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C of O Women Claim NCCAA Women's Basketball Championship

The College of the Ozarks Lady Bobcat, 2023 NCCAA Division One National Basketball Champions (Photo from C of O Sports Information)

The College of the Ozarks Lady Bobcats Basketball Team has added a National Championship to their long legacy of success.

The Lady Bobcats claim the NCCAA Division One National Basketball Championship Saturday afternoon with an 86-63 over Oakland City of Indiana. The complete story is below from College of the Ozarks Sports Information:

With 40 minutes and the Oakland City Oaks standing between the Lady Bobcats and a national title, the stage was set in Winona Lake, Indiana. The Lady Cats had overcome second half deficits in their first two contests and would have to play four solid quarters to come away with the championship. Facing full court pressure defense and a fast-paced offense, the Lady Cats would have to maintain composure and handle the basketball. 

The Lady Cats opened the scoring with an Annie Noah basket and the race was on. An Oakland City three provided the quick response and gave the Oaks an early lead. The teams traded baskets in the early going and free throws by Jordan Wersinger and Noah were mixed in with a Kayley Frank basket to tie the score 10-10. With 3:17 remaining, the Oaks scored to maintain a slight advantage before Blythe Benefield answered for the Lady Cats again. The officials were calling the game closely on both ends and multiple points came from the charity strip in the opening quarter. Kayley Frank nailed a free throw then scored again off a Jordan Wersinger feed, but the Lady Cats were not able to take the lead. A traditional three-point play by the Oaks closed out the first quarter and the Lady Cats trailed 19-15 after one.

Unlike the two previous games, the Lady Cats played a solid opening quarter and had a close game on their hands. A Jordan Wersinger basket opened the second quarter, but Oakland city answered with a basket of their own. Kayley Frank responded on the other end and the Lady Cat defense needed stops. The Oaks scored on their next two trips and the gap grew to 25-19. Avery Arnold jumped into the scoring column with a big three and a stop on the other end gave the Lady Cats a chance to chip away at the lead. Taylor Rush was fouled and hit one of two free throws and the deficit was 25-23. The defense for both teams controlled the next several possessions and the Lady Cats were looking to even the score again. Annie Noah nailed a 12-foot jumper to tie it, but once again, Oakland City answered with a basket. Another Oaks basket was then answered by a Taylor Rush three, then a Rush steal and traditional three-point play. In the blink of an eye, Taylor Rush scored six unanswered points and the Lady Cats held their first lead since 2-0. Katie Mayes added to the lead with a free throw and with 2:40 to play, the Lady Cats led 32-29. A quick Oaks three tied it again and Blythe Benefield was fouled and stepped to the line to try and regain the lead. She hit one of two and the Lady Cat defense continued to play strong. The Oaks took a timeout with 1:34 remaining and the Lady Cat lead was 33-32. An Isabel Rohlfing basket out of the huddle gave the Lady Cats a 35-32 lead, but Oakland City hit a pair of free throws to cut into the lead again. Jordan Wersinger responded with a basket, and the Oaks held the ball for a the final shot of the half. The Lady Cat defense did the job and the game moved to the intermission with the Lady Cats leading 37-34. 

Lady Cat fans were hopeful that the trend of strong play in the second half of games would continue. Jordan Wersinger started the offense in the third quarter with a basket, but as usual the Oaks answered. Wersinger scored again on the next possession and a Lady Cat stop provided an opportunity to extend the lead. Wersinger did it again and after an Oaks basket, The Lady Cat lead was 43-38 with 7:45 left in the quarter. Taylor Rush drained a deep three at the 6:15 mark and the Lady Cats held their largest lead, 46-38. Another Rush three on the next Lady Cat possession bumped the lead to 49-38 and the Oaks needed to respond. Respond they did and a 5-0 run cut the lead back to six. The Lady Cats needed to score and a Jordan Wersinger three answered the call. The Oaks scored on their next possession and Kayley Frank responded with a pair of free throws. With 3:22 remaining the lead was back to nine, 54-45. After an Oaks free throw, good teamwork by the Lady Cats created a pass from Frank to Susanna Moran for a traditional three-point play. The Oaks refused to give in, but the Lady Cats were determined to continue applying pressure. Another Wersinger three extended the lead as time was winding down in the third and a pair of Kayley Frank free throws along with one from the charity stripe by Moran gave the Lady Cats a 63-48 lead. Kayley Frank dished to Moran for another two and the Lady Cats held a 65-48 lead after three.

Taylor Rush kept the momentum building with a basket to start the fourth quarter and Kayley Frank connected on one of two free throws. A pair of Oaks Free throws cut into the lead and another one made it 68-51, Lady Cats. The Oaks continued to battle, and every possession became important. Annie Noah connected from 17 feet to extend the lead again and the Lady Cat defense continued to hold strong. An Oaks three cut the lead to 70-54 but a Taylor Rush layup kept the pressure on. As time continued to tick off the clock, the Lady Cats were content to use as much of the shot clock as possible. A Kayley Frank three bumped the lead to 75-54 and the Oaks needed a timeout with 5:46 left to play. Leading by 20 at the midway point, Wersinger connected again, and the Lady Cats were in control. The Oaks continued to battle but the Lady Cat attack was too strong. Wersinger added to her point total with a pair of free throws and with 3:20 remaining, the lead was 80-58. A Wersinger to Frank pass for a layup was followed by a Noah to Frank assist and the lead grew to 84-63. The Lady Cats just needed to run down the clock and a National Championship would be in the books. The Lady Cats took possession as time was winding down and they secured the championship win, 86-63.

The Lady Cats were led by Jordan Wersinger with 24 points, Kayley Frank with 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Taylor Rush with 19 points. Annie Noah chipped in eight points, Susanna Moran added six, Blythe Benefield and Avery Arnold chipped in three each, and Isabel Rohlfing and Katie Mayes tacked on two and one respectively.

Kayley Frank and Jordan Wersinger received all-tournament team honors and Wersinger was named tournament MVP.

The Lady Cats had been a second half team all season, and this game proved to be no exception. Holding a slim lead at the half, the Lady Cats took control in the final two quarters and cruised to the national championship.

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