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Former CM Life women's basketball writers share memories of Sue Guevara

Women’s basketball head coach Sue Guevara thanks the crowd and players for their hard work and dedication on Feb. 18 in McGuirk Arena.

Sue Guevara's dedication to the Central Michigan women's basketball program is unprecedented. She changed the lives of many during her 12 years as head coach.

Guevara called it quits on July 12. She retires as the program's all-time winningest coach. The Chippewas had only been to two NCAA Tournaments before Guevara's arrival. She turned the program from a broken record to a national threat, finishing with a 231-156 record and a run to the Sweet 16 in 2018.

One of the most difficult things for sportswriters when covering Guevara is describing her to readers. That's mainly because she's so many things encompassed into a person – all tied together by her love of people and the game.

CM Life spoke with former women's basketball beat writers about their time covering Guevara, one of the greatest coaches in CMU history.

Robert McLean, 2007-08

They had gone through some pretty turbulent times with the program. When she was hired, it was kind of like a fresh start, and she brought so much positive energy. You could tell this would be the person that turned the program around. Central was really lucky to get her because of her experience, coaching at Michigan and Auburn. It was a big name to bring into what was a struggling program at the time. From the first press conference, she seemed to have so much more energy than coaches I had been around. It was pretty impressive, and her experience spoke for herself. I'm not surprised at what she was able to accomplish.

It was a small community, so people really appreciated what she was able to do. When the new arena was built, she was able to put her own stamp on it. It was great that she stayed, and it payed off. When I was there, even winning the MAC would've been impressive. She made a huge impact.

John Evans, 2008-10

Whenever I was in press conferences, she was really good with names and knew who I was. She seemed to want to hear what questions we had to ask. She always put her players first, which was amazing. I remember being at the MAC Tournament, and they were in the finals against Bowling Green. They lost a heartbreaker as underdogs, and all she could talk about was her players and how much they did. She was that kind of person, and she never talked about herself.

I think a lot of people will talk about how she always addressed the crowd. She's been doing that since the beginning. She wasn't shy to give her opinions on things, which you like to see. You don't just want someone that's going to sit in the background. She made her mark on the program. She's going to go down as the best coach in CMU history.

I don't think anyone was overly shocked that she retired. Nobody will ever blame her. I'm sure she had bigger programs pecking at her, and CMU was able to retain her. I guarantee she had a bunch of schools trying to steal her. She showed loyalty and went out on her own terms. It's awesome, all around.

Aaron McMann, 2009-10

Sue was very demanding; tough as nails. It was my first real beat. She always made you feel welcome and called you by your first name. That's the first thing I remember. She'd call me Adam, but I kept correcting her and telling her I was Aaron. By the end of the season, I just stopped correcting her.

I remember that season I wrote a column on one of the starters, who I said needed to give more production. I wrote this column calling her out, and looking back, I would've done it differently. It was published. I thought I was going to get chewed out the next game, but Sue and her assistant, Bill Ferrara, thanked me for it. She had her best game, and they felt it motivated her.

Sue was really confident. She knew she had a legacy. She wanted to win games and nothing stopped her. The first major recruit was Crystal Bradford. They brought her up and that's when, from my perspective, the program took off. They were competitive against top-25 teams. It was a big deal at the time, so she elevated the program. It's where it's at because of her. 

It sounds like she's going out on her terms. When you're successful, that's what you want. I always wondered how long she was going to keep doing it. It sounds like she's going out on her terms, and that's what you want in any profession. In a way, there's a ceiling. They did about as good as you'd expect. I don't think anyone with realistic expectations thought CMU would win a national title. She took them to three NCAA Tournaments, and that's all on her.

John Manzo, 2010-11

She was one of the coolest coaches I ever got to cover because she really took me under her wing in the way she understood what reporters were trying to do. I was so new in my reporting career, it put some stresses on me when a coach came at me for asking a tough question. We were consistently getting yelled at. Whether they won or loss, Sue just understood we were trying to do our jobs. She put her arm around me and said, "This is a tough one, but I know what you have to do. I'll answer the questions honestly." That's what stood out the most for me.

It gave me confidence to understand that, moving forward, there were going to be coaches that weren't like her, but I knew it was alright because some people, like her, understood the profession. I felt confident in my ability that I was doing my job correctly.

She was also like a source for me. Moving forward, even when I wasn't covering the team and it was Kris and Brandon, I could feel comfortable shooting her a text to confirm something or just to stay in touch. After the beat, she was the coach I stayed closest with. I'd see her at games, and she'd notice me and throw a smile. She made a pretty big impact on my career, to be honest.

Kris Lodes, 2011-12

She's got a lot of personality, that's for sure. After every home game, she'd just talk to fans. I don't know of any coach of a Division I sport that does something like that. It's impressive that she realized it's a fun game, and she appreciated all the fans. When she got there and they started to do well, she knew those in attendance were important to the program. I thought that was pretty cool.

When it comes to Sue, she was really good at creating relationships. I was going to cover a softball game. As I was walking over there, she pulled out of the events center and asked me what I was doing. Since I was carrying stuff, she assumed I was going to the softball game and offered to give me a ride, even though I was like 20 yards away. She took her time to see if I needed a ride, which was pretty neat of her to do.

The one thing I'd like to say is that she made women's basketball relevant at Central Michigan, and she put the program on the map. I covered them for Crystal Bradford's freshman year. They had a loaded group coming and were going to be a young team. I remember that they started the year poor, but they beat No. 12 Purdue at home during Christmas break or something, and the place was going nuts. It was the loudest I've ever heard McGuirk Arena. Once they won that game, they went on a roll and something special began at CMU.

It was because of Sue.

Brandon Champion, 2011-13

I got to know Sue the best when they went to the 2013 NCAA Tournament because we were covering them really hard that year. She was die hard maroon and gold, all the time. She was always about promoting and made an effort to get the Mount Pleasant and Mid-Michigan community involved. I would say she tried to expand the CMU footprint and was all about including the fans as an actual part of the team. Just doing little stuff goes a long way in creating a community atmosphere and getting them excited. She was great with saying your name when she answered a question. I covered Dan Enos, when he was there, and other coaches. It wasn't the same with them. Sue cared about the journalism process and that we were covering the team.

When she said your name, it made you feel worthy of her time – like you were asking a good question. It can be intimidating talking to Division I coaches when you're a young journalist, so it felt good.

I would go to the SAC and play basketball, just like a lot of students. One time I was playing on the main court and I'm like, "Crystal Bradford is out here running with the guys." She was playing hard, taking it to me. She wasn't shying away from the boys. I was telling the sports editor that I saw CB hoopin' at the SAC with the guys. He told me to write a column about it, and I wrote it.

I can't remember what exactly happened, but Sue noticed. That's another thing, she always paid attention to whatever we were writing, and she called you on your bullshit if it was wrong.

At practice or a press conference, she said, "Hey, Brandon. Thanks for your column. I found it really interesting." If I remember correctly, CB didn't play in the first half of the next game. I don't know if it was directly because of that, but she definitely got a stern talking to because of my column.

Crystal, I was kind of scared of her after. I don't think she was happy with me snitching on her, for lack of a better word. It was star player hooping at the SAC, and I might've stuck my nose where it shouldn't have been. But she was the best women's basketball prospect CMU has probably ever had.

Overall, Sue just really seemed to care and appreciate our coverage. Other programs either took it for granted or just didn't want us there.

Dominick Mastrangelo, 2013-15

When I first started out at CM Life, women's basketball was one of the first real beats anyone gave me. I was a little intimidated because I heard about Sue Guevara. She didn't take crap from anyone – opposing players, her own players or a punk kid with a notebook. There was something refreshing about that. Sue always had a humanistic and relatable way of dealing with the media, her players and the program. I was lucky to cover her.

She had respect for what student journalists were doing. She understood tight deadlines, classwork and last-second changes. There's always some back and forth with SIDs and reporters, but Sue gave me her number and told me to call her if I needed anything. There were people in the city of Mount Pleasant that were much more difficult to work with than Sue.

You had to gain her trust, but she gave everyone the benefit of the doubt. She treated me like a human being, and, as a young reporter, it gave me a lot of confidence.

I'm happy for Sue. She had a super successful career. It's sad to see her go, but her legacy will be carried for years.

Taylor DesOrmeau, 2015-16

I had a limited number of experiences with Sue Guevara, but she was always genuine and honest with me. Even though women's basketball was never my long-term beat, Sue made sure to use my name, whenever she answered a question of mine. I found that thoughtful.

I covered the women's basketball team's run through the MAC Tournament in 2016, when they made it to the final before losing to Buffalo on a buzzer beater. It was the year after Crystal Bradford was drafted into the WNBA and expectations weren't high for the team.

Sue's quotes after the game were memorable. She had a tear in her eye, but she wouldn't let her team get too down on themselves.

"I told the team, I said, 'You know what, if you want to feel like cow manure right now, you can, go ahead,'" Sue told me after that close loss. "'But understand what we did this year. No one expected us to be in this room today.'" 

She'll be sorely missed at CMU. Sue has meant a great deal to not just the program, but the whole university.

Andrew Surma, 2015-16

Sue was one of the most personable coaches at CMU during my time covering the athletics department. She had an authenticity that was unique in the athletic department during that time. She had a habit to remember and use the reporter’s names while answering questions and was always inviting in the press room and during media availability. 

On the court, she loved her players and it showed in the coaching she poured into her teams — which sometimes meant a little tough love too. Most importantly, she always thanked the fans for coming out after games. She’ll be missed in Mount Pleasant.

Von Lozon, 2015-16

It was my first time on the beat and it couldn’t have been a better experience because of legendary coach Sue Guevara. My first day on the beat, Sue didn’t recognize me and didn’t take long to ask me what my name was. I introduced myself and she treated me like I was a part of the team. Whenever I asked a question, she’d always say something like, “Well, Von...” and then proceed to answer my question. She took the time to learn each and every one of us at CM Life and was unlike any coach I’d covered at CMU.

She was a class act, and one of the best coaches CMU has ever had on any sport. But I don’t have to tell you that, because the accolades speak for themselves. I wish Guevara nothing but the best in retirement, and the Chippewas are in good hands with Heather Oesterle.

Greg Wickliffe, 2014-17

I covered the women's team for three years – and I chose to cover them over the men’s team because of the culture there. As for Sue, she was always professional and always available. Every time I would ask a question, she’d respond with, ‘Well, you know, Greg,’ and would proceed to answer the question. That always stuck with me because she made it feel more personal when she spoke with you. She saw you as a person and not just someone covering the team. She never shied away from any question and always held you accountable if there were any errors or corrections that needed to be made. 

Probably my favorite coach to cover in my career just because of the way she handled speaking with reporters and how genuine she made each interaction feel.

Dylan Goetz, 2017-18

My favorite memory of Sue was the relationship she had with the players and the raw emotion that she showed on and off the court. You could tell that Sue had a real impact on every single one of the athletes on the team. 

Sue and Twin (Micaela Kelly) had a best friend relationship that I’ve never seen before in sports. She was always so realistic and personal that everyone liked and respected her. She was someone that everyone wanted to be around. 

Andrew McDonald, 2017-19

My favorite memory of Sue Guevara was just before the start of the 2017-18 season. She was standing in the tunnel of McGuirk Arena following a practice leading up to the first game. 

I asked her, “So Sue, how are we feeling about this team?”

She replied, “There is so much work to do Andy ... Let's just say we can’t look that way come March.”

Her team made the Sweet 16 that season. 

Outside of that, simply the fact that she always remembered you by name, answered your questions with pure honesty and always asked you about how the rest of your day was going to go after a conversation. 

Evan Petzold, 2017-19

Sue Guevara, where do I even begin? Before I first met Sue, I was pretty intimidated. I heard rumors of how she was tough, gritty and always expected greatness. Well, those rumors couldn't have been more true. However, she ended up being one of the nicest people I've ever met.

When I walked into her office prior to the beginning of the 2018-19 season, she looked me square in the eyes, pulled a bracelet off her arm, gave it to me and said, "Evan, this is a reminder that you can't cheat the grind. Everything you do takes hard work."

The bracelet had #C2TG on it, an adage the Chippewas used throughout the season to remember that hard work is crucial to being successful – in basketball, school and life. Reporters are typically told not to accept gifts from people they report on, but this was different. She went out of her way to give me wise words of advice, and that was special to me.

Another memory of Sue was when the Chippewas were playing Buffalo in the 2019 Mid-American Conference Tournament. Right behind me at the media table, a Buffalo student yelled, "I wish Sue Guevara was my grandma." I bet a lot of people felt that way about her, solely based off her character, ability to ignite passion into a room of people and the way she got the most out of everyone she encountered.

Sue was an inspiration during her time with the Chippewas.

Austin Chastain, 2018-19

I think my biggest takeaway is that Sue was the most consistent, happy person, and you don't always see that in sports. My mind goes back to MAC Tournament when they were eliminated by Buffalo. It was a heated game, and the officials made some questionable calls. She looked at us and said, "If anyone has $10,000, I'll tell you how I really feel." She was funny, and that was just her personality.

When she would take the microphone and address the crowd after every home game, that right there told me how much she cared about the community and the fans. The way she treats her players is not typical for a college coach. She's obviously hard on them because she wants them to be successful, but she had such a huge heart. You could see that by spending 15 minutes in a press conference. She's the type of coach that always praised her players and took the blame on herself. 

It all goes back to who she is as a person.