The College of the Ozarks Basketball Teams open with four home games this weekend. Tonight, each team plays Morningside with the Women going at 5:30 and the Men to follow at 7:30. Saturday, the Women play York at 1:00, the Men St. Thomas at 3:00.
Here is the 2017-18 Team Previews from C of O Sports Information:
C of O Women
he 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.
C of O Men
The College of the Ozarks Bobcats enter the 2017-2018 season coming off a 20-10 record last year. Head Coach Steve Shepherd begins his 16th season at the helm of the Bobcats with a squad consisting of a handful of key playmakers from last season and a bevy of newcomers.
Canyon Smith will help lead the Bobcats as their lone senior. In his first three years with the club, Smith played in 84 games, scoring a total of 467 points, grabbing 123 rebounds, and dishing 107 assists. “Canyon is one of the best shooters in NAIA,” said Shepherd, “and we look for him to continue his productivity from the perimeter.”
A talented threesome of juniors also returns to Shepherds’ squad. Forward Ethan Davidson will be a critical component to the Bobcats’ inside game on a team plentiful with guards. He has scored 499 points for the Cats and pulled down 282 boards. Davidson was second on the team last season in points and rebounds with 12.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. The Cats will count on Davidson’s leadership at both ends of the floor. Joining Davidson in the post will be Ryan Burland, whose strengths include scoring in the low post and rebounding. Last season he collected 121 rebounds, 85 on the defensive end, and blocked 15 shots. Burland has the added advantage of being a threat from the outside as an accurate 3-point shooter, hitting 34% last season. Heath Carmichael should play a strategic role in the Bobcats’ offense, thanks to his ability to stretch the defense with his shooting. His all-around abilities on the court were demonstrated this past season, as he drained 50 three-pointers, dished 85 assists, posted 109 rebounds, and grabbed 39 steals. Carmichael is a leader by example—he sets the tone in practice and works hard every day to improve.
Sophomore DeMon Hyler is another significant returner for the Cats. Hyler scored 293 points in 30 games last year, capping off a tremendous freshman season. He is a complete player who can pass, shoot, and defend. Hyler is likely to produce some big numbers this season both offensively and defensively. Brandt Cochran returns with a year of experience that will serve him well, as he is a triple-threat player who can make things happen off the dribble.
Six new team members feature two sophomore transfers and four incoming freshmen. Ben Cody, a transfer from Volunteer State CC (Tenn.), has already proven himself as one of the team’s hardest workers. Cody will contribute to the Bobcats’ defense and serve as a positive force in the locker room. Storm Price, who hails from Spokane, joins the Cats from North Arkansas CC and will be an offensive and defensive threat. Price, like Carmichael, has the ability to stretch the defense and make things happen. Republic graduate Treyden Rackley, who was All-State, All-Conference, and All-District for the Tigers, comes from a winning program. He is a tough player who excels in hard work and hustle. Rackley will bring a winning mentality to the team. Nixa grad Seth Viebrock brings a positive attitude to the team. He is expected to be a high-assist player who will create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Deric Jones was a multi-sport athlete at Hartville High School, earning All-Conference and All-District honors three times and being named a two-time All-State basketball honoree. Jones is a State champion and brings an expectation of winning to the team. Calvin Allen is from Bryant High School (Ark.) and brings terrific point guard skills and a high basketball IQ to the court. Allen is anticipated to be an impact player on the floor as a freshman.
Shepherd comes into the new season excited about the team he has assembled. “This is one of our better outside shooting teams,” says Shepherd. “They are scrappy and will create problems for opponents.” Although the Bobcats have an abundance of guards, Shepherd is confident this will work to their advantage. “We’re not going to be real big, but we will make up for that with quickness and execution, alongside being physical.”
With teamwork and unselfishness as two of their strengths, the Bobcats are eager to take the court for another successful season.