Going back home

Ohio guard Kat Yelle, right, hugs Kiyanna Black near the end the Bobcats’ win over Eastern Michigan in the 2015 MAC Tournament Championship game. Yelle, now an Ohio graduate, has transferred to Bradley University.

One of the players who enjoyed the surprising, title-winning, complete 180-degree season for the Ohio University women’s basketball team more than most was plucky point guard Kat Yelle.

How could she not? Yelle played in just 14 games in her first two collegiate seasons, as both were cut short by devastating knee injuries.

Yelle simply kept coming back. Though not nearly the same player — the previous quickness, especially laterally, simply wasn’t there any more — she developed into the steady, heady floor leader Ohio needed.

The Bobcats surprised everyone by dominating the MAC and winning both the regular-season and tournament championships to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament in 2014-15.

And Yelle, perhaps, surprised fans of the program by transferring.

On Thursday, Bradley University announced that Yelle was transferring to join the Braves. Yelle graduated from Ohio this spring, and will start pursuit of a Master’s degree at Bradley. She will be eligible to play immediately.

The move makes sense for Yelle on a couple of levels. Bradley, in Peoria, Ill., is closer to her hometown of Geneva, Ill.

And Yelle certainly gave Ohio everything she had. She earned her degree. She battled back not once, but twice from injury. And she was an important part in the Bobcats’ recent success.

Yelle played in 32 games in 2014-15, notched a team-high 86 assists and averaged 6.4 points and 22.4 minutes per game.

Remarkably, Yelle played in 62 games — she didn’t miss a single one — after the two seasons of injuries.

Like Mariah Byard, Yelle earned a chance to ride out of town on top. She earned it.

With Byard, and now Yelle, gone from the roster, the Bobcats in 2015-16 will be missing a lot of the drive, experience and toughness that made last winter an enjoyable experience.

The challenge of replacing Yelle’s minutes will fall to junior PG Yamonie Jenkins, at least initially. But the bulldog mentality Yelle brought? That will have be picked up by all the Bobcats.

As of Saturday afternoon, Ohio coach Bob Boldon had not yet issued the customary ‘We wish them well in their future endeavors’ statement that accompanies most Division I transfers.

I get the feeling, in this case, those words will have actual merit.

“Everything paid off. There’s no word to describe that,” Yelle said after Ohio defeated Eastern Michigan in the MAC Tournament Championship game. “To keep coming back…and to share it with my team.

“It doesn’t get better than this.”

Email at jarkley@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @JasonAmessenger

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