The Tradition Continues in 2002-03
When the women's basketball program at Oakland University made the transition to Division I in 1998 they had one goal in mind, to continue the tradition of excellence that they had established at the Division II ranks. Now, two Mid-Con regular season titles, one conference tournament title and a first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament later, that goal still stands. With that kind of success in only four years at the Divison I level it has been very fulfilling for those players and the coaching staff to continue that tradition of excellence that they accomplished at the Divison II level.
The Golden Grizzlies have carried that enthusiasm over to the 2002-03 season, and cannot wait to see what this year will bring as they look to continue that tradition of excellence.
Following a season of firsts for the Golden Grizzlies in 2001-02 which included their first Mid-Con Tournament title and first trip to the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament, they begin the 2002-03 season in the same fashion. They will be under new leadership for the first time since moving up to Division I. Eileen Shea-Hilliard replaced Beckie Francis who stepped down from her position on October 31st due to health concerns. A native of Los Altos Hills, Calif., Shea-Hilliard comes to Oakland after a six-year stint as an assistant with the womens program at the University of Michigan. During her six years with the Wolverines, she helped guide the team to three appearances in the NCAA Tournament and two in the WNIT, with the squad posting an overall record of 110-66. Among the many tasks facing Shea-Hilliard entering this season will be how to compensate for the loss of two seniors.
Senior Katie Wolfe was named the Mid-Con Preseason Player of the Year.
With the loss of Lori Kipp and 2002 Mid-Continent Conference Player of the Year, Sara Judd, the team will be looking to their two new seniors Katie Wolfe (Cedar Springs, Mich.) and Romica Clint (Toledo, Ohio), to step up and lead the team. Wolfe is a three-year starter coming into this season and was named Mid-Con Preseason Player of the Year. Last year she was the team's high scorer in 15 games. She averaged 17.6 points per game, had 26 steals, 130 rebounds and 125 assists. Wolfe was second on the team in points per game behind Judd and first in assists and minutes played.
Senior Romica Clint is one of Oakland's top returnees in 2002-03.
Clint is also a three-year starter. Last season she averaged 9.9 points per game, had 48 steals and 74 assists. She was second on the team in field goal percentage (.473) and steals, and was third on the team in points per game.
There is no reservation about the ability of these two seniors. Both have great experience, which includes conference and NCAA Tournament play. They will be key ingredients to the success of the basketball team this season and will be looked upon to provide leadership for the team.
Complimenting this dynamic duo will be a solid core of returnees in Jasmin MacAlpine (Rochester Hills, Mich.), Bobbie Bieszki (Shelby Twp., Mich.), Amanda Batcha (Waterford, Mich.), Ashley Holenka (Shadyside, Ohio, Sarah Yaksich (Dearborn, Mich.), Leigh Tully (Sarnia, Ont.) and Connie Longer (Danbury, Ohio). The team will also look to lean on these players and their experience as well. With their time on the floor they will definitely help the team throughout the season and down the road.
Four newcomers are expected to add something to the program. Senior transfer Nicole Randolph (Lathrup Village, Mich.), and freshmen Jayme Wilson (Shawnee, Kan.), Anne Hafeli (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) and Mary Lou Liebau (Canton, Mich.) will be looking to make an immediate impact on this team. The newcomers have been very impressive with their performance at practice. Although it is still too early to tell how that will translate to game play, the coaches are very confident they will adjust well to Division I college basketball and prove to be positive additions to the program. All four newcomers will be competing for playing time, which will provide good competition between the players and drive each one to constantly do their best.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. This will be the approach the coaching staff will take this year to try and duplicate the success from last season. They will be implementing the same system that has been used for the past few years which has helped get them to where they are. There is no reason to abandon that since it has proven to work. That isn't to say that the team will not be looking to improve in certain areas. The main objective for this season will be to improve in different areas that the coaching staff deems necessary. In particular that team will be looking to improve their rebounding and steals. These two areas were affected last season by the way the team shot that ball and played defense. The team ranked second in the conference last season in field goal percentage. Their ability to shoot the ball coupled with this high field goal percentage had an affect on their rebounding. As far as steals go, they will be looking to be more aggressive on defense in order to improve in that area.
Sophomore Amanda Batcha was named to the Mid-Con All-Freshman team in 2001-02.
With the strength of their schedule this season, Oakland will be tested right away and will be able to see how the team is improving throughout the season. The strength of schedule will definitely be a test of the team's ability, especially the non-conference opponents. The rivalries between Detroit and Central Michigan early in the season will be a good test and will also be good for recruiting with the intrastate rivalries. Michigan and Georgia will be tough tests and help gauge the team's progress against some of the top Division I programs. The Wolverines will provide some Big Ten competition, and Georgia, who is a regular in the NCAA Tournament, will provide a very tough test.
Following those games the team will play in the Sun Splash Shootout in Nassau, Bahamas. But this trip will be anything but a vacation for the team. The Sun Splash Shootout will not be a walk in the park with teams like Mississippi from the SEC, as well as Marshall and Clemson. Following the tournament the Golden Grizzlies will host Bowling Green, which is a tough MAC school. They will wrap up their non-conference schedule with home games against San Diego and Niagara. The Purple Eagles gave Oakland a scare last season on the road before the Golden Grizzlies came away with a 59-56 win. These are also quality programs from their respective conferences that will keep the team focused as they approach conference play.
The first half of the season will be a tough one, but that is a good thing as all of these games will help get the team ready for conference play and make them better as the season progresses.
With the excitement of their first trip to the NCAA Tournament still lingering there may be some pressure on the team to repeat their performance from last season. The team is not bothered by this though as they are used to dealing with pressure. They felt it the very first year in the Mid-Con. Oakland was ranked #1 in the preseason and won the regular season title. The following year, they were once again ranked #1 in the preseason and won the league. This team is used to that kind of pressure. The players respond well to pressure and have a strong mentality. They will do their best to get back to where they were last season and see what happens.
Despite what happens this program has proven it can succeed at the Division I level and will look to carry on that tradition of excellence into the 2002-03 season.