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Women's basketball controls boards in victory over Miami (Ohio)

Central Michigan center Jahari Smith attempts to rebound a free throw against Miami (OH) Jan. 11 at McGuirk Arena.

One of the biggest question marks surrounding Central Michigan coming into the 2019-2020 season dealt with matching the production that Reyna Frost's departure vacated. 

In her four years with the Chippewas, Frost grabbed an average of 11.5 rebounds per game. Matching her production is pivotal to the Chippewas winning their fifth straight Mid-American Conference West Division title. 

Central Michigan's tallest player this season, junior forward Kyra Bussell, stands at just 6-feet-1-inch tall. On Saturday, the Chippewas faced off against a Miami (Ohio) team that trotted out two players measuring at 6-foot-two and another at 6-foot-three. With the RedHawks averaging double-digit offensive rebounds and possessing a height advantage in the paint, Miami held an advantage on paper. 

However, games aren't played on paper. 

Led by a cohesive team effort on the boards, the Chippewas were able to overcome an early deficit and earn a 76-70 victory Saturday at McGuirk Arena, their first home game since Dec. 5. 

"I was just really proud of the way we came back in that game," coach Heather Oesterle said following the win. "That's a very good Miami team that we just beat."

While no one player grabbed double-digit rebounds, both sophomore forward Jahari Smith and junior guard Maddy Watters grabbed eight while junior guard Micaela Kelly grabbed seven. Nine of the 10 Chippewas who played grabbed at least one rebound. 

As a team, the Chippewas outrebounded the RedHawks, 43-31, and held a 10-7 edge on the offensive glass. Using that advantage, the Chippewas were able to outscore the RedHawks, 38-30, in the paint. 

"I was very happy with the way we rebounded, that was the number one goal," Oesterle said. 

CMU's effectiveness down low continues a trend Oesterle and company have been able to set over the course of the last month. Over their last five games, the Chippewas have outrebounded their opponents, 198-176. In those games, the Chippewas are 4-1. When Central Michigan wins the rebounding battle, it is 7-1 this season. 

"It's been all about pursuing the basketball," Oesterle said. "We box out, but then you have to go get it and you have to snatch it."

Bussell, Smith, and senior forward Gabi Bird all measure around 6-foot, meaning that they are often undersized. However, the trio still averages 16.7 rebounds as a group. In addition to that effort, Kelly and freshman guard Molly Davis each average around four rebounds per game, giving the Chippewa frontcourt an extra dimension when it comes to attacking the glass. 

Winning the battle on the glass is crucial to contending in the MAC. While no one person is going to match Frost's numbers, as long as the frontcourt trio continues to put together solid efforts on the boards and the guards continue to outwork their counterparts on the boards, the Chippewas will continue to play at a high level. 

"It's got to be a collective effort," Oesterle said. "Everybody's going to pursue the basketball."