After suffering a 75-69 loss to Ball State, Central Michigan women’s basketball players walked off the court and hugged their families in the stands at McGuirk Arena.
A hush fell over the crowd as head coach Heather Oesterle took the microphone after the game. She thanked the fans for their commitment throughout the season and the “sixth man band” before preaching hope for the upcoming season.
“We’re going to be really good next year,” Oesterle said.
Oesterle ended her speech by shouting out senior Jahari Smith, who was standing with her family, across the field at the base of the stands, holding a rectangular sign, which Oesterle told her to hold up so the crowd could to see her.
When Smith returned the white signage, it read “one more season” in black lettering. The maroon and gold crowd erupted in joy at the prospect of its return for a fifth season.
Although Smith will complete her fourth year at the end of the season on Saturday, the Bollingbrook, Ill., native still has one year of eligibility left thanks to the waiver granted by the NCAA in the wake of the COVID pandemic.
“I’m working on his return,” Oesterle said. “I met her parents a few weeks ago, and I told them, ‘she’s come a long way since her freshman year here, she’s having a great senior year, give her one more chance here where she can put in some numbers, some rebounds, and she has a chance to turn pro and make a lot of money. I hope she tells us about it. I know she’s definitely a fan favorite here.”
With juniors Molly Davis and Anika Weekes likely to return for another campaign, Oesterle expects the freshman-laden squad to take a step in the right direction, after a full season of Conference play. Mid-American together.
“I think we’ve had a lot of experience this year, and to be honest it’s probably, I’ve been here 12 years, I think now, it’s the biggest offseason we’re going to have,” said Oesterle. “It’s a crucial offseason for us. Freshmen who have played a lot of minutes this season need to improve this offseason. Our comebacks need to improve.
Additionally, Oesterle has already actively recruited and plans to bolster the Chippewa roster through multiple avenues.
“We attract very good players,” Oesterle said. “We have two 2,000-point scorers coming out of high school who can shoot the ball hard. So I’m excited about the pieces we have, I mean just look at the experience our subclasses have gotten, and I’m going to go into the portal and get some more experienced players. But I think we have the parts to be good enough next year.
Oesterle has already received 2022 season commitments from Sydney Harris, Taylor Anderson and Bridget Utberg. Both finished with over 2,000 points in their high school careers.
A native of Edwardsville, Illinois, Harris, a 6’0 forward, finished her time at Edwardsville High School as the all-time leading scorer with 2,001 career points. She is the seventh player from Illinois.
Anderson, meanwhile, plays at South Lyon East High School. She was on the ballot for Michigan’s Miss Basketball award after a stellar senior season.
Utberg, a 5’6 combo guard from Woodstock, Georgia, also eclipsed the 2,000-point mark in his career at Woodstock High School as the highest-ranked guard in the state. She also received the 5-AAAAAAA Region Player of the Year award.
With most of the Chippewas ready to wrap up their season, they have one game left to play on Saturday as they head to northern Illinois.
Stay above the NCAA minimum
Although Molly Davis and Tiana Timpe made their return on Wednesday for WUC’s final home game, it was the first time some of the players had set foot in McGuirk Arena in full WUC basketball uniforms. .
Reduced to six players due to injuries following a loss to Toledo, Oesterle reached out to CMU volleyball head coach Mike Gawlik before facing West Michigan. To ensure the Chippewas stay above the NCAA’s seven-player minimum, eventually adding three players from Gawlik’s team.
“We went down to six players when (Davis) and (Timpe) got injured, we were heading into the last three games of the year, and at that point I was told we wouldn’t have (Davis) or (Timpe) the rest of the season,” Oesterle said. “So I didn’t want to be in those three games and hurt somebody else. I was thinking of playing six players, and I played six players against Western, I just thought I needed a few players just as a backup. So I went to Mike Gawlik and asked him if he had any players who had played before.
As a result of the conversation, Austyn DeWeese and Kamryn Olson joined the active Chippewas roster, with Ely Medendorp filling in during practice.
“Honestly, these three kids who joined our team are amazing young women,” Oesterle said. “They brought a ton of energy. I’m just grateful for them. They make me smile in training because of their energy. I appreciate (Gawlik) letting them join us.”