Golden Grizzlies Look to Improve on Successful First Year

"I am really happy with the way our season went last year," Oakland University women’s basketball coach Beckie Francis said. "I’m really excited that we finished above.500 in our first year at the Division I level (14-13). I am also very optimistic because we finished in the middle of the Mid-Continent Conference.

"Honestly, though, I think those accomplishments put pressure on us for this year. In order for us to do this, everyone needs to step up. If everyone just takes one step up, we should have another successful season."

The Golden Grizzlies enter the 1999-2000 season satisfied with their accomplishments last year, but ready to move ahead and improve.

"One of our goals this year is to improve on how we did statistically in the conference," Francis said. "We led the Mid-Con in several categories, individually and team, and this year we want to maintain our stature, or better yet, improve on where we wrapped up last year."

Oakland led the Mid-Continent Conference in scoring offense with a 76.3 average per game, scoring margin with a +7.2 differential and field goal percentage shooting .448  from the field. OU finished second in rebounding margin at +6.2 among Mid-Con opponents.

Individually, former Golden Grizzly Tamika Bates and 1999-2000 sophomore Sarah Judd were the one-two punch in the conference averaging 18.0 and 17.6 points per game, respectively. In field goal percentage, Judd was first in the Mid-Con at .602 and Bates followed at .507. Sophomore Tish Martin led the conference in assists with 6.9 per game (186), while 1999 graduate Teresa Tallenger led the way in blocked shots with 48 (1.8 bpg).

"If we can continue our ways in the conference statistically, then we should continue on the path to success," Francis said.

Another goal for the OU players this year is to be the first Oakland team to reach the NCAA tournament.

"I think one of our strengths this year is the vision we have to succeed at the first possible chance we can. There are players on this team that are very goal oriented and are determined to make a run for the Mid-Con title and the NCAA tournament."

In order to obtain that last goal, Oakland must conquer the Mid-Continent Conference. A conference that Francis feels is only getting stronger.

"I think that our conference is as strong, or stronger, as last year," Francis said. "The conference really didn’t lose much from last year as it returns the MVP from the regular season and the MVP from the Mid-Con tournament.

"And, from top to bottom, everyone appears to have had very good recruiting year. I think this year will be really exciting in the Mid-Con race and this conference is going to be a really tough competitor."

For the past couple of years, the Golden Grizzlies have been entering new eras ... joining the Mid-Continent Conference, playing in the new athletics center ‘O’rena, playing a full-fledged Division I schedule ... and this year is no different.

"I think when you’ve entered Division I and are now eligible for the automatic bid for the NCAA tournament, you have entered a new era," Francis said. "We have those team goals to make a name for ourselves in this new era. Our players know that they have a chance to make history."

The players leading the charge to make a mark for women’s basketball in the new era are the group of returnees.

"We have a really good corps of returnees," Francis said. "The returnees that we have are still of the OU winning tradition mindset. All that they know at OU is success and that is really advantageous to our incoming people.

"The newcomers walk into our program and hear about the winning ways at Oakland. The fact that our returnees have always won at OU drives them to continue the winning ways and they work hard to maintain it."

The Golden Grizzlies return eight, including two that were redshirted in 1998-99, for the 1999-2000 season. Lost from last season are Tamika Bates and Teresa Tallenger who both completed their eligibility.

"The loss of the two seniors will pose the key question for this year," Francis said. "We have to determine quickly if we will be able to fill the key losses or if we will need to compensate for the lack of experience in the lineup.

"The experience we lost isn’t just the scoring and rebounding, but the fact that we lost nine years of college experience with them."

Taking on the role of the seniors will be seniors Courtney Ruffing, Sara Skutt and Terry Hermanova. Ruffing and Skutt have each played two years with the Golden Grizzlies and Hermanova was a JC transfer last season.

"I will be looking to all three of these players to lead the team both on and off the court," Francis said. "All three are valuable components to our program and all three will hold important roles this season."

Both Ruffing and Skutt, along with sophomore Tish Martin and freshman Romica Clint, will see playing time as the Golden Grizzlies point guard.

Martin and Ruffing started all 27 games in 1998-99 while Skutt was the sixth person off the bench.

Martin averaged 5.1 points per game average and was third on the team with her 5.1 rebounds per game average. She led OU and the Mid-Continent Conference in assists with 186 and led OU and finished fifth in the conference in steals with 54. Martin’s 186 assists stands third in the OU season record books.

Ruffing was third on the team with a 12.9 points per game average and grabbed an average of 3.4 rebounds per game. She tallied 99 assists, one blocked shot and 31 steals as a junior. Ruffing led the squad with her .824 free throw percentage (70-85) and with 57 three pointers made.

Skutt played in all 27 games and averaged 3.4 points per game and 2.2 rebounds per game. She recorded 38 assists, two blocked shots and nine steals on the year. Skutt stands seventh in the OU record books for career free throw percentage (.750).

Clint, a 1999 graduate of Scott High School in Toledo, Ohio, was voted team MVP during the 1998-99 season, was named first team all-Conference and all-District and was tabbed honorable mention all-Ohio. She averaged 17 points, five rebounds, nine assists, six steals and 1.5 blocks as a senior.

The two and three guard spots for the Golden Grizzlies will be manned by Ruffing, junior Jamie Ahlgren, redshirt freshman Katie Wolfe, junior transfer Beth Zeone, Skutt and freshman Jessica King.

Ahlgren redshirted last season in anticipation of two NCAA Division I seasons and two chances at the Mid-Con title and NCAA tournament. As a sophomore she started all 27 games and led the squad with a 21.9 scoring average.

Wolfe also redshirted last season after a stellar career at Cedar Spring High School. At CSHS she averaged 26.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.7 steals and 3.1 assists as a senior. She was listed in USA Today’s Top 25 High School Players in America during her senior campaign.

Zeone, a transfer from Illinois Central College, was voted Most Valuable Player of the NJCAA Division II national tournament in1999. At ICC the first team all-American averaged 15 points, six rebounds and three assists as a sophomore.

King is a 1999 graduate of Howell High School where she lettered three years in basketball. King was named all-Conference, all-County and all-Region and fifth team all-State in HHS career. As a senior she averaged 18 points, nine rebounds, two assists, four steals and two blocks per game.

The power forward slot will be manned primarily by sophomore Sarah Judd, Hermanova and King will back up the two returnees.

Judd started all 27 games last year and averaged 17.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. She shot .602 from the field and .747 from the line as a frosh. Judd led the Mid-Continent Conference with her shooting percentage and was second with her 17.6 points per game average.

Hermanova is coming off a spring ACL surgery, but should be at full strength for the 1999-2000 season. Last year she played in 24 games for the Golden Grizzlies averaged 3.6 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.

Holding down the center position for the Golden Grizzlies are junior transfer Heather Wooldrik and sophomore Becky Barok.

Wooldrik was an all-Tournament JC Division II player while at Kirkwood Community College. As a sophomore she averaged 13 points and four rebounds per game.

Barok played in 24 games last year and averaged 2.6 points and 1.8 rebounds per contest. Against Mid-Continent Conference opponents she saw action in 15 games and recorded 2.5 points and 1.9 rebounds per game averages.

Another key component for the 1999-2000 Golden Grizzlies basketball program will be the additions to the coaching staff. Francis has added two assistant coaches in Keith Papin and Bob Nichols and a graduate assistant in Kristin Donohoe.

"I am really excited in the additions to my staff," Francis said. "Keith was with Iowa State last season and they went to the Elite Eight and Bob is the winningest coach in men’s basketball in the Mid-American Conference. Kristin is a recent graduate of Colgate and she brings a Division I players background to the program."

The Golden Grizzlies have a long road ahead of them if the goals they have set are to be achieved. One of the biggest stepping stones will be the strength of the schedule.

"We start out very strong," Francis said. "We begin with Santa Clara at the Columbia Tournament and then face Xavier at the Florida State Tournament. Both teams played in the 1999 NCAA Tournament. We’ll have an idea of how good we are after those first games.

"We tend to look at the fact that we are playing those two teams in the opening rounds as a matter of respect from Columbia and Florida State because they didn’t want to play us in the opening round."

In addition to the Columbia and Florida State Tournaments, Oakland will face intrastate rivals Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan and Detroit in the month of December. Other road trips for OU are to Ohio University and Morehead State, both teams that OU defeated at home last year.

And rounding off the schedule is the full slate of Mid-Continent Conference games and the Mid-Con Tournament in Fort Wayne, March 4-7.

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