Women's basketball secures fourth straight MAC regular season championship
In her first season as head coach for Central Michigan, Heather Oesterle continued what has now been a four-year-long tradition of climbing the ladder to cut down the nets in celebration of the regular-season Mid-American Conference title.
"This is a dream," Oesterle said. "I have my dream job here and to do something like this with the people we get to do it with, with the assistant coaches and with this team is pretty incredible."
The Chippewas (22-4, 15-0 MAC) defeated rival Western Michigan on Wednesday night, 76-60, in McGuirk Arena. The Broncos (15-11, 8-6 MAC) held tight for much of the game but at the end were no match for the Chippewas, who were able to gain separation with a big fourth quarter.
Led by junior guard Micaela Kelly, CMU clinched the regular-season MAC title outright for the fourth consecutive year. Kelly scored 24 points to go along with eight assists and six rebounds. Freshman Molly Davis did her part with 20 points, five assists and seven rebounds on the night.
Central Michigan started both halves quickly, jumping out to a 15-7 lead in the first quarter before allowing WMU to fight back and take a two-point lead into the break. The Chippewas were able to erase the deficit quickly and held the lead for most of the second half.
Junior forward Kyra Bussell finished the game with 12 points and eight rebounds. Senior MacKenna Kelly scored eight points in the game. Kelly and fellow senior Gabrielle Bird along with Micaela Kelly have been on each of the championship teams.
Following the game the celebration started, players and staff members around the team received t-shirts commemorating the championship and climbed the ladder one-by-one to cut the net and retrieve their piece of history.
When asked about her feelings on winning the championship and cutting down the nets, Davis gave a simple and effective answer.
"It feels great, especially for our seniors," Davis said. "But we're not done yet."
After receiving her commemorative shirt, the first person Oesterle appeared to seek out was her friend and mentor, long-time women's basketball coach Sue Guevara.
The two embraced near the sideline traded words back and forth before Oesterle was summoned back to be with her team for the ceremony to begin.
"I just told her every day I have this picture in my office of her and me at the press conference and I look at it on my way out to practice and just (think) 'got to make her proud,'" Oesterle said. "That's been the goal all year is just to make her proud because she did so much for me over the years and has really prepared me for this opportunity."
Despite the success and joy shown after the game, work remains for the team with three games left on the schedule. The Chippewas are still working toward becoming the first team to finish the MAC season undefeated since Bowling Green in 2005-06.
To finish undefeated, CMU will need to beat the current second-place team in the West Division Ball State before a road game at Toledo. The Chippewas welcome Eastern Michigan for their Senior Day and cap off the regular season.
"The message to our team is that we're not done yet," Oesterle said. "We still have a lot more to do, a lot more."