'I love this community': Sue Guevara moves on from coaching, hands keys to successor Heather Oesterle
Sue Guevara described the transition best in her own words.
“When I was a player many moons ago I could not shoot a lick, not a lick, but I could pass the ball," Guevara said. "It’s my turn for the assist and, now, the ball goes to Heather.”
In what turned out to be an emotional press conference with plenty of tears and laughter, the transition from Guevara to Heather Oesterle became official.
Athletic Director Michael Alford introduced Guevara to a full house of media, family members, players and fans at the John G. Kulhavi Events Center, and the place erupted in cheers to celebrate as Guevara handed the torch to Oesterle.
"I've spent 39 years of my life with a little brown ball," Guevara said. "Quite frankly, I hope I have 39 years left to finish my bucket list."
Deciding to retire
It was Monday, July 8.
On her 65th birthday, Guevara walked into Alford's office to deliver two thoughts tied into one situation – retirement.
"I'm giving myself a birthday present, and it's called retirement, and I need your blessing," Guevara recalls telling him.
"No," Alford said, jokingly. "I need another year."
"No, I can't do it," Guevara responded.
"The other thing I need is for you to really, really give Heather a hard, hard look. She has earned this position. She has been by my side for nine years and helped me build my vision for this program."
When Guevara learned Oesterle was hired by Alford as her successor, she said it couldn't have been scripted any better.
Once Guevara took the podium at the press conference, she immediately began cracking jokes and making those attending smile, relaying the message her heath was not an issue.
"Today is my last championship game in McGuirk," Guevara said. "I am in good health. I am not dying. Nobody asked me to leave. Nobody suggested that I leave."
The CMU women's coach of 12 years held her head high and maintained good spirits despite the tears from many players, of which one was guard Micaela Kelly.
Guevara explained her decision to retire had everything to do with not feeling like she would be able to give 100% to her players and coaching staff.
"I was really tired after our last season," Guevara said. "We went into spring workouts, and I could feel like I wasn't giving everything I had. That's not fair to our players because they deserve the best."
Most of all, when Guevara spoke, her words felt certain. Her summer trip to Ireland was supposed to energize her to get ready for another championship caliber season. Instead, it had the opposite effect. During Guevara’s time off this postseason, it was Oesterle who ran the day-to-day tasks and was the leader on the recruiting trail.
"I had surgery on my right shoulder, and I've been out for two months," Guevara said. "I had two months to sit on the back porch, read, get some sun and think about going back to pursue another championship."
Guevara still had that fire she always brought to the sidelines, but she’s going to take that and use it in another direction.
But she promised not to go too far, making jokes after the press conference about being the most knowledgeable fan in the stands at next year's home games.
She plans to stay in the Mount Pleasant community.
“I’m just gonna get involved in the other things here in Mount Pleasant,” Guevara said. “I love this community.”
When Alford stood at the podium to appoint Oesterle as the next coach for the women's basketball team, her eyes quickly became filled with tears.
The impact Guevara had on Oesterle was clear.
Oesterle, who has spent nine years preparing for the day she'd take over for the Chippewas, could barely get through the parts of her speech that were directed at her mentor – Guevara.
"I've been dreaming about this day for a very long time," Oesterle said. "I always tell people, 'Dreams really do come true.'"
From watching Guevara with a close eye, Oesterle said she picked up on her ability to build relationships with players and allow it to be a benefit to the team on the court. Guevara added it was always the plan for Oesterle to take over following her retirement.
It wasn't a matter of who, it was a matter of when.
“I’ve told her over the years, 'When you grow up and become a head coach, you must learn to delegate,'" Guevara said. "She keeps her plate full,and she makes sure that everything that's done is detailed. When those kids see she loves what she does, they’re going to go through the wall for her too.”
Oesterle plans to not only continuing the success of the program that Guevara built but building on that success and taking it to the next level. She's already decided to retain assistant coaches Murriel Page and Courtney Shelton for the 2019-20 season. Oesterle also has an idea of who her third assistant will be, and she expects the offense to remain a key part of the overall scheme.
Even though transitions are never easy, Guevara and Alford both expressed their belief that Oesterle would be the best fit to carry on the legacy built by the women's program in McGuirk Arena.
As the press conference came to a close, the Guevara era of Chippewas basketball officially closed and a new one began – led by Oesterle.