CMU women’s basketball drops season-opener to Valparaiso

Freshman Sydney Harris fights for the ball during the game against Valparaiso on Monday, Nov. 7 in McGuirk Arena.

Trailing by five with a minute left, freshman forward Sydney Harris sent the crowd in McGuirk Arena into a frenzy as she buried a three to bring Central Michigan women’s basketball within two of Valparaiso.

“Sidney Harris can really shoot it,” head coach Heather Oesterle said. “I’m going to watch film with her on shot selection… I think sometimes she takes really, really quick shots just to get her shot going. And that hurts us. Because shot selection leads to transition layups, on the other end.”

Harris ended the night with 18 points, however, the Chippewas comeback fell short on Monday, as they lost their season opener 71-64 to the Beacons.

“We have a long way to go,” Oesterle said. “And it starts on the defensive end of the floor. I mean, there were times we went to help, and we didn't need to help, there were times where we needed help, couldn’t keep them out of the paint.”

Starting two freshmen, Harris, and guard Bridget Utberg, CMU jumped ahead of the Beacons early in the first quarter.

But the Chippewas struggled to contain Valparaiso junior guard Leah Earnest throughout the rest of the first half forcing Oesterle to shift forward Anika Weekes onto her.

"I put (Weekes), at halftime, on (Earnest)," Oesterle said. "Because she was like really the only one hurting us. But then other people started to get going, and it's like, we have got to be able to keep people in front and take away their strength.”

Weekes ended the night with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

“We've talked to her a lot this offseason about doing what she does best, and that is getting to the basket,” Oesterle said. “You know, a lot of times last year she was settling for threes. But getting to the basket, she did a great job of doing that, and then defending and rebounding.”

Oesterle’s adjustments helped CMU momentarily regain the lead in the fourth quarter. But without transfer center Rochelle Norris, the Beacons found holes in the Chippewa defense and pulled ahead down the stretch.

“Going into the season I thought we had like three different lineups,” Oesterle said. “Obviously, you didn't see Rochelle today, but that's our big lineup. And then we have the pressing lineup. 

While Norris will return, Oesterle wasn’t happy with the team’s defensive showing.

“And my defensive coordinator is standing over there, Courtney Shelton, our pressing team has got to get better with keeping people in front. Yeah, we had some steals, but we also gave up wide-open straight-line drives on the other end. So, we have to be able to contain and force them into the traps that we want to get.”

Although Oesterle saw room for improvement with CMU’s defense as a whole, freshman guard Taylor Anderson was a bright spot.

“I thought Taylor Anderson was a huge spark off the bench,” Oesterle said. “She can defend, rebound. And she's our one person that, before the game it's like, she's got to get to the free throw line.”

Anderson recorded 13 points, nine rebounds and three steals in 27 minutes of action.

Fifth-year senior forward Jahari Smith ended with eight points and six rebounds.

Starting her first game with the Chippewas, grad-transfer Nadege Jean tallied eight points and nine rebounds.

"You look at (Nadege Jean), She cried this morning, when she got up," Oesterle said. "She hasn't played a game in two years. I mean, she has not been on the court in two years. The freshmen have never played at the college level. Jnaya walker, she hasn't played a game in three years. So, I mean, like for a lot of them first time on the court in a long time. But I'll tell you what, I will not stop working until I get this team clicking."

CMU shot 3-for-27 from behind the three-point line, while the Beacons ended the game 7-for-17 from range. 

The Chippewas head to Oakland on Saturday to face the Golden Grizzlies at 6 p.m.