A basketball journey: Heather Oesterle leads Chippewas back to NCAA Tournament


Central Michigan head coach Heather Oesterle and former head coach Sue Guevara have a conversation after a scrimmage Oct. 27 at McGuirk Arena.

SAN ANTONIO, Tx. — Heather Oesterle’s coaching journey has taken her across the country and to the biggest of stages, thanks to hard work and a legendary mentor. 

Starting as a volunteer assistant at Stanford, making the NCAA Tournament there, moving on to Miami (Ohio) and Northern Illinois before joining forces with her coach at Michigan, Sue Guevara, at Central Michigan, Oesterle has become a leader in more ways than one with the Chippewas.

From starting as an assistant coach, moving to associate head coach before taking the big chair from Guevara in July 2019, Oesterle has grown as a coach with each passing moment. 

“I’ve had an incredible mentor in Coach Guevara,” Oesterle said after the MAC Tournament championship. “She got me ready to lead this program, and I just wanted to make her proud today.”

Leading her team through a once-in-a-century pandemic, going through slumps on the court, coming out of those slumps to win the Mid-American Conference Tournament and earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament, Oesterle accomplished a lot in her second season leading the Chippewas. 

Just ask her mentor. 

“I’m very happy for what she’s been able to accomplish,” Guevara said. “It makes me smile big; and it makes my heart very happy. I’ve known her since she was 14 or 15 years old. I’ve known her a long, long time. To watch her grow and mature from a sophomore in high school to a very, very successful Division I head coach. 

“It means a lot. She’s my daughter.”

‘I was so happy you cried’

While Guevara was coaching the Chippewas, she never shied away from showing passion during a game.

Oesterle, on the other hand, has been known to be more of a stoic coach. That changed throughout the 2020-21 season and battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whether it was asking her players to play with more fight or using frustration to build intensity, Oesterle became more of an emotional leader in one of the most difficult seasons. 

“She and her staff have gone through a whole lot more in this past year,” Guevara said. “Just with the flexibility, the creativity, how they’ve had to manage the team, more than I think I’ve ever had to in 39 years of coaching.” 

One of the emotional moments Oesterle had during the season was following the Chippewas’ victory in the MAC Tournament championship game against Bowling Green. After the Chippewas secured the 77-72 win and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament, Oesterle broke down in tears during her TV interview with CBS Sports Network. She said she was proud of the team – especially her seniors. 

“We went through some ups and downs, which made winning the MAC Tournament so much sweeter,” Oesterle said. “I got emotional on TV – I was emotional for them and I wanted it for them.”

Guevara said she has been happy with the way Oesterle has grown as a coach on the court – but especially off of it.

“I’m really happy that she has gotten so much more confident speaking in public,” Guevara said. “Showing her emotion – which I think is great – she can be a little bit of a stoic coach, after the MAC Championship, I told her, ‘I was so happy that you cried,’ it meant so much more.”

‘She’s more of a big sister’

Detroit senior guard Micaela Kelly said one of Oesterle’s best qualities is she listens to what the players want and need. 

The relationship between coach and players is strong at CMU – and it has become even stronger this season by living in a bubble. 

“She means a lot to me,” Kelly said. “She’s more of a big sister than she wants to be called. … I’ve watched her grow over these two years and she’s tremendous. She listened to us players and as we worked on our game, she’d be working at the same time.” 

Especially with a team captain, the trust and bond between that particular player and the head coach has to be strong – unbreakable, even. 

With Oesterle and Kelly – like a sisterhood – there’s no breaking that relationship apart even after Kelly departs CMU.

It’s forever.

“We have trust, and we have confidence (in each other),” Kelly said. “We’re pretty close, she trusts me, and that’s one thing you can’t break is trust and a bond. I’m going to forever love her the way I do and be as close with her as I am.”