Photo: Ally Alford (left), KB Bradley (center), and Taylor Ben (right), smile after defeating Delta State at home. Their 15-13 record was the most wins since returning to Division II in 2014. Choctaw Athletics
Almost every collegiate team, no matter the sport, is led by their seniors and upperclassmen while the new freshmen take their first year to adjust to how the college game is played and the student life that comes along with it.
However, for the Lady Choctaw basketball team, it was the freshmen who stepped up and boosted the team.
They ended their season in the Gulf South Conference tournament quarterfinals against Lee University, a team who advanced to the national tournament. A second-half surge sealed the game for the Lady Flames as the game was tied at 30 at the half. Although an early exit, it was a historic year for the blue and gold.
Their final record was 15-13, with an even 10-10 conference record, which was a massive improvement from only three victories in the ‘20-’21 season. Their 15 wins was the most in a season since returning to Division II in 2014, and the best record in 10 years. Additionally, it was the first time the Lady Choctaws have made the GSC tournament since the return.
With all the accolades, the Lady Choctaws have much to look forward to and have their eyes on even bigger achievements when next season comes around.
The team consisted of nine juniors and seniors with seven sophomores and freshmen, and it was the underclassmen that provided a lot of the minutes. One of the freshmen who gave the blue and gold lots of minutes was Amelia Bell. The Illinois native played almost 25 minutes per contest, led the team in rebounds, and had the best field goal percentage at 51%. Not only leading the team, Bell was also second in the conference in blocked shots per game. The 6’1” freshman had to grow up fast, and she certainly met and surpassed all expectations coming into the year.
“The fact that we got that experience early on was really beneficial for us,” said Bell. “I feel like the seniors did such a good job of showing us the way. Even when we [freshmen] were playing, there was no jealousy and we all were just encouraging each other. I think that’ll really help us next year, especially with the new incoming class, because they’re supposed to be super good as well. With us already having these leadership qualities, I know it’ll be a big help.”
As far as the new freshman class coming in, Head Coach Greg Long has added four solid players to his roster for next season. Three of the four hail from Arkansas, a state that Long is all too familiar with, having coached at Central Arkansas University before coming to MC. They include post-minded Keller Bingham, point guard Brett Gardner, and pure shooter Ava Knoedl. The final player to join the squad is Karly Ivy from Ponder, Texas. Long complimented her pure jump shot and high basketball IQ and is excited to have all four girls to make an impact with the team next season.
Even with all that Bell did this season, another freshman provided many minutes and also led the team in many categories. That special freshman was Ally Alford. Averaging just under 24 minutes a game, Alford led the team in field goals made and her 55 three-pointers led her to lead the team in points per game at just over 13. She had a season-high 27 points against Union, the now top team in the country, and was 7-13 on three-pointers in the same game. The Batesville native already made big waves in the conference in only her first year, and undoubtedly is only going to get much better.
However, the upperclassmen had a major impact on the season as well. Senior Kayla Bradley had seven points a game and led the team in assists her final year in the blue and gold. As the only Lady Choctaw to start every game, NeNe Williams averaged almost four points and rebounds per game and provided both a post-presence and outside shot to go with it. Other key players coming off the bench were those like Alana Canady, who could catch fire quickly and never seemed to miss from the mid-range, and Kyiah Julien, who averaged just under double figures in scoring.
All in all, the Lady Choctaws can look back on this season with nothing but happy memories and a sense of pride that they accomplished what they did this past year.
“We’re super proud,” said Bell. “I feel that from the beginning, we knew the potential we had, but we also knew that we wouldn’t hit our peak until mid-season. We had some ups and downs like any other team, of course, but I really think we showed our big potential for years to come by how we did this year.”
The past season for MC women’s basketball was one filled with achieved expectations, and there is no doubt that bigger and better things are coming when November rolls around.