'I'm so proud': Heather Oesterle, Micaela Kelly proud of Chippewas in toughest season

Central Michigan senior guard Micaela Kelly guards Iowa freshman guard Caitlin Clark in an 87-72 loss to Iowa in the first of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament March 21 at Alamodome in San Antonio, TX.

SAN ANTONIO, TX. -- College basketball teams face adversity every season.

The great ones punch adversity in the mouth, get on with their season and win championships.

The 2020-21 college basketball season was a new animal. With the COVID-19 pandemic, just playing games was enough of a challenge, let alone finding loads of success. 

Central Michigan's women's basketball team is no exception. 

Along with the mandatory testing -- six times per week -- to prevent the spread of COVID-19 just to get on the court, CMU had its challenges on the court. 

In mid-January, CMU was struggling to find its footing offensively and dropped three games in a row -- at Northern Illinois by 31, home against Ohio by nine and Eastern Michigan by three, also in McGuirk Arena. 

After the loss to the Eagles, head coach Heather Oesterle called on her seniors to play with more fire and deliver the play needed to win a championship. 

Did they ever deliver. 

Led by Detroit senior guard Micaela Kelly, the Chippewas rattled off eight wins in 10 games -- including five in a row and a double-overtime win at Ball State -- to capture the Mid-American Conference Tournament title and earn a berth into the NCAA Tournament. Though the No. 12-seeded Chippewas fell to the No. 5-seeded Hawkeyes 87-72 it still proved to be a memorable season.

“I can’t say enough about them,” Oesterle said. “Teams either pick each other up and stay with it or they fold. There were a couple of times where we lost a couple of games in a row and we could have folded and thank God we have great leaders and people that don’t give up because we were able to turn it around, come together and play better as a team.”

When CMU won the conference title in Cleveland, Oesterle began to cry during her interview with the CBS Sports Network because of the pride she felt in her team. 

Oesterle said she broke down again in the locker room after the season came to an end. 

“I’m so proud of them,” Oesterle said. “I broke down again, I broke down after the MAC Tournament. … They’ve made everyone at Central proud. The community, the staff, I’m just very, very proud of them.” 

Back before practice started this season, CMU worked out on the Gus Macker hoops at the Bennett Track Field and had some rainouts for practice -- another oddity of the COVID-season. 

From the Macker hoops to the MAC title and the NCAA Tournament, Oesterle, Kelly and the Chippewas had a lot to be proud of. 

“I’m so proud of this group,” Kelly said. “We’ve overcome a lot of obstacles, starting the season on the Gus Macker hoops outside, we’ve overcome a lot of adversity and ending the season the way we have, I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve done.

“We came together, we overcame a lot.”