by: Dan Lindblad, Ozarks First
Ranked in the top five and a second seed in the NAIA Division II Tournament.
“We were exactly where we wanted to be,” senior Ashley Forrest said. “We had worked so hard as a team and we’re playing so well. Going in we were really confident.”
The College of the Ozarks Lady Cats felt like this year it was theirs.
“We always have that goal at the beginning of the year, that we want to go to the national tournament and be national champions,” senior Aleksei Smith said.
Led by two seniors, Forrest and Smith, the Lady Cats rolled into the tournament with a 29-4 record and a fourth straight A.I.I. Basketball Championship. Next up, Lawrence Tech in the opening round of the tournament.
“We had sat down to eat our (pregame) meal and one of our teammates got a call from her dad, and she said the tournament had been canceled,” Forrest said. “Aleksei and I looked at each other and just thought, whatever. I was just like, we have already played games and they are playing today, they aren’t going to cancel. About ten seconds later coach came in and told us. I was in shock.”
C of O has played for five DII titles in school history, all five with runner-up finishes.
Not only was it a chance at the first NAIA title in school history, but it was also the final chance at the Division II level. As next season, the two divisions merge into one.
“It’s something you can’t explain unless you go to nationals, knowing they don’t get to participate in their freshman, sophomore, junior season at a national tournament like that, that’s what gets me the most,” Smith said. “My career is over I am super sad, but I can’t do anything about it, I just wish we could for them.”
Its the second straight season the Lady Cats season ended abruptly. Last season, a buzzer-beater knocked them out in the national quarterfinals.
The seniors say it has been tough, but the pain has eased over the two weeks since the cancellations.
“Obviously I have Ashley, but people all around me are going through the same slump,” Smith said. “I’m getting over it, you just need people around you that understand and love you and care for you.”
And after a 119-15 record, they have a lot of good memories from their Lady Cats careers.
“Even though it didn’t end how we wanted, it’s crazy to say we won 119 games and only lost 15,” Forrest said. “Yeah that is pretty insane I would say.”
“Knowing that we had a successful record each year and we always made a run at the national tournament,” Smith said. “That and the people mean more to me than anything.”
But now, it’s quarantine and back to school.
“The past few days I have just been chilling at my house, but we start online school next week so I am trying to get caught up on what the teachers want,” Forrest said. “But it’s starting to get a little boring in here.”
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