FRANKFORT, Ky. – The No. 8 Shawnee State women’s basketball team has never lost in the opening round of the Mid-South Conference Championships since joining the conference in 2010.
The Bears – representing the top seed after capturing the regular-season title – will look to keep that streak alive against eighth-seed St. Catharine College on Thursday evening at 6 p.m. at the Frankfort Convention Center.
The visit to Frankfort will be a first for eight members of the Bears’ roster, as it’s a nearly all-new squad donning the SSU uniform from the team which won the school’s first ever MSC Tournament Championship just one year ago, knocking off the No. 1 seeded Campbellsville University, 74-67, in an overtime thriller.
It’s nearly all new faces for Shawnee State, with the exception of a very important trio.
Enter: Ali Zieverink, Abby Feuchter and Jen Arnzen.
The 6-foot-2 junior Arnzen has evolved from a simple role player – appearing in just 18 games last season – into an integral figure on the offensive side of the ball. She has started in 28 games this season, averaging 6.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per contest. The Portsmouth, Ohio native provides a down-low presence with the ability to stretch the defense. She has connected on 29-of-66 attempts from three point range this season, the best shooting percentage from deep on the squad.
Feuchter became the Shawnee State program leader in all-time assists earlier this season. The senior floor general has already notched a career-high for assists this year with 166, giving her 618 during her four-year stint. The Cincinnati, Ohio native ranks first on the team with 5.53 assists per game, which lands her at seventh in the NAIA and second in the Mid-South. She is also scoring at a clip of 9.1 points per contest and grabs 3.7 boards per game. Feuchter has recorded just 79 turnovers this year, leaving her with the 10th best assist-to-turnover ratio in the nation.
Finally, senior Ali Zieverink has become the most prolific scorer in the country this season, pouring in an NAIA best 23.0 points per game. The West Chester, Ohio native is also one of the most efficient scorers in the land, shooting at a clip of 60.5 percent, second in the nation. She has been named Mid-South Conference Player of the Week on five separate occasions this year and was named NAIA Player of the Week on Feb. 10. Zieverink has scored in double-figures in every game this season, notching a season-high 33 points on two occasions. She has 21 20-plus point games and six 30-plus point contests.
Of note throughout the rest of the lineup for the Bears, freshman Ashton Lovely ranks second on the squad in scoring, putting up 12.5 points per contest. Sophomore Madison Ridout is adding 12 points a game, and Jonessa Moore – who suited up for the first time at the turn of the semester – is averaging 8.1 points.
Under the tutelage of third year head coach Jeff Nickel, the Bears rank first in the country, connecting on 48.1 attempts from the field, and second in total assists with 505. SSU is in the top 10 in seven other categories including scoring offense per game, defensive rebounds per game and total rebound offense.
St. Catharine, meanwhile, has struggled this season, specifically in conference play under first-year head coach Megan Dzikas. The Patriots can, however, throw it in from deep, as the squad ranks 12 in the nation in three-point field goal percentage and 40th in three-pointers made per contest. SCC ranks last in the conference in scoring offense at 61.6 points per game.
In two matchups this season, Shawnee State has gotten the better of the Patriots on both occasions. The Bears ran away with an early-season win on Nov. 21 in Portsmouth, winning 96-46, as Zieverink scored a game-high 31 points and Arnzen notched a double-double with 10 points and a career-high 19 rebounds.
St. Catharine hung tough through halftime of the second contest, as the Patriots shrunk a 13-point second quarter lead down to five at the break. SSU was too much in the second half, however, as Zieverink closed with 25 points and Arnzen added another double-double with 12 and 11.
The Bears and Patriots tip-off at 6 p.m. at the Frankfort Convention Center. The winner of the contests advances to play the winner of the four-five game featuring Georgetown College and the University of Pikeville on Saturday.