Turbulent Season Provides Glimpse of Promising Beginning
The beginning of the 2002-03
season was a time of change for the Oakland womens basketball program.
Long-time head coach Beckie Francis stepped down due to health
concerns, leaving the Golden Grizzlies searching for a new mentor with
less than three weeks until the first game.
Four days later Eileen
Shea-Hilliard was named the new head coach of the womens
basketball team. Shea-Hilliard
came to Oakland after six seasons as an assistant coach at the University
of Michigan. Even though
there were changes taking place before the season, one goal remained
constant, to repeat as Mid-Con Tournament Champions and earn a return trip
to the NCAA Tournament. Senior
co-captains Katie Wolfe (Cedar
Springs, Mich.) and Romica Clint (Toledo,
Ohio) would have to provide the necessary leadership to bring this goal to
Oakland started the season
winning two of its first three games, including a 65-58 win over
cross-town rival Detroit in the season-opener at home.
Following their third game, the Golden Grizzlies lost three in a
row as they fell to Big Ten foes Michigan State and Michigan at home,
along with a road loss to SEC powerhouse Georgia in between.
Senior co-captain Katie Wolfe was a first team all-conference selection for the fourth straight year.
Things did not get any easier
in the near future for Oakland as they prepared for the Sun Splash
Shootout in Nassau, Bahamas in mid-December.
A meeting with undefeated Ole Miss awaited the squad in their
opening game of the tournament. Shea-Hilliards
team hung with the Rebels before pulling off a 54-52 upset. Oakland would try once again to play the role of spoiler in
the tournament as they faced Clemson in the championship game.
The Golden Grizzlies led the Tigers most of the way before falling
by a 67-70 count. Freshman Jayme
Wilson (Shawnee, Kan.), along with Wolfe, were named to the
all-tournament team as they helped lead Oakland to a second-place
tournament finish. Wolfe also
received Mid-Con Player of the Week honors.
To close out 2002, Oakland
traveled to Buffalo, N.Y. in hopes of erasing the close loss to Clemson
with a win over Buffalo, but the Bulls had other ideas defeating Oakland
58-52 to give them a 3-6 record. The
friendly confines of the Orena awaited the Golden Grizzlies as they
rung in the new year with a three-game homestand that began with a visit
from Bowling Green. Amanda
Batcha (Waterford, Mich.) recorded her first career double-double
and four Oakland players scored in double figures, but it was not enough
to keep the Golden Grizzlies from losing their third straight.
Oakland rebounded with a 65-57 win over San Diego to avoid its
worst start in 27 years but lost to Niagara 63-71 to finish 4-8 in
The Black and Gold opened up Mid-Con play at IUPUI for the first of three road games, and suffered their first conference opening loss since joining the Mid-Con. Oaklands losing skid hit four games the following week falling to Oral Roberts and UMKC to give the team an 0-3 conference mark, after being picked to finish third in the preseason polls. Up next for Oakland was a pair of home games against two of the conferences top teams in Valparaiso and Western Illinois which gave the Golden Grizzlies a chance to pick up two much needed wins or remain at the bottom of the Mid-Con standings. The freshman contingent of Wilson and Anne Hafeli (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.), under the leadership of Wolfe teamed up to ensure that Oaklands losing streak would not extend past four games.
All three players scored in double figures led by a game-high 15 points from Hafeli as Oakland defeated Valparaiso 53-46. The trio carried that performance over against Western Illinois as all three once again reached double digits in scoring to cruise to a 63-45 win. Batcha provided a presence on the boards with her third straight game with 10 or more rebounds.
Freshman Jayme Wilson was named to the Mid-Con all-newcomer team in 2002-03
Oakland extended its win streak to four games the following week as the
team continued to roll with a pair of wins on the road.
It was the first time since the Bahamas that the Golden Grizzlies
were able to pick up a road win which started at Southern Utah.
Oakland returned home for its next three
games looking to keep the win streak alive.
IUPUI spoiled those plans though as they stole a second win from
the Golden Grizzlies, relying on three-point basket at the buzzer.
After defeating UMKC at home, Oakland dropped
its next three games with losses at home to Oral Roberts, and a pair of
road losses to Valparaiso and Western Illinois.
With two conference home games remaining in the regular season a
pair of must win situations faced the Golden Grizzlies as they battled for
higher seeding in the upcoming conference tournament.
Oakland did its part, defeating Southern Utah and Chicago State to
finish the regular season with an 11-15 mark and an even 7-7 conference
record. Wolfe led Oakland as
she averaged 24 points in the two games.
She added four rebounds and five assists per game and made 18-of-30
shots from the field to help her earn Mid-Con Player of the Week honors
for the second time this season. In the win over Southern Utah Wolfe moved into fourth place
on Oaklands career scoring list and second place on the Mid-Con
all-time scoring list.
Wolfe and Wilson received Mid-Con accolades
for their outstanding regular season performances.
Wolfe was named as a first team all-conference selection for the
fourth straight year, becoming just the second player in conference
history to be named to the first team four straight years. Wilson was
recognized for her outstanding first year performance as she received
honorable mention honors and was named to the all-newcomer team.
It was now time for the Golden
Grizzlies to focus their attention on the post season as they prepared to
defend their tournament title. Oakland
drew the #6 seed as the Mid-Con Tournament got underway at Kemper Arena in
Kansas City, Mo. on March 8-11. In
the quarterfinal game the Golden Grizzlies faced #3 UMKC and had
everything going for them having never lost a quarterfinal game and having
never lost to UMKC in the tournament.
Wolfe took center stage, pouring in a career-high and tournament
high 41 points for Oakland in the win en route to an 81-62 Golden
Grizzlies victory. Wolfe also hit the 2,000-point mark to become just
the fourth player in Oakland womens basketball history to accomplish
the feat. Sophomore transfer Nicole
Randolph (Lathrup Village, Mich.), created problems for the
Kangaroos all night as she ended with three steals, and also contributed
in the scoring column with six points.
Standing in Oaklands way of a second straight trip to the finals
was Chicago State, a team the Golden Grizzlies defeated both times during
the regular season.
Sophomore Amanda Batcha led the Mid-Con in overall and defensive rebounds in 2002-03
Oakland used a balance scoring
attack in the semifinal game against the Cougars, with seven difference
players putting up points, to register a 60-52 win and become the lowest
seeded team in womens conference tournament history to advance to the
championship game. Wolfe and
Wilson led the team with 20 and 19 points respectively.
Wilson helped the Golden Grizzlies put the game away from the free
throw line, going 10-of-10, while Batcha turned in six points to go along
with her game-high 12 rebounds. Oakland
would now face Valparaiso in the finals, setting up a rematch of last
seasons championship game.
A back and forth battle ensued
between the two teams as neither squad could gain an early advantage,
which was due in part to poor shooting performances.
Oakland was held to just 14 points in the first half on 21.7
percent shooting, which set a record low for first half points in the
They would find themselves down
by 14 points less than four minutes into the second half.
Oakland clawed its way back into the game and eventually tied the
game at 46 on a pair of free throws by Sara
Yaksich (Dearborn, Mich.). Timely
mistakes by Oakland in the waning moments of the game, including a rushed
shot on offense with 13 seconds left in regulation and a defensive foul on
the ensuing play allowed the Crusaders to hit a pair of free throws and
come away with the win. Wolfe
and Wilson were selected to the all-tournament team as Oakland finished
the season at 13-16.
Despite failing to repeat as Mid-Con Tournament Champions, an upstart Oakland womens basketball team provided some promise in the 2002-03 season to indicate that this program will be back to the tournament championship game, vying for a return trip to the NCAA Tournament sometime in the near future. With a strong recruiting class coming in, and the return of Wilson, Hafeli and Batcha set to run an effective system put in place by Shea-Hilliard, that time may be closer than most may realize.