After compiling a 25-5 regular-season record, the Bears were recognized for their achievement throughout the course of the season.
Ali Zieverink took home the top honors for Shawnee State by winning the Mid-South conference Player of the Year award as well as being named First-Team All Conference. Zieverink has been named Player of the Year for the second straight season.
“Ali has developed quite a bit here over her four years,” Bears head coach Jeff Nickel said. “She was a very good player coming out of high school but I don’t think anyone saw her being able to put up the numbers that she’s put up, and lead the nation in scoring. She’s just been an outstanding student athlete her entire time here.
“For her to be able to do that in this league — this is the toughest league in the NAIA — not once but twice, it’s an amazing accomplishment.”
Before her junior campaign, Zieverink was moved to the five (center) position. Since the switch, Zieverink has been one of the top offensive players in the nation and has won the aforementioned back-to-back Player of the Year awards.
Nickel acknowledged that his system suits a player of Zieverink’s abilities. Nickel labeled his center as the “rim runner,” meaning the position is required to stretch the floor from basket to basket. Nickel moved Zieverink to the five because of her speed.
“Ali has speed like a guard does,” Nickel said. “That allows her to get behind the defense and look for that long pass. Not only that, but it allows her to get near the rim before anyone else gets down there and post up first. She’s scores a lot of points just on that.
“But Ali is the best player I’ve ever coached or seen working off the ball. Offensively, she’s just an amazing player off the ball. She scores the ball before she ever catches it.”
Aside from Zieverink’s First-Team selection, Ashton Lovely won Freshman of the Year honors and was also named to the First-Team All Conference.
“Ashton Lovely has put in a lot of hard work, and had a lot of ups and downs,” Nickel said. “She’s really preserved and pushed herself to get that Freshman of the Year award. I was so happy for her to get recognized for that.”
Abby Feuchter and Madison Ridout were also honored as both players made Second-Team All Conference.
“Abby Feuchter broke the all-time assists record at Shawnee State and she’ll have the all-time minutes played record,” Nickel said. “She’s just done so many things and for her to finally be named All-Conference is tremendous. It took her four years to finally be named All-Conference and it’s just great to see her finally recognized for that. It just shows that persistence pays off.
“And Madison Ridout is just a great player, solid in every area. She guards the other team’s best player. She rebounds. She can hit shots and she can score.”
Along with his players being recognized, Nickel took home the Coach of the Year award, his first award in his three years as the head coach of the Bears.
“A lot of people have helped me get this far,” Nickel said. “I’ve had great support from my family over the years. My high school coach Randy Ward and of course coach (Robin) Hagen-Smith. Both people have had really huge impacts on me. Coach Smith did a lot for me, allowing me to coach with her, and being a great role model. She’s just an amazing person to learn off of. I’m just honored to receive that award from my peers.”
While Nickel was honored for the team’s success, he deflected all of the credit back to his players.
“The biggest difference is I’ve got great kids,” Nickel said. “It’s not as much about me as it is about them. Anytime you receive any type of award like that, it’s about a lot of other people besides you. It doesn’t have as much to do about you as people would want you to believe. This is more about my kids and more about people that have helped me along the way. This is a tribute to them and an honor to them more than about me.
“We don’t get to the national tournament without great players. Not only are they great players, they are great people, they have great families and that’s the kind of people we’re looking for, and that’s what we’ve built this program on.”
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.