Blythe Benefield already feels comfortable with her new basketball team in the Missouri Ozarks.

Benefield, a 5-foot-11 guard/forward, signed a letter of intent Friday afternoon with College of the Ozarks during a ceremony at Paragould High School.

“The scenery is gorgeous. You can see over the top of Branson, everything, and everyone there made me feel at home,” Benefield said. “All the players on the team text me and talk to me now, and the coach really helped me make my decision there.”

Benefield moves on to the college level after helping the Lady Rams defeat some of the state’s top teams during her senior season.

Paragould handed Melbourne, which finished No. 1 overall in the Arkansas Sports Media poll, its only loss in a 32-1 season. The Lady Rams also split with eventual Class 5A state champion Jonesboro, the No. 3 team in the final poll, and with 5A-East regular-season champion Batesville, which ended the year No. 8 overall.

“We don’t beat them if we don’t have Blythe Benefield,” Paragould coach Sonja Tate said. “Her numbers at the end of the game didn’t show how important she was, the blocked shots or the defensive pressure.”

Benefield finished with 33 steals and 22 blocked shots. Tate said Benefield took on the toughest defensive assignments for the Lady Rams.

“That’s going to be very difficult to replace and also her leadership on the court, making sure people were getting in position, and she would cover up for a lot of people,” Tate said. “It kind of scares me, thinking about next year without her, but she’s going to do great at the next level. Great kid, great character.”

An all-conference selection, Benefield helped Paragould earn the No. 2 seed in the 5A-East conference tournament. The Lady Rams finished 16-7 after a first-round upset loss to West Memphis, which went on to finish second in the 5A state tournament.

Benefield averaged 8.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. She occasionally stepped outside to shoot beyond the 3-point line, but scored more points on drives to the basket and free throws.

“Defense is my strong suit,” Benefield said. “I’m more of a drive-in layup type of girl, but sometimes I can shoot the 3.”

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