SHEA-ping the Future    

Last year head coach Eileen Shea-Hilliard came close to orchestrating an improbable conclusion to the women’s basketball season.  She accepted her new job just three weeks before the first game and proceeded to lead the team to the Mid-Con Tournament championship.  However, a championship repeat faded for Oakland in the closing seconds of the game.  As the 2003-04 season gets underway, thoughts of a narrow defeat still linger in the minds of those returnees, providing fuel to a team as they prepare to make another run at the Mid-Con Championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Head Coach Eileen Shea-Hilliard led Oakland to the 2003 Mid-Con Tournament finals in her first season.

            Ready to lead the race will be Oakland’s top returnees Amanda Batcha, Anne Hafeli, and Jayme Wilson. 

Last season Batcha, a junior, was Oakland’s most dominating presence inside as she led the team in rebounding in 25 of the 29 games.  She also led the team, averaging 10.1 per game and grabbed 6.69 defensive rebounds to lead the conference.  She finished the season ranked 22nd in the nation in rebounds per game and led the conference in multiple rebound games with 15. 

           Sophomore guard Anne Hafeli came on strong during conference play to become a constant in the Oakland starting lineup.  As a starter she averaged 11.3 points and 2.6 rebounds.  Her ability to hit the three coupled with an automatic touch at the free throw line leaves little question about how well she has adapted to the college level.  Her 35.2 percent from three-point range made her eighth in the conference and her 88.4 percent from the free throw line led the team and put her second in the Mid-Con .

Fellow sophomore Jayme Wilson gave Oakland fans a glimpse of things to come from the talented newcomer, quickly maturing into a seasoned veteran while registering six 20-point games.  She was named to the Mid-Con all-newcomer team and received honorable mention all-league honors.  She averaged 15.5 points, second on the team and third in the conference, and was ranked 15th in the nation in three-point field goal percentage at 43.1 percent. 

Shea-Hilliard is aware that making it back to the championship game will prove to be no small task in a tough Mid-Continent Conference.  She knows that much work needs to be done to improve from last season, especially with the loss of two experienced seniors.  “We lost two seniors with a lot of experience and leadership.  We have some experience coming back but we are going to be young and we are going to make mistakes.  What I’m looking for is for my freshman to become sophomores and my sophomores, juniors and my seniors not to be inexperienced by mid-way through the season.  I think our post game needs to improve and I think our point guard play needs to become more consistent.  I think those are two things that we need better production in this year.

Enter Shea-Hilliard’s first recruiting class.  Four adept newcomers that should provide an immediate impact. 

Junior Amanda Batcha finished 22nd in the Nation in rebounds per game last season.

Petra Manakova, a 6-4 junior transfer from Illinois Central College, may give Oakland that post game.  Manakova averaged 11.2 points and 7.5 rebounds for the cougars last season while leading her team to a JC Division II National Championship.  She was a two-time first-team NJCAA All-American selection and was a member of her native Czech Republic’s junior national team that won European and World Championship gold medals. 

            Joya Puryear gives the Golden Grizzlies a shot in the arm at point guard.  The 5-5 freshman will add an old-school dimension to the lineup with her pass first mentality.  She helped Dominican High School in Detroit, Michigan, to a 23-1 record her senior year, while capturing all-league and all-state honors.

Freshman Bonnie Baker, a 5-10 all-state guard from Cabrini High School in Allen Park, Michigan, finished seventh in Michigan’s Miss Basketball voting and was a decorated high school player. 

Nicole Piggott will challenge at both forward positions for Oakland.  The 6-0 freshman earned AAU All-American accolades in addition to all-state honors her junior and senior years at Pewamo Westphalia High School in Pewamo, Michigan.  She also helped lead her team to the state semi-finals in her final season.

How quickly this talented group matures and adapts to the Division I college level is yet to be seen, but Shea-Hilliard expects this crop of players to hit the ground running. 

“I will be shocked if those kids don’t have an immediate impact just with their work ethic.  Petra has a lot of experience internationally, and I think you will see newcomers who will push to play.  I think there is going to be a good fight for playing time, which is only going to make us a better team.” 

Sophomore Jayme Wilson received all-league honorable mention honors in 2003.

Despite their youth the Golden Grizzlies are not taking the easy road leading up to conference play.  They open their season against Boston College, a Sweet 16 team last season who lost to eventual National Champion Connecticut.   

“Boston College will be a great challenge for us on the road.  When you’re young you have no fear and I’m hoping that’s how we approach the game.” said Shea-Hilliard. 

“Central Michigan, Detroit, and Bowling Green are nice local rivalries for us.  The Maine Tournament will give us a couple games on the road against nice opponents.  I think Florida at home will be a great game.  We have a solid non-conference schedule.  To win those games we have to come out and compete every night, but I’m looking for us to get better with every game.”

In addition to the returning starters and incoming players, Oakland has a solid nucleus of returning players, including a junior and senior class that knows how to win championships.

Senior Bobbie Bieszki and sophomore Mary Lou Liebau will provide Oakland with some depth at the wing position.  With the loss of two seniors, Bieszki can offer the team senior leadership.  She appeared in 13 games last season while shooting 31.3 percent from the floor.  Liebau will look to make the transition from power forward to small forward this season. 

Junior Ashley Holenka and senior Nicole Randolph supply the Golden Grizzlies with depth and quickness at point guard. 

Holenka’s work ethic and great team attitude will enable a smooth transition for her to the point. 

Sophomore Anne Hafeli finished second in the Mid-Con in free throw percentage last season.

A former track runner at Indiana, Randolph has speed and quickness to offer at the point position.  Oakland’s style of play this season will help utilize her athletic ability.  Coach Shea-Hilliard is expecting Randolph to be a defensive stopper. 

Junior Leigh Tully offers an aggressive style of play at the guard position.  She has made good things happen for Oakland in the past when she is out on the court and Shea-Hilliard expects more of the same from her this year.

Joining Batcha at the forward position once again will be senior Sarah Yaksich and junior Connie Longer.

Yaksich recorded 62 rebounds and 19 blocks while averaging just over two points per game.  She had a strong showing during the Mid-Con Tournament and will be expected to pick up where she left off. 

Longer, a junior, will look to push the other forwards.  She will also be looked upon to provide a solid presence in the post.

The system Shea-Hilliard will be implementing this season may be new, but the goals of winning the Mid-Con and to getting back to the NCAA Tournament remain the same.  The team will look to live up to the moniker of graduates and champions as coach Shea-Hilliard continues SHEA-ping the future of Oakland women’s basketball.

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