WARRENSBURG, Mo. — Three players with roots in southwest Missouri recently helped Central Missouri’s women’s basketball team capture the NCAA Division II National Championship in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Kelsey Williams, Jolene Shipps and Abby Gann helped CMU finish the season 30-3, including a 66-52 win over Ashland in the Division II championship game.
Meet Kelsey Williams of Eminence
A 5’6 senior guard, Williams played in all 33 games, including 27 starts and averaged 7.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and was second on the team with 115 assists.
She began her college career at Mineral Area Community College where she was an All-Region 16 selection, averaging 10 points and five rebounds. A year later, she played a key role at Lincoln before redshirting in 2015-16. She was an All-MIAA Honorable Mention selection, leading the team at 12.3 points and 3.5 assists per game.
After redshirting in 2015-16, Willians played in all 31 games in 2016-17 for Central Missouri as she averaged 6.4 points and shot 42.5 percent from the field.
“This team is incredible,” Williams says. “I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls to be my teammates. We have a special and unbreakable bond that will last forever.
“The past two years have been full of nothing but good memories for myself and I wouldn’t want to be in the national championship game with anyone else but these girls and our coaches.”
Williams was a sixth-year senior who brought leadership and experience to the court.
She says the biggest difference between her time as a prep player at Eminence and with Central Missouri has been the talent level and the basketball IQ all the players have.
Williams was also quick to mention that college athletics brings a different level of dedication that often brings a different kind of adjustment.
“There is a huge difference in what you must give up as an athlete in college versus high school,” she says. “Basketball is your life in college and you must designate your extra hours in the days to your team and coaches in order to be successful personally and as a team on and off the court (books and ball).”
Williams says her dad, Jeff Williams, introduced her to basketball and had a big influence on her game at a young age.
“Since I was about in sixth grade and loved basketball my dad and I would talk about the future and whether I thought I might want to go on and play at the collegiate level,” Williams said. “Of course I answered ‘yes’ to this without understanding all the time and hard work that must be put in to not only get to the college level but also to thrive when I got there.
“So once I decided I wanted to play at the next level my dad and I spent countless hours in the gym working on my game in addition to him sharing stories and understandings of what college ball consisted of day in and day out because he was a former collegiate basketball player.”
All that hard work and dedication has made this year’s run even more special for Williams, who is working on her masters in sports management.
“This summer I will receive my degree once I have completed my internship,” she says. “My internship will be at SIU Carbondale with the sport facility coordinator. After my internship is complete I hope to either end up in event coordination or coaching.
“The closer the end of season is the more I lean towards coaching because I couldn’t imagine being without the sport I love day in and day out.”
Meet Jolene Shipps of Stockton
A 6’3 junior forward, Stockton product Jolene Shipps played in all 33 games as well, including six starts, and averaged 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds.
Shipps began her college career at North Arkansas in Harrison, Ark. where she averaged 18.5 points per game and 8.5 rebounds in her career.
She took on a new role at Central Missouri, and while it wasn’t always easy, says it paid off in the end.
“We had a special team, something that we have been saying since August,” Shipps said. “It was up to us to make the most out of it and we have done just that. I believe we are the true meaning of a “team” and it shows on and off the court.
“I’ve taken on a different role this season than I have in my previous seasons. I’ve had my ups and downs with it and it wasn’t always easy but at this point in the season I think the team is settled into their roles and we play them well. Weather or not you play 40 min a game or four minutes, everyone on the court and the sidelines is supportive.”
As a prep player, Shipps was a four-year All-Mid Lakes Conference selection and an all-state performer in 2013. She set the single season and career blocked shots record at Stockton and was a part of a Stockton team that advanced to the state championship team in 2012.
“Several aspects about college ball are different than high school,” Shipps says. “The main difference I would say is the time commitment. You are fully dedicated to the sport and the ultimate goal that it has fulfilled for you which is a free college education. The amazing thing about being a collegiate athlete is all the things it prepares you for outside of the sport itself.”
Shipps says her experience playing AAU basketball during the summer and her junior year of college helped prepare her for this season.
“Both of these steps in my career have not only helped me grow as an athlete but a young lady as well,” she says.
Shipps is a Biology major with a minor in Psychology and plans to become a Nurse Anesthetist.
Meet Abby Gann of Miller
Just a freshman, for Miller standout Abby Gann played in 12 games off the bench. A 5’8 guard, Gann was a three-year varsity starter at Miller where she scored 1,200 career points and averaged 18.1 points per game as a senior.
“This year has been the best first year I could ask for. We have a great group of seniors who lead us so well, and a team who does everything and anything for each other. The run this year has been successful because we are such a team. We don’t just have one person who does it, we all can do it any night. That’s what makes us so good. After the three losses we had, we’ve come together, regrouped, and came out stronger than before.”
Gann hasn’t played much as a freshman who didn’t redshirt, but says she has taken her role on the team seriously, putting in hard work in practice and helping prepare her teammates.
“My role is bigger than anything besides myself,” she says. “I love nothing more than practicing hard against my team and supporting them. Every single person matters and it doesn’t matter if you are a starter or a redshirt, everyone views you as important.”
Gann put together a strong career at Miller playing for Hannah Wilkerson, a former high school and college standout herself. Gann was a three-time first-team all-conference selection and helped her team win a district championship in 2016.
“College ball is a whole different playing field than high school,” Gann said. “It’s faster, everyone is talented, and you have to work more. I learned more in my first two weeks of season about ball more than most of my years of high school.”
Gann says the biggest the biggest influence on her basketball career has been Allen Wilson, her summer coach with the Missouri Valley Magic.
“I was lucky to have coaches who pushed me to be a next level player,” she said. “Allen Wilson, my travel coach, always pushed us so hard in practice and games. There were so many days where it felt too hard at the time, but the work then still doesn’t even compare to some of the challenges I’ve faced in college.
“I also have to give a shoutout to my dad, he spent countless hours in a gym pushing me, finding new things to teach me, and pushing me out of my comfort zone.”
A biology (pre-med) major, Gann says her aspirations after college are to attend medical school and study to become an orthopedic.