The Shawnee State Lady Bears were riding a wave of momentum entering the NAIA tournament. However, the second-seeded Bears were upset 70-56 by Bakersfield University (Kan.) in the Sweet Sixteen.
Despite the earlier than expected exit, Shawnee State (29-6) accomplished historic feats this year, including a conference regular-season title and conference-tournament championship for the first time since joining the Mid-South Conference.
“They were a great group of kids to coach,” Bears head coach Jeff Nickel said. “They were very coachable. We had great team cohesion. The staff and players love each other a lot, and there is a lot of team unity.
“To win the regular-season conference and validating that with by winning the conference-tournament championship was very special. This was a special team; a very good group of kids. I’m really going to miss them.”
While SSU left its mark this season, the Bears were relatively young, only graduating two seniors — Abby Feuchter and Ali Zieverink.
“They’ve been pillars the last four years,” Nickel said. “They’ve been kids you could lean on. Abby was a four-year starter; a very solid point guard. She’s one of the best point guards in the history of Shawnee State. Ali’s reigning two-time conference Player of the Year. She was a two-time All American, and she’ll be tough to replace.
“They’ve meant a lot to our program and to me personally. We have very close relationships. For the rest of their lives, I’m going to be a friend; someone they can count on, and someone they can depend on. I know they know that about me and I know that about them as well.”
While replacing Feuchter and Zieverink won’t be easy, SSU has three newcomers joining the program. Brandy Snow, Lexi Wasan and Bailey Cummings will all be joining the Bears in the fall.
“We’re in a pretty good position. We’ve got three good players coming in next year. We’ve got a couple of post players that we’re going to bring in,” Nickel said. “Brandy Snow is going to be a great addition to our program. I believe Lexi Wasan was the state tournament MVP last year and Bailey Cummings has scored over 2,000 points in her career.”
Nickel believes his team will have an opportunity to leave its own mark next season.
“We got some really good players coming in and most of our front court back, minus Ali,” Nickel said. “We’ve got a chance to be pretty good next year. Next year’s team will have some challenges they’ll have to get over. They’re going to have to develop some more leaders since we graduate our two senior captains.
“We’ve got a chance to be pretty special. We’ve been near the top of the Mid-South for the last several years and we’re always in the mix. Our program is in a good position moving forward.”
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.