Gail the great: Associate head coach bringing knowledge to Chippewas ahead of NCAA Tournament


Associate head coach Gail Goestenkors (right) hugs Bolingbrook, Illinois junior center Jahari Smith following Central Michigan's win in the MAC Tournament championship game over Bowling Green on March 13 in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Ben Suddendorf)

SAN ANTONIO, Tx. – As Central Michigan was getting ready to play in the Mid-American Conference Tournament, head coach Heather Oesterle was approached by her associate head coach – one with plenty of coaching experience. 

That coach? Gail Goestenkors. 

“(Goestenkors) came to me and said, ‘It’s tournament time, where’s your head at,’” Oesterle said. “She wanted to give me her opinion about where we needed to be at this point in the season.”

After all, Goestenkors has been there, done that with conference tournaments in the country’s biggest leagues – the Big 12 and the Atlantic Coast Conference, where her Duke teams won five ACC Tournament championships in a row. 

Goestenkors has also advanced her Blue Devil teams to the Final Four on four occasions – twice to the National Championship game – has proven to be one of the best head coaches in women’s college basketball and is a member of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

On top of her success in the college game, Goestenkors has experience coaching some of the best players in the world. Goestenkors served as an assistant coach on the U.S. Olympic teams in 2004 and 2008 – both teams won gold medals. 

Oesterle said the first-year Chippewa associate head coach has been valuable toward her own development as a second-year head coach. 

“She’s incredible,” Oesterle said. “Just (Friday), we were going back and forth on different things about being a head coach. She’s been good for me.”

With CMU, Goestenkors primarily coaches the forwards – with just two playing for the Chippewas heading into Sunday’s NCAA Tournament opener against Iowa – but the long-time coaching veteran has left her mark with players she does not work with primarily. 

Detroit senior guard Micaela Kelly said she has learned from Goestenkors just from simply being around her. 

“(Goestenkors) has been a rock this season,” Kelly said. “She’s one of the (greatest of all time), so whatever I do take from her is going to be big. She has been very open; when I’m down, she finds a way to pick me up and keep motivating me. She can also see the things I can’t see on the court, so when I come out of the game, she helps me recognize things I can’t see.

“She gives me confidence – coach Gail has been tremendous toward the success of this season.” 

Oesterle said she has learned plenty from Goestenkors this season, too. Now, the Chippewas have the guidance, wisdom and expertise heading into the NCAA Tournament. 

“I love everything she tells me – I soak it all up,” Oesterle said. “It’s been very important to have someone with that experience on staff.

“I trust her. She’s been awesome for our team.”