CMU women left with lots to replace, but youth could be key to sustained success

Will youth, experience create winning blend in Oesterle's third year?

Bolingbrook senior forward Jahari Smith loses the tip off against SVSU on Thursday, Nov. 4 at McGuirk Arena.

In Micaela Kelly, Maddy Watters and Kyra Bussell, Central Michigan graduated 3,891 points, four All-Mid-American Conference selections and a conference Player of the Year. Trios like this don’t come around very often, and replacing them successfully often takes time. 

For third-year coach Heather Oesterle, however, the infrastructure within Central Michigan women's basketball remains stable. Pair the returners with another solid freshman class, and once again the Chippewas are shaping up for a reload, not a rebuild. 

“When you get some fresh blood in here and they’re all hungry to learn and we’ve got good leadership from our upperclassmen that are playing with a lot of confidence and giving our freshmen a lot of confidence, (as well as) the sophomores,” Oesterle said. “I just think it’s an exciting time for our program with new faces.”

She considers her 2020 recruiting class freshmen, as the four members were unable to participate in a full offseason last year due to COVID complications. These four, despite playing the full season, are still developing alongside the 2021 class. 

This youth will be no excuse as CMU begins its quest to win the regular season MAC title for a second time and make its fourth-straight MAC tournament appearance under Oesterle.

The Chippewas still have plenty of experience, but it’s this the youth who could carry them over the edge. There will be freshmen mistakes, but try again if you think Oesterle will use this as an excuse. 

“I told our team (that) you’ll never hear me say we lost a game because we’re young or we’re inexperienced,” Oesterle said. “That’s not what we do here. We reload. And we’re reloading this year.”

Next in line

In the latter years of Sue Guevara’s tenure and into the start of Oesterle’s, the Chippewas have followed a natural progression when it comes to top scorers. This mantle has been passed flawlessly from Presley Hudson to Kelly, and will now flow to junior Molly Davis. 

The Midland native has little to prove in terms of her scoring ability. She’ll cross the 1,000 point plateau with just eight points this season, a mark she’ll likely have in the Nov. 9 season-opener against No. 17 Georgia Tech. 

“I think Molly always kind of had it in her,” Oesterle said. “She plays with a lot of swagger.”

Davis and Kelly formed a 1-2 punch that helped to carry the Chippewas through the MAC tournament last season. Together, the two combined for 44.7 points per game on a team that averaged 77.7. 

With Kelly off to pro ball, it’s natural to think that Davis will have to bear the top scoring responsibilities. 

However, Oesterle believes she won’t be alone. 

“I do think this year we’re gonna see a little bit more balanced scoring, because we do have other weapons on the floor.” Oesterle said. “Jahari Smith is playing extremely well, she has a goal this year of getting a double-double every game. So we have a lot of different players who have the ability to put the ball in the hole.”

On top of Smith, the only remaining senior is guard Kalle Martinez, a key bench contributor. There’s also redshirt junior Anika Weekes, who had a pleasant 2020-21 season after missing all of the previous year due to injury. Weekes strength is her defensive versatility. Thanks to her length, she is an athletic defender who guard nearly anyone on the court. 

This experienced core of four players will be key as the Chippewas run the non-conference gauntlet, with matchups with NCAA tournament qualifiers Michigan and Marist along with the Yellow Jackets. 

Fresh faces

Another area the Chippewas have performed well is on the recruiting trail. This recruiting class seems to be another hit, as Oesterle may have two freshmen in her starting lineup when the season begins. 

One of these is Stockton, Illinois native Tiana Timpe, a lights-out shooter with high aspirations. Timpe’s college goal is to break the 3-point makes record, currently held by Hudson, an assistant coach on this year’s team. 

“She’s a six-foot, can get her shot off against anybody,” Oesterle said. “She’s pretty special.”

Hanna Knoll, from Angola, Indiana, is another option for Oesterle in the backcourt. As a combo guard with good size, she can either run the point or play off the ball. 

Knoll is a good outside shooter and very athletic. She can create opportunities for herself and others, and has spent many an hour in the gym since coming to Mount Pleasant. 

The remaining trio of freshmen, guards Lisa Tesson and Karrington Gordon and forward Rebekah Gordon, are beginning the rise to their high ceiling. Tesson will spell Davis and Knoll as a point guard and will likely be one of the first players off the bench. 

Karrington, according to Oesterle, possesses the athleticism of former Chippewa star Crystal Bradford. She’s getting up to speed and, once she does, Oesterle believes she’ll be a special piece. 

More than that, Oesterle is working to get her sophomore class up to speed. The quartet group missed out on the traditional freshman offseason as a result of the pandemic, but could become valuable contributors after a solid offseason. 

Forwards Sydney Graber, Rachel Loobie and Maryama Turkstra, along with guard Carlee Crabtree, could all see valuable playing time over the course of the season. Should they put it together, they could be key to the team’s success.

Oesterle has a tough group to replace. Yet, she’s recruited well enough to create a solid foundation of youth within the program. How everything comes together early is anyone’s guess, but the Chippewas have a tradition of playing their best ball in March. 

With Oesterle in charge, it’s tough to ever count CMU out -- and this year, despite everything lost, is not the year to do so.