SILVER LAKE – There hasn’t been much reason to doubt Sophie Bussard’s desire to be great. After a very memorable freshman year at Southeast Missouri State University, Bussard’s desire to get better has only grown.
Bussard left quite a legacy at Tippecanoe Valley High School, excelling in both volleyball and basketball, even finishing out her senior year as one of Valley’s top track athletes. But basketball has always been in her heart, and the opportunity to continue in college at the Division I level fueled Bussard to strive for bigger things.
Bussard entered college having performed as one of the greats to ever come through Valley. In basketball, her 1,244 points rank her third all-time in career scoring, and as a senior, was a top-20 scorer in the state at over 21 points per game. The Honorable Mention All-State performer had a slew of honors bestowed upon her, including back-to-back IFN Girls Basketball Player of the Year awards.
College programs, however, become a great equalizer. Bussard became just one of 14 girls on the roster who all had their own lists of accomplishments from around the country. And going from the comforts of Silver Lake to Cape Girardeau, basketball life was almost starting over.
“The transition was a big change for me but for the most part it was smooth,” Bussard said. “In the beginning I did miss home and being surrounded by my support system, but ultimately I realized I had just gained another family, really. My teammates and coaches made the transition easier than I thought.”
Bussard contributed right away, pouring in 10 points off the bench in the Redhawks’ season opening win against Missouri St. Louis, and would get her first college start later in November at Purdue Fort Wayne in front of a host of friends and family. Bussard would make three starts for SEMO, but would see her minutes dwindle as the season went on. Bussard, normally a solid shooter in high school, struggled in her rookie season, shooting just 31 percent from the floor and hit just four three-pointers in 40 attempts. She averaged just 3.4 points per game and only hit double figures once, which was the season opener.
It was the journey the team made, however, that defined Bussard’s experience. The team made a goal before the season to win the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. Bussard noted the team even changed their phone backgrounds to the OVC trophy in a show of solidarity. The Redhawks made good on their promises to one-another, winning all three of its games in the conference tournament, concluding with a 67-47 whipping of top-seeded Tennessee-Martin to win the school’s first title since 2007.
“We really worked on our mindset and fully believing we would be OVC Champs,” Bussard said. “The bond we developed between all us girls became very tight all because we had one goal and believed in it. It feels good to know we have made the Cape community proud.”
The 25-7 Redhawks were now in position for its first NCAA tourney berth in 13 years and only the second in program history.
Then came the coronavirus.
This moment 💔
SEMO women's basketball coach found out the NCAA tournament was canceled in the middle of an interview.
— espnW (@espnW) March 12, 2020
The video was taken of SEMO head coach Rekha Patterson, who then had to turn around and tell her team the season was over. That was a moment Bussard will never forget.
“A few of us were actually warming up in the background while she was getting interviewed because we were about to have practice,” offered Bussard. “After she was done she told us to go back to the locker room. We all were thinking “great now what did we do to get in trouble for right before this tournament?” After we had got in the lockerroom she told that it was canceled and it was just an empty silence. We spent the next two hours in the locker letting the seniors talk and thanking them. It was a pretty emotional day for us all.”
Bussard now becomes one of thousands of college athletes with a similar story of losing out on a dream because of COVID-19 shutdowns. Her determination to get back with her team has only been strengthened by the team’s OVC championship and losing its tourney appearance.
Expect Bussard to come back stronger.
“I feel I will come out of this better,” noted Bussard. “Obviously not being able to compete in the NCAA tournament hurts but it also has shown what we have to do to get back in that position next year. I feel motivated for next year and want to improve for my team. Now we just have to wait this out and see when we can get back on campus with the team.”