Preview: CMU women’s basketball ready to rebound from down 2021


Central Michigan coach Heather Oesterle coaches against Bowling Green Feb. 15 at McGuirk Arena.

When Central Michigan women’s basketball takes the court on Monday in McGuirk Arena, fans may take time to get acquainted with all of the changes around the team.

For starters, Midland native and 2021 leading-scorer Molly Davis is in the Big Ten with Iowa.

While that's a portion of why the Chippewas are projected to finish last in the Mid-America Conference after a 4-25 season in 2021, head coach Heather Oesterle is not bothered by the projections and has rebuilt her squad in season number four at the helm.

"Preseason predictions, we always say they don't mean anything," Oesterle said. "But this team is playing with a chip on their shoulder. And, they know, I mean, I told them in the huddle yesterday, it's like, nobody knows what we have around this circle. They don't know. But right now, we got a lot to prove.”

With CMU set to begin its season on Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. against Valparaiso, Oesterle knows her team has offensive firepower, she thinks it’s their defense that will surprise people.

"For the first time in a long time, I'm really excited about, our half-court and our full-court defense," Oesterle said. "Right now, we have three different presses in, a man, a zone, and a half-court zone. But they've really bought into like, Okay, we're gonna keep people on their toes.”

Tested Returners

The Chippewas return six players, sophomore guard Lisa Tesson, sophomore guard Hanna Knoll, sophomore forward Tiana Timpe, sophomore guard Karrington Gordon, senior forward Anika Weekes and senior forward Jahari Smith.

In 2021, Smith led the Chippewas with 281 rebounds and was second on the team in points scored with 338. But after spending last season at center, Smith will be changing positions.

"I'm moving her to the four," Oesterle said. "(Smith) has worked and worked and worked this offseason, she comes in and meets with me an hour and 15 minutes before every practice. And then she comes back two times a week after practice to work out. So, she wants to be great. She's a heck of a leader for us. That kid is my heart.”

Switching to power forward means Oesterle wants to see Smith shoot the three.

"I think it's definitely going to surprise teams," Smith said. "Especially because it's not going to stop the rebounding. I'm still gonna be out and inside. As far as shooting threes it's gonna be here and there but definitely gonna spread teams out this year.

With questions surrounding her staying in Mount Pleasant for a fifth season, Smith said the fans’ love for the team drew her back.

"The fans, the community here, they really, really hype it up," Smith said. "So, I was like I can't leave them behind. It's just like a family.”

Weekes was second on the team in rebounds in 2021, and Oesterle believes she and Smith have a prime opportunity to cement their legacies.

"That's the thing I told (Smith) and (Weekes), I go, 'look you guys, you could leave your legacy here, you can take this program from last to first,'" Oesterle said. "I mean, I get goosebumps just thinking about it, because that is the potential."

Tesson, Knoll and Gordon saw extensive time during the 2021 season, while Timpe led CMU in 3-pointers with 60 despite battling injury. Oesterle is expecting each of them to contribute throughout the season.

Using the portal

While the transfer portal took a toll on Oesterle’s squad last year. She used it to her advantage during the off-season by adding four players from the portal, including graduate-transfers guard Mikala Hall, forward Jnaya Walker, forward Nadége Jean and junior center Rochelle Norris.

"We spent a lot of time in the spring recruiting, and we got some really good pieces in here,” Oesterle said. “Our goal was to get some transfers with experience.”

Following the 2021 season, Oesterle came to a realization.

"I really did learn that you can never replace experience,” Oesterle said. “And that's one thing like I thought I could build, build, builds, you know, and then we would play young kids and that's not how it goes nowadays. So we had to get a balance."

Hailing from Stafford, Virginia, Norris spent last season with Virginia Tech, however, she didn’t see playing time. Norris began her collegiate career at West Virginia where she played in 39 games between 2019 and 2021, recording 133 points and averaging four rebounds per game.

Norris will take over the center position, a move Smith supports.

“It means a lot actually,” Smith said. “I feel like we should dominate on the boards this year. If not anything else. We should dominate on the boards.”

Coming to Mount Pleasant from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Hall averaged 10.9 minutes per game while recording 316 points and 172 rebounds in four seasons. 

Spending time at Illinois and Trinity Valley Community College, Walker joins the Chippewas after three seasons with the University of Central Florida. Although she was injured in 2021, Walker averaged 13.6 minutes, 1.5 points and 2.1 rebounds per game. 

A Richton Park, Illinois Native, Jean spent three seasons with DePaul from 2018 to 2021. Seeing time in 26 games, she recorded a career-high 10 points against Alabama State as a freshman.

Freshmen additions

Although adding experience was a key focus for Oesterle during the offseason, she added offensive firepower by way of freshmen Sydney Harris, Taylor Anderson and Bridget Utberg. 

Hailing from Edwardsville, Illinois, Harris, a 6’0 forward, ended her time at Edwardsville High School as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,001 career points. Oesterle sees her playing an extensive role for the Chippewas.

"Right now, I have her in the starting lineup," Oesterle said. "She's gonna play the one, two, three, and four. We can move her around based on a matchup, but she loves to score and she has the green light from me." 

Utberg, a 5’6 combo guard from Woodstock, Georgia, also eclipsed the 2,000-point mark in her career at Woodstock High School as the top-ranked guard in the state. She also received the Region 5-AAAAAAA Player of the Year award.

"Right now she's in the starting lineup," Oesterle said. “We got to figure out ways to get her shots because she is one of our top five scorers."

Anderson, meanwhile, played at South Lyon East High School. She was on the ballot for Michigan's Miss Basketball award after an outstanding senior season.