Clarksville, Ark.-University of the Ozarks junior center Sabrina Goddard has been one of the main reasons the fortunes of the women's basketball program have turned around in just three seasons.
In Goddard’s freshman year, the Lady Eagles won only five games. Two seasons later, Ozarks (14-11) will begin its quest for an American Southwest Conference championship as it qualified for the ASC Tournament in Brownwood, Texas this weekend. Goddard started her freshman season and averaged 8.8 points and 4.8 rebounds. Today she is one of the top players in the ASC, averaging 15.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game. And, more importantly, the Lady Eagles are in the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-2007 season. Ozarks also secured its first winning season in nearly a decade.
“She is one of the best players in the conference,” said Head Coach Carl Ramsey. “Her overall game makes her among the top players. She is such a presence inside. We lead the conference in three-point shots made, and if we didn’t have her inside, we wouldn’t get those shots. That opens up a lot of the perimeter game. That balance has helped us.”
Goddard was among a promising freshmen class that Ozarks landed three years ago. That class, now juniors, has been key in Ozarks’ resurgence.
“I remember as a freshman thinking that we could make the playoffs my junior year,” said Goddard. “It is really exciting to make the playoffs. It means a lot for us as players and our coach. Now that we know we can, it should give us a better opportunity next year. It has given us confidence.”
As the 6-foot-1 native of Stroud, Oklahoma, has progressed on the court so has the program, according to Ramsey.
“We are basically as good as she is,” said Ramsey. “I think she elevates everyone’s game. I think she is a leader once the game starts. She establishes herself and that is what leaders do.”
Goddard has improved her scoring average each season. One reason for that, according to Ramsey, is Goddard has displayed more patience when she gets the ball inside.
“I think she is playing more under control,” said Ramsey. “She used to rush some things, but now is taking her time and doing more things fundamentally sound. So much of posting up is getting position ahead of time. She is working hard to prepare to get the basketball. When she gets the ball she uses her strength to score.”
In three seasons, Goddard has accumulated 916 career points and 389 career rebounds. She has posted fives double-doubles this season and has been named ASC Player of the Week three times. But it is perhaps on the defensive end where Goddard helps Ozarks the most.
“Her presence on defense is important, too,” said Ramsey. “She blocks shots, but she also alters shots. In the big wins we’ve had this year she has put together big numbers offensively and defensively.”
While her offensive numbers are impressive, Goddard still enjoys blocking shots more than anything.
“I prefer a block,” said Goddard. “If I have 10 points and my opponent has 20 points I didn’t have a good game. So blocks insure that she won’t score.”
Goddard and her teammates have also been solid off the court. She was one of two Ozarks’ players named to the Capital One Academic All-District Team earlier in the month. A biology major, Goddard has been on the ASC All-Academic Team twice during her career.
“Whenever I am not practicing, I am doing homework and studying,” said Goddard, who would like to attend medical school at University of Oklahoma or University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. “Most of my free time is with school work. The professors here are really good at giving their time to the students. My parents have been influential, too. They have pushed me and have helped me be more balanced.”
When the tournament starts this weekend, Goddard and her teammates expect to be relaxed at game time. Ironically, it was Goddard that scored the buzzer-beater against Ozarks’ opponent on Friday, Howard Payne University.
“I think the best games we play are when we are relaxed and having fun,” said Goddard. “The game-winning shot against Howard Payne was just random luck. I threw up a lob shot and it was a miracle.”
The Lady Eagles and Lady Jackets square off at 7:30 p.m.