian College at Keeter Gymnasium in a 2 PM start.