Golden Grizzlies Take It To The Next Level
The Oakland University womens basketball team is coming off its first 20-win season at the Division I level. The Golden Grizzlies have improved by one step of the tourney each season and hope that this streak continues with the next step being an NCAA Tournament berth.
"Each season we have advanced one more round," said head coach Beckie Francis. "We made it to the Mid-Con championship game last season and the next step is advancing to our first ever NCAA tournament appearance."
The Golden Grizzlies have nine letterwinners returning to help achieve this goal. Heading up the returning corps are seniors Sarah Judd (Eastpointe/Harper Woods Regina), Lori Kipp (Phoenix, Arizona/Marcos 'de Niza/Phoenix College) and junior Katie Wolfe (Cedar Springs/Cedar Springs). Judd is a preseason all-conference first teamer by the media and is a two-time all-Mid-Con performer. She ranks second on the Mid-Con active scoring list with 1,352 career points. Kipp runs the point in the Grizzly offense and finished second on the OU squad with 100 assists last year. Wolfe is also a preseason first team member. The two-time all-Mid-Con performer led the Grizzly offense in conference play with 16.1 points per game.
"Anytime you have three players returning with that kind of experience, you have a chance," said Francis. "Their leadership has shown in the preseason on and off the court."
The chance coach Francis refers to is repeating as Mid-Con champions and winning the tournament for a trip to the dance. The dance is something that has eluded the Golden Grizzlies in their first two seasons of eligibility. However now they have the experience to get there.
"The first two seasons we were the newcomers on the block," said Francis. "We felt our way through the tournament process and learned more every game. With two seasons of tournament experience we are more ready to handle what lies ahead this season."
The preparation Oakland is using to get ready to defend its regular season title lies within an outstanding core of non-conference games. The Golden Grizzlies open up on the road at
preseason #14 in the country Florida (11/16) according to Street and Smiths College Basketball Magazine. OU then returns home to face in-state rival Central Michigan (11/20), then travels to Detroit-Mercy (12/3) and Michigan State (12/5). Oakland then welcomes Boston College (12/10), Dartmouth (12/15), #16 Georgia (12/19) and travels to #25 Michigan December 21.
"By bringing teams of this caliber into our arena it says a lot about how far we have come in a short period of time," said Francis. "Playing top notch programs will show us where we are, how far we have to go and how we get to the next level."
To combat these teams, Oakland will count on depth. Depth is something that Oakland has plenty of at the guard position starting with returnees Kipp, junior Romica Clint (Toledo, Ohio/Scott HS), sophomores Jodi Young (Flushing/Flushing), Bobbie Bieszki (Shelby Twp./Notre Dame Prep) and Jasmin MacAlpine (Rochester/Kalamazoo College). Freshmen Ashley Holenka (Shadyside, Ohio /Shadyside) and Leigh Tully (Sarnia, Ontario/Northern Collegiate) will also battle for playing time.
"I think we have some really good battles going on at the guard position," said Francis. "With the combination of experience with Clint and Kipp, plus Jasmin who transferred from Kalamazoo College and sophomore returnees Young and Bieszki, I am very pleased at the level of competition in practices."
Kipp returns to Oakland after running the point for the Grizzlies last season. She started in 29 of 30 games and finished the season with 3.33 assists per game. Kipp averaged 26.6 minutes per game, 3.9 points per game and 2.3 rebounds per game.
Clint is OUs top defender and averaged 1.1 steals per game in 2000-01. She started in 15 of 29 games played in and provided a spark off the bench. The Toledo, Ohio native averaged 3.3 points per game and 1.3 rebounds per game.
Young came off the bench for Oakland last season and is OUs best threat from behind the arc. With the losses of Beth Zeone and Jamie Ahlgren, Oakland will look to Young to stroke the three. She played in 27 games last year, averaging 3.0 points, 1.7 rebounds in just over 10 minutes per game.
Bieszki saw limited action last year as the two-sport athlete (basketball and softball) got in 16 games for the Golden Grizzlies. The 5-6 guard had a good summer and is ready to go for the upcoming season. She scored 15 points in 52 minutes of action in 2000-01.
MacAlpine comes to Oakland after redshirting last season. The Rochester native averaged 5.0 points, 3.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 2.2 rebounds per game at Kalamazoo College. MacAlpine ranked second in the MIAA in assists in her freshman season.
Holenka is a walk-on for the Grizzlies. The 5-5 guard brings speed and agility to the OU defense. She went to Shadyside High School a year ago in Shadyside, Ohio were she scored 1,725 points in her four seasons. Holenka ranked second in the state with 475 free throws made and led Shadyside to a 21-3 record and a district final in senior season. She earned Player of the Year honors in District 12 and first team All-Ohio in 2000.
Tully is the final guard for Oakland. The Sarnia, Ontario native brings a three-point presence for the OU offense. Tully was named Athlete of the Year at Northern Collegiate High School where she set a school record in varsity letters earned.
The one weakness that Oakland recognizes early is its size and rebounding. The Golden Grizzly teams in years past have significantly been out-rebounded and hopes that the additions of Connie Longer (Danbury, Ohio/Danbury) and Amanda Batcha (Waterford/Kettering) will help out the core of Judd, Wolfe, Naomi Nickleberry (Saginaw/Arthur Hill) and Sarah Yaksich (Dearborn/Divine Child).
"We have been a very poor team at rebounding in years past," said Francis. "I am happily surprised with Amandas progress, Connie has had some good practices and I think Judd is set to have an explosive senior season."
Judd is a four-year letterwinner for the Golden Grizzlies. She ranks seventh on Oaklands scoring list and 11th in the Mid-Con. She was named all-Mid-Con first team last year and also was selected to the all-tournament team. Judd ranked third on the OU squad with 14.9 points per game and led the team with 7.6 rebounds per game. The 5-11 forward swatted 48 shots and recorded five double-doubles which ranked second inside the conference. Judd sits at second in career field goal percentage for OU with .547 and currently ranks third inside the Mid-Con.
Wolfe is entering her third season for Oakland. She finished second on the squad with 15.3 points per game and led the Grizzlies with 123 assists. Wolfe was named all-Mid-Con first team for the second consecutive time last year and was the Newcomer of the Year in 1999-00. She has accumulated 962 points in two season and should reach the 1,000 point plateau in the upcoming season. She was named captain for the second straight year.
Nickleberry is coming off a solid freshman season where she ranked second on Oakland's team with 156 rebounds. She started in 23 of 30 games played in, recording two double-doubles. Nickleberry had a .453 shooting percentage (124-274) which ranked her third on the team, while hitting 5-11 three-pointers on the season. She finished the season with 34 steals and five blocks, playing 27.8 minutes per game (fourth best on the squad).
Yaksich played in 12 games for Oakland and is coming off a good Spring with individual workouts. The 6-1 Dearborn native finished last year with 13 points and nine rebounds in 36 minutes of action. Her best game came against UM-Dearborn (11/22/00) where she scored 10 points and grabbed five boards in 15 minutes.
Longer is coming off a redshirt year. She attended Danbury High School in 1999-2000 in Danbury, Ohio and Margaretta High School 1998-1999. Longer was elected captain in senior season while attending Danbury HS and was selected to the all-league first team. She was voted as the leagues most valuable player as she led the conference in scoring.
Batcha is a 2001 graduate of Waterford Kettering High School. She earned three varsity letters under head coach Scott Woodhull. Batcha scored 11 points and eight rebounds as she led her team to a regional semifinal and a 28-2 record. Her efforts on the court earned her all-state honorable mention in junior and senior seasons, while being selected all-league in both 1999 and 2000.
"I think we have a good mix of new and experienced talent," said Francis. "Through the preseason they have worked hard and I think they will get a chance to see what they are made of early when we play those great teams in our own backyard."
The Golden Grizzlies know that now is the time. Two straight Mid-Continent regular season championships and one Mid-Con Tournament final game in the first two season inside the conference help the Grizzlies see its time. Oakland has come full circle and has had two full seasons of Division I competition. The players are here and the coaching staff is fueled to begin a new era of OU basketball. A new era of taking it to the next level.
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