After missing much of her freshman season and virtually all of last season because of injury, Kat Yelle wasn’t going to waste any time getting into the action this season for the Ohio University women’s basketball team.
The 5-foot-7 guard from Geneva scored nine seconds into the Bobcats’ season opener against Xavier.
“That was a great feeling,” Yelle said. “[Coach Bob Boldon] drew that play up … for me to post up the girl who was guarding me, who was like 5-3.”
Yelle said scoring right away helped calm her nerves.
“I was definitely nervous for the first game,” she said. “I truly hadn’t played in a full game since my freshman year and it was very nerve-wracking.”
Yelle started the first 11 games of her freshman campaign for Ohio, but her season was cut short by a torn ACL and meniscus in her right knee. Last season, she played only 16 minutes before re-injuring the meniscus. She decided to take a medical redshirt for the season to allow the knee to fully heal.
“I think that was the best decision I could have made because I needed that extra time to get the knee where it is now,” Yelle said. “Knock on wood, I haven’t had a problem with it this year. It’s feeling as good as it ever had.”
She said the only physical problem the knee has given her is occasional stiffness after games. The point guard has been productive, averaging seven points and three rebounds a game while shooting 52 percent from the field, including 55 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
“It was a big mental barrier to overcome more than anything,” she said of her return to the court. “It was a great experience coming back. … I was excited to get out there to see what I could do and how my comeback was going to come be.”
The Bobcats open Mid-American Conference play Saturday at Northern Illinois after going 5-6 in nonconference action.
“The season started out pretty well for us,” Yelle says. “We won our first three games. We hit a rough patch for awhile now. We’re trying to get into the right mindset and start winning again.”
Individually, Yelle said she tries to focus on a specific area to improve upon each game.
“I think it’s just getting back into the swing of things,” she said. “Each game I feel like I’m improving.”
The uncertainty Yelle felt heading into the season was increased by a change in coaching staffs, but Yelle said the transition has gone well after the Bobcats fired Semeka Randall on March 11.
“I really enjoy playing for this coaching staff. I think they’re going to do great things for the program,” she said. “I was ready for the change. I think the program needed a better fit. … I was definitely apprehensive about it at the same time because I had hardly played.”
New coach Bob Boldon came to Ohio after three years at Youngstown State, where he transformed a team that had gone 0-30 in the season before his arrival into a squad that went 23-10 in his third season at the helm.
“Our new coach, he’s really positive with us,” Yelle said. “To me, being a player here the past two years with a different coach, they’re just two different styles. The big difference is his positivity.”
The rebuilding job Boldon faces at Ohio is perhaps only slightly less daunting than the task he had at Youngstown State. The Bobcats were 6-23 overall last season and won just one league game in 16 tries.
Yelle said turning the program into a winning one won’t be easy for Boldon or the players, but she has faith it can happen in her remaining time at the school.
“I think we can be great this year,” she said. “We’ve got to come together as a team and really focus on all the little things – rebounding, cutting down turnovers.”
The Bobcats gained some valuable experience this season with nonconference games against a pair of teams ranked in the top ten nationally – Louisville and Maryland. The Cardinals blew out Ohio, 90-33, on Nov. 21 in Louisville. Yelle said the Bobcats were too much in awe of the competition and the environment at the start of that contest.
“It hit us at the end of the game, we finally started getting out of that shock and awe factor,” she said. “It made playing Maryland easier. …We thought we could play with them and we did for awhile in the first half. I thought we played great, actually.”
The Bobcats played even with the Terrapins for the first 10 minutes of the game before Maryland pulled away for an 84-60 victory. That game was part of the San Juan Shootout in Puerto Rico on Thanksgiving weekend.
“The Puerto Rico trip was a blast. The first day we got there we went to a rain forest,” Yelle said. “Puerto Rico was actually very enjoyable. We got some time on the beach … It was like a vacation with basketball.”
After two years of disappointment, Yelle certainly deserves to start enjoying her college basketball career.
• Dennis D. Jacobs writes the weekly On Campus column for the Kane County Chronicle on area athletes competing in college. If you have a column idea, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.