The North Arkansas College women’s basketball season came to a close before it was over.

On Mar. 7 the Lady Pioneers defeated St. Louis Community College for the Plains District championship.

With the win, the squad earned a trip to the national tournament. With the possibility of more games on the horizon, the Lady Pioneers were ready to let their light sign.

However, a postponement of the national tournament was announced and then a cancelation of the event was announced almost a week later.

That announcement hit Northark’s coach Bobby Howard hard.

“That was our last game,” said Howard of the the Plains District game. “I wish we would have known then. Heading into any elimination tournament contest, there is always a thought that the season could be over. But, we won. We should be playing.”

The six sophomores on the team had been through a lot in two years.

“That group finished their careers with a 44-12 record,” said Howard of the second-year players.”That is great for any group. That is a lot of travel and some tough scheduled games.”

Despite being a nationally recognized program, the Lady Pioneers had only been to six national tournaments.

“That is something special,” said Howard. “There are very few athletes that can say that they have been to a national tournament.”

Howard has a few things up his sleeve.

“We are going to do something special,” he said. “When this stuff is over, we have some plans for them.”

There are six sophomores on the team this season. Jasper’s Leah Shellnut; Mountain View’s Cheyenne Shelton; Perryville’s Tori Hayes and Brooklyn Schmelter; Newport’s Saqueena Morgan; and Spokane, Mo.’s Casey Wallace are the players that have completed their careers at Northark.

Howard had kind words for each of them.

Morgan was injured midway through the season and didn’t see much court time this season.

“Northark has been good for her,” said Howard. “She has been part of a team that has 44 games.”

Wallace was a transfer from Lyon College this season.

“She came in and had some games for us,” said the coach. “She shot it well and carried us in some games. She is definitely a great shooter.”

Wallace averaged 6.0 points a game and knocked down nine 3-pointers in the semifinal game of the Region II Tournament.

“She is a great student,” said Howard. “She was a welcomed addition to the team.”

There were a pair of Perryville Lady Mustangs in the corral for the Lady Pioneers.

“Tori Hayes averaged 10.7 points in two years at Northark,” said Howard. “She had a great freshman year until she injured her knee with two weeks left in the season. Her injury set her back some this year. She wasn’t completely healthy and recovered, but she fought through pain every game for us. She was one of the most athletic players at Northark.”

Schmelter drew the praise of the coach.

“She was the ultimate teammate,” he said. “She was always smiling and encouraging to her teammates. She had some important minutes for us over the last two years.

“We developed a good relationship,” continued the coach. “She is always smiling. She is going to get an opportunity to play else where.”

Another paint anchor was Shelton.

“For her two years she averaged seven points a game and five rebounds,” said Howard. “She gave me everything that she could physically. She left it all on the court.”

Howard went on to mention that she was a 4.0 GPA student.

Shellnut is the sixth sophomore. She also earned All-Region II honors this season while being selected Player of the Week for Region II three times.

“She scored 11.7 points a game this year and she had 10.6 points a game last year,” stated the coach. “She also had four assists, two steals and took two charges a game.

“She is a top five point guard that I have ever had,” continued the coach. “Arguable, everyone knew that she was our most valuable player. She is a tough nosed kid. She will have the opportunity to play elsewhere.”

Howard said that Shellnut will be finishing with a 3.2 GPA.

As the season is officially over, Howard had other words.

“I want to thank our fans, booster club and our workers,” he said. “I have to thank Barbara, Jerry and Anne Mitchell for their support. Anne is awesome for our team. I also have to thank my wife Becky for all that she does for this team.”

Howard is not the only one that has been impressed by the Lady Pioneers.

“This group of girls have touched the hearts of faculty members and the community,” said Howard. “We have been to nursing homes. The athletic department has picked up limbs. We have been doing a lot of community service.”

“The group of sophomores that are graduating this year, truly are Lady Pioneers,” the coach said.

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