Sioux City, IOWA – The Alice Lloyd College Lady Eagles, under the guidance of head coach John Mills, began their quest for a national championship on Thursday in Sioux City, Iowa. However, the ladies from Candy Creek had the unenviable task of facing the nations 3rd ranked squad, the College of the Ozarks (Missouri), in the first round of the NAIA DII National Tournament. The Lady Bobcats demonstrated why they hold such a lofty ranking as they broke away from an early close game to win, 78-51.
The contest started with four quick points from C-of-O before Haley Hall put the brackets 8th seed on the board with a trifecta. The Lady Eagles would battle well over the next few minutes and would take their first lead of the afternoon (7-6) on a free throw from Hall at 6:49. Ozarks would regain a slight advantage, but the clock still read 12-11 with 4:14 remaining in the period. Swiftly over the next two minutes, the Lady Bobcats would get eight quick points, including five from guard Shelby Roberts. Suddenly, the score stood 20-11, and Ozarks would hold a 25-16 cushion at periods end.
In the second stanza, the ladies from the Show-Me State showed they were a serious contender for the national championship as they limited the high scoring Alice Lloyd squad to just eight points with a solid defensive effort. They would open the quarter on an impressive 17-4 spurt to roar out to a 42-20 lead with 2:27 remaining and would enter the dressing room at intermission with a 44-24 lead.
In the third quarter, the Lady Eagles would pick up their own defensive intensity and hold the high octane Missouri club to just 11 points. ALC would shrink the deficit to 17 on four separate occasions. Unfortunately, each time they had the opportunity to slice even further into the lead, they would see an attempt roll off the rim. Alice Lloyd would win the period battle 12-11 but still found themselves trailing 55-36 at the horn.
With one final opportunity to get back into the game, the Lady Eagles had a flash of hope when they struck first on a mid-range hoop from Alexandria Clifton. Unfortunately, the feeling would soon vanish as C-of-O would go on a 7-0 burst to pull ahead 62-38. Alice Lloyd would fight valiantly, but they would never mount another serious challenge against their worthy opponents.
For ALC (24-6), they were led in scoring and rebounding by senior guard Kayla Wilson, who saw her outstanding career end with 11 points and 8 rebounds. She added 2 assists and 2 steals. She was joined in double digits by Hall, as the freshman added 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals. Fellow senior guard Miranda Wilson also saw her outstanding career come to an end as she tossed in 7 points while adding 4 assists and 3 rebounds. Junior guard Courtney Vasquez came off the bench to add 7 points. Freshman center Clifton added 5 points and 6 rebounds while freshman forward MaKayla Akers, and sophomore forward Jayla Spurlock contributed 4 and 3 points respectively. Junior center Emilie Harrell and freshman forward Shelby Davis closed out the scoring with 2 points apiece. Harrell also hauled down 7 rebounds.
Alice Lloyd had trouble against the Lady Bobcats impressive defense as they only shot 29.3% (17-58) from the floor, including 28.6% (6-21) from long range. They were also 68.8% (11-16) from the charity line. They snagged 43 rebounds but hurt themselves with 21 turnovers and a season-low 9 assists.
Coach Mills was well aware of the task his squad would be facing. “The matchup with Ozarks was a huge challenge, but I was excited about it because I felt we could hold our own on defense and also execute our offensive sets. However, in a critical stretch at towards the end of the first quarter, we hurt ourselves by missing a few good shots and allowing them to quickly capitalize. From that point, we had several breakdowns on both ends and took a few ill-advised shots. Ozarks has one of the top teams in the nation, and with their experience, they were able to take advantage of this with great success.”
Ozarks (31-1), making their record 24th consecutive tournament appearance, showed their incredible balance as Roberts, Kelsie Cleeton, Cassidy Johnson, and Lakin Silverman all tossed in 13 points. Abby Oliver added 11.
The victors sank 39.4% (26-66) for the game but shot 53% in the crucial first half. They finished 34.8% from deep and a solid 81.8% (18-22) from the foul line. They hauled down 43 rebounds to tie ALC but won with 14 assists against just 9 turnovers.
The Lady Eagles have no reason to drag their heads as they had a record-breaking year, becoming the first club in school history to advance to the women’s National Tournament. They also finished as the Champions of the River States Conference Western Division. “The 2017-18 season is one that has been highly successful due to this fine group of ladies,” said Coach Mills.” We have had good teams in the past who have been close to reaching the nationals, but were unable to achieve that dream. This club was able to bust through the door and accomplish something that has alluded our program, and they will always be remembered for being the team that first achieved this.”
The Lady Eagles lose two excellent guards in the Wilson twins. However, they return everyone else and the younger players have gained incredible experience this season. Coach Mills will look to bring in some quality recruits to go with his excellent returning crop and hopes to make another run at Sioux City next season.