Yost playing a part in Belmont’s success
When the name Forrest Lady Rockets is mentioned around the Mid-State, the first thing that comes to mind is the rural school's powerhouse softball program.
But the hardwood product is not too shabby either.
Longtime Rocket fans will remember the 1995 team that sent the entire starting five off the college on athletic scholarships, including Reagan Housch, who set 3-point shooting records at Columbus State or 2001 graduate Jessica Ezell, who started as a freshman on an Austin Peay squad that went to the NCAA tournament and later finished at Martin Methodist College.
The 2006 squad won the school’s first-ever basketball state championship and guard Ayla Young played one season at Volunteer State before starring at D-II Virginia-Wise.
2010 Class A Miss Basketball winner Beth Hawn had an outstanding high school career and played one season at UT-Martin.
Perhaps the most successful and talented player the school has produced could be Caitlyn Yost, who started as an eighth-grader and ended up posting over 2,000 career points to become the school's all-time leading scorer.
After pondering over a long list of scholarship offers, the Chapel Hill guard chose to sign with Cameron Neubauer and the Belmont Bruins.
What a great decision that turned out to be.
Although Neubauer bolted for Florida following back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, new coach Bart Brooks picked up right where Neubauer left off and found a gift in Yost, who had already signed with Belmont before Brooks' arrival.
"She actually committed to us before I got the job," Brooks said. "So my first time seeing her was after I got the job at practice. My assistant coach (Amy) Malo coached her in AAU so she knew her really well."
"She knew how good she was and it didn't take me long to see how good she was either," Brooks continued. "She shoots the ball really well and she has a really good game offensively. It's hard no matter what level of high school ball you come from, but she's done a remarkable job making that transition and I'm really proud of her."
Yost has made that transition and then some, taking the role of the only freshman out of four on the squad that has logged any minutes as the other three have taken red-shirt seasons.
"No matter what position you consider Caitlyn, she's just a really good ball player," Brooks explained. "Position-ally she's a point guard or an off guard and she just does a lot of stuff good instinctively."
"Something that has probably helped her earn some minutes for us is that she has a great approach," Brooks added. "Even if she doesn't know exactly what to do or where to go, she's working and competing so hard, she makes up for it. She's done a really good job for us."
Yost has latched onto perhaps the or one of the greatest Belmont teams of all-time with the Bruins finishing the 2017-18 regular season on an 19-game winning streak including an undefeated (18-0) conference record, a 42 game winning streak in the Ohio Valley conference, and a first-ever appearance in the national rankings, coming in at 22nd in the National AP poll.
Belmont is ranked number one in the ESPNW mid-major college poll and is having its best season since 1993-94, when the Bruins were still playing at the NAIA level.
The Bruins have lost just three games this season, including two against nationally ranked Stanford and Oklahoma in the early stages of the 2017-18 campaign and embarrassed fellow Nashville area school and SEC participant Vanderbilt with a 111-74 throttling in December.
Yost, who averages 10.2 minutes and 2.9 points per game, has played in every game except one.
"It's kind of surreal because there are four other freshman and I'm the only one that's dressing out and not red-shirting," Yost said. "It still doesn't seem real, especially now that we are ranked 22nd in the country."
"I'm just so happy to be at a program that's so amazing," Yost added. "I'm not playing a lot but that will come. The other girls have been here four or even five years so I'll get there eventually. It's a process, I just have to show up every day, put in all the work that they did and I'll be in the same place one day."
"Hopefully, we'll stay at this level of success for the next three years too."
Yost has not played just mop-up duty for Belmont, the freshman has been a key factor of several of the Bruins early season wins when the injury and sickness bug hit the team.
Yost topped the double digit mark three times with 10 points against Trevecca Nazarene in November, 10 points against longtime rival Lipscomb just two games later, and 10 points versus OVC rival Eastern Illinois in mid-January.
The former Forrest star also hit the eight point mark three times against Wright State, Southeast Missouri State, and Southern Illinois- Edwardsville, respectively.
Yost has also dished out two assists on five occasions, grabbed a career high three rebounds against Southeast Missouri State, played a season-high 24 minutes versus Tennessee Tech, and hit a season-high three triples against Lipscomb.
And the early success notwithstanding, there was still an adjustment period going from 1A high school basketball to Division I basketball in the span of a few months.
"Defense was my hardest adjustment," Yost mentioned. "High school doesn't emphasize defense all of the time and that's how you win games at the college level. In high school, I was always faster than most of our competition so that was an adjustment."
"So I need to continue to work on a lot of things, especially on the defensive side," Yost continued. "Like rebounding and all of the little aspects that you really don't think about or the things that aren't emphasized as much in high school."
Along with the growing pains there have also been plenty of memorable moments that Yost will always remember about her freshman season in Nashville.
"My first points, that was pretty cool," Yost recalled. "The first time I got to go into a game was amazing. Because when you're a freshman, you haven't got to go into a game in so long, since your last high school game. So that was kind of nerve wracking."
"And just playing with all these girls that are so amazing and talented everyday has been awesome," Yost added. "Their skill level is so high and I'm really lucky to be on this team. So working with them every day and trying to get to where they are has honestly been one of my best moments."
The regular season is now in the books and Belmont is looking to finally do something it has come excruciatingly close to the past two seasons----an NCAA tournament win.
In 2016 the Bruins lost to Michigan State 74-60 despite going into the fourth quarter down just five points and last season Belmont lost 73-70 to a highly ranked Kentucky squad.
Whether the Bruins make a deep run into the NCAA tournament this March or not, Yost still has three more years with her team and Brooks has big plans in store for the former Lady Rocket star.
"I'm excited about her," Brooks said. "You saw how our team plays, we like to shoot threes, we like to play fast, we like to push the ball and her skill set is made for that style. As long as she continues to work, continues to improve, I see her playing a big part for us.”