By Benjamin Wideman / Director of Media Relations and Sports Information
Excited doesn’t begin to describe how Kaela Cheesman felt upon hearing that her Silver Lake College women’s basketball team earned a bid to the national championships.
“I was in joy and in shock at the same time,” she said with a smile. “I’ll never forget it. So many thoughts went through my head all at one time. It was very emotional.”
Cheesman, a 5-foot-2 senior starting point guard who starred at Rolla (Mo.) High School, is a key reason the Lakers earned a bid on Feb. 24 to the United States Collegiate Athletic Association’s 2016 Basketball National Championships, which will be held March 1-5 in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, just south of Pittsburgh. It’s the team’s first appearance in a national championship tournament in two decades.
The Lakers (21-5) are seeded No. 4 in the eight-team Division 1 field and will play their first-round game at noon on March 2 against No. 5 seed University of Maine-Fort Kent (19-5).
Cheesman’s three-point shooting has helped carry the Lakers much of the season, and it figures to be a factor in their matchup against the Bengals.
Her 48 three-point baskets rank 13th nationally in the USCAA, and she’s fourth on the team with 9.3 points per game. She poured in a season-high 28 points in a 101-94 victory over Robert Morris-Peoria (Ill.) on Jan. 17. And she scored 27 points in a 91-79 victory over Grace Bible College on Feb. 13. In each of those games she made six three-pointers.
The skilled ball handler also dishes off 2.3 assists per game and grabs 2.0 steals per game.
“Kaela has a lot of experience, and she’s going to be a steady ballplayer and someone we rely on for the three-point shot at nationals,” Silver Lake College head coach Mike Flentje said. “She gained a lot of quickness and improved defensively this season. And she played with much more confidence this year than in the past, which I think has to do with being injury-free as far as her knees are concerned.”
Cheesman tore her right ACL as a senior at Rolla High School, and she tore her left ACL as a sophomore at Silver Lake College. But, aside from occasional soreness this year, she has been relatively healthy all season.
“It’s been a good year,” she said.
It’s been a good year with the team’s development, as well. Cheesman said several players have stepped up as leaders and been positive all season long.
Still, after missing out on a bid to the USCAA national championships last season despite finishing with a 23-7 record, Cheesman and the Lakers were a bit more guarded in advance of Wednesday’s bid announcements. They were especially nervous after losing their regular-season finale at Gogebic in Ironwood, Mich., four days earlier.
“After that Gogebic game, I cried really hard,” Cheesman said. “I told my mom (Renee) I thought I might have just played my last college basketball game. It was really emotional for me. But my mom told me we’d make it. Now, knowing that we’re not done yet … even if we don’t win it all, it’ll be a great experience. Making it to nationals my senior year is something I’ll never forget.”