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WNIT: OSU women end tragic season with championship

Oklahoma State won the WNIT Championship Saturday afternoon with a 75-68 victory over James Madison. But the moments that really matter happened after the Cowgirls clinched the win.

A season that will forever be linked to the tragedy of the November plane crash that killed coach Kurt Budke, assistant Miranda Serna and program supporters Olin and Paula Branstetter culminated nearly five months later with celebration.

With hugs. With tears of joy. With smiles.

“It was like that fairy-tale ending for us,” Young said.

Also from Gina: Morning After Blog: Breaking down Oklahoma State’s WNIT run

Yesterday’s WNIT championship win for the Oklahoma State women’s basketball team was about so much more than basketball, and I wrote it as such in my story in Sunday’s Oklahoman.

But understandably lost in the shuffle of such an emotional win–and journey–was just how well the Cowgirls played during the WNIT. So let’s look purely at basketball for a bit and break down this postseason run for the Cowgirls.

From John Klein at the Tulsa World: Cowgirls’ emotional season has a happy ending

Littell said he couldn’t keep thinking about his friends and family throughout Saturday’s game.

“It’s been a long, tough year,” said Littell.

Budke’s wife Shelley continued to sit in her regular seats up behind OSU’s bench the entire season.

She got to help cut down the nets after the WNIT Championship Game.

“That was really special,” said Littell. “She’s a special lady.

“She’s been a rock for us all season.”

From the AP: Oklahoma State ends tragic season with WNIT title

From Chase Glorfeld at the Idaho State Journal: Oklahoma State women get Hollywood ending

Stories of “tragedy to triumph” are maniacally over-used in Hollywood and mainstream media and frankly have lessened the impact and importance of tragic occasions that occur in our own lives.

 But on Saturday, something that transcends while at the same time defines that cliché took place in Stillwater, Okla.
I really don’t know if such a terrible story when it started in November could have had much better of an ending than what happened in Stillwater on Saturday afternoon. The wife of late head coach Kurt Budke, Shelley, provided the final snip of the WNIT nets and the Cowgirls reigned victorious.

From Mechelle: From tragedy to triumph – Oklahoma State beats James Madison for the WNIT championship

At Big 12 media day last October, Kurt Budke sounded like he almost couldn’t wait to be at the same event a year in the future. He was excited about the young talent on his Oklahoma State team and felt sure that the players’ growth potential was very, very strong.

That’s the image I will always keep in my mind of Budke: smiling and looking ahead.

Saturday, on the same Gallagher-Iba court where Budke and his assistant, Miranda Serna, were eulogized last November after their deaths in a plane crash, those left behind had as happy an ending to the season as they could have hoped for after their devastating loss.

It couldn’t have been an easy game for either team to play, so I don’t want James Madison’s effort in the WNIT, and during the season as a whole, get lost in the shuffle. Said coach Kenny Brooks post-game:

I thought it was a hard-fought game. I thought both teams played hard. I thought (OSU) played better than we did for longer stretches, therefore, when you come to a venue like this and a situation a like this, you can’t have lulls. We had some lulls, and I thought that was the big difference, but give them credit. (Toni) Young is probably the best center we’ve played against all year. She was tremendous inside and athletic, and (Tiffany) Bias was probably the best point guard we’ve played against all year. Those two I thought were the biggest factors, and we just couldn’t contain them when we needed to. That group, they’ve done a very special thing for this program at Oklahoma State and we tip our hat to them. We just didn’t have our best game.”

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From the Tulsa World: OSU women’s coaches take on extra work in wake of tragedy

The Oklahoma State women’s basketball team has rebounded from tragedy to win 18 games and reach the Sweet Sixteen of the WNIT.

The Cowgirls, who host Missouri Valley Conference champion Missouri State at 7 p.m. Thursday, were shepherded to this point by Jim Littell, who was promoted from assistant coach to head coach after former head coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna died in a Nov. 17 plane crash.

But the unsung heroes of OSU’s forge-ahead season have been members of Littell’s staff.

From CBS-Philly: Temple, Villanova Ready For WNIT Battles

Just two Division I teams in the city are still playing basketball.  Both the Temple and Villanova women’s squads are into the Sweet 16 of the WNIT with both look to advance tonight.

Temple will be home at McGonigle Hall to host Syracuse out of the Big East while Villanova is on the road tonight to run with Colorado out of the Pac 12.

From the Daily Toreador: Tech hopes to extend WNIT run, hosts San Diego

We’re just excited to be able to continue to play,” she said. “We’ve got a chance to go to an Elite Eight. There’s another Elite Eight about to happen and when you look across this tournament, there are very worthy NCAA Tournament teams, so, again, it’s just trying to turn it into the most positive experience we can. That’s what life’s about.”

From the Richmond Times: U.Va., VCU set for WNIT third-round games

University of Virginia women’s basketball coach Joanne Boyle doesn’t believe in the status quo. After 34 games and nearly five months, Boyle is still tweaking her club’s on-court personality.

U.Va., which will play host to Appalachian State tonight at 7 in the third round of the WNIT, has thrived throughout the season on an inside-oriented zone defense. But in Monday’s second-round victory over the University of Richmond, a dangerous perimeter-shooting team, Boyle’s Cavaliers played an uncharacteristic amount of man-to-man.

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Cowgirls have a lot to be proud of

“[G]etting through” took on a new, deeper, heart-searing meaning this season for everyone associated with Oklahoma State women’s basketball. The program lost the driving force that had rejuvenated it, head coach Kurt Budke, along with assistant Miranda Serna, in a Nov. 17 plane crash.

Ever since, the Cowgirls and the staff have tried to walk that line between remembrance and moving forward. They have their private conversations in which the grief and sense of irreplaceable loss still well over. But they also know the last thing Budke and Serna would have wanted to see was a stack of L’s next to Oklahoma State’s name. They both loved the program, loved Stillwater, loved what has been and is still being built.

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From Swish Appeal: Mike Gundy Presents Fiesta Bowl Trophy to Shelley Budke, Remembers the 4

The imprint Kurt Budke, Miranda Serna and the Brandstetters made went far beyond the basketball court. The Budke family was present last night as OSU narrowly defeated the Stanford Cardinal in a 41-38 overtime win in the Fiesta Bowl. And the Budke family was present on the stage when Mike Gundy was presented the trophy, only to hand over the golden football to Kurt’s widow, Shelley.

“I want to dedicate this win to the four victims of the plane crash,” Gundy said to the sea of orange. “It meant so much to the Oklahoma State people and to our team and for their families. The players wanted to do it.”

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for a better year: great college season, fabulous Final Four, enjoyable W season with an exciting playoff run, good futures being built in USA Basketball and an (almost) wide open 2011-12 season win many intriguing players to follow.

The off the court heartbreak of the last four months of the year, though, dominates my memories of 2011: Pat, Kurt and Miranda and Tayshana.

For a retrospective, Brenda and Mechelle give us WSC Radio Show: December 30, 2011: Year in review and opening week of conference play

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from Mechelle: Return to court will help healing process – Program must find way to persevere without two of its most important figures

There was no happier time for Oklahoma State women’s basketball than the January 2008 night this building was filled to capacity for the “Bedlam” game with Oklahoma, when the Cowgirls ended a 17-game losing streak to the Sooners in a season that would lead to an NCAA Sweet 16 appearance.

And there was no sadder time than Monday: a gray, early-winter afternoon when the Oklahoma landscape looked bleak and bland, robbed of most of the green that can make this part of the country lovely in springtime and summer.

It was the kind of day that reminds us why basketball means so much, how it’s a respite from the cold and dark, how wonderful it can feel to walk into a warm, brightly lit gymnasium to the sights, sounds and smells of basketball.

Budke and Serna dearly loved that, and in reviving Oklahoma State women’s basketball after it had gone so far downhill, they were not just helping their own program. They were boosting the sport in general, creating another place where women’s hoops mattered, where there could be real, sustained excitement about the team’s accomplishments.

There are no seniors on this year’s Cowgirls’ squad. So much promise. So much to look forward to. Now, the Cowgirls have to persevere without two of the most important people they expected to have in their college lives.

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A slew of stuff from Ok. News:

OSU memorial: Kurt Budke was a basketball coach, life mentor, father figure

“This is how much of a family man Coach Budke is,” Clardy said, “it was Father’s Day when he asked me to commit. My dad wasn’t with me, my mom was, and when he asked, ‘Will you commit to us?’ I was like, ‘Absolutely.’ I almost fell out of my chair.

“And he said, ‘No, no, no, you’re going to go home and talk to your dad, then you call me and let me know.’ That was him, it was about family first.

The coach came up with the early morning workout regimen for Clardy, which usually included nothing more than basic drills and running but did wonders for Clardy’s confidence.

“You can just get so down when things aren’t going right,” Clardy said. “But she pulled me out of the deepest hole.

“She devoted her time to me, and I think that’s so rare to find in college basketball people. If I said, ‘Coach Serna, 5 doesn’t work for me. Does 3 work?’ She would have been here at 3.”

A photo gallery from the memorial service.

From the Tulsa World: They pay tribute to Budke and Serna’s dedication, kindness

Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said Budke wasn’t just a good man. He was a great man.

“A lot of us overuse that (‘great’) word in coaching,” Blair said. “But when you recognize a man for his family values and how he treats kids and how he treats other coaches, that’s greatness.”

Dave Sittler: Budke’s lessons live on for players

“Coming out of high school, I was the MVP and a state champion in Texas and thought I was going to come in here and be a stud,” Clardy said. “Little did I know that God’s plans for me were way different, and Coach Budke’s plans for me were way different.

“I’ll forever be grateful that I wasn’t a stud. Coach Budke changed my life when I wasn’t a superstar and helped me see things in a new light.”

From the Oklahoma State Scout Board: Budke Had A Profound Impact On Clardy

And that coaching position at SHS was just another example of how Budke impacted Clardy’s life.

“When I graduated I was like, ‘What am I going to do? I need my basketball fix,’ so coach Budke and coach (Jim) Littell got my in the position to coach at Stillwater High School with coach (Carl) Treat this year and all of last year … They know how much I love basketball and wanted to be around it so they helped make another one of my dreams come true.”

And those dreams that were realized by Clardy and the rest of the current and former Cowgirl players make the loss of their coach all the more painful.

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George Schroeder at Sports Illustrated: Oklahoma State community far too familiar with unfathomable tragedy

Budke, 50, was extremely popular. In his seventh season in Stillwater, he had elevated the program, taking the Cowgirls to three NCAA tournament appearances, including a Sweet 16. Serna, 36, had been on his staff for seven years. Hargis described Budke and Serna as “incredible mentors.”

“He loved this place,” said associate head coach Jim Littell, who will assume duties as interim coach. It’s a common sentiment in a tight-knit community, where ties run deep — and where wounds are still healing from the 2001 crash.

“The tragedy at Oklahoma State, which has known its share of tragedy in the past, leaves you with a helpless feeling,” Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. “My heart goes out to the families of Kurt and Miranda and everyone associated with the basketball program and university. The women’s college basketball community just lost two family members and all of us are feeling the effects. There won’t be a day that goes by this season that we won’t think about them in one form or another.”

He really cared about his players,” she said. “God was first, family was second and basketball was third. He had his priorities in line. I will always be grateful to him for the opportunities that he gave me. There are a lot of girls that feel the same way. He just gave us an opportunity to have an amazing experience and to learn so much not only about basketball, but about life.”

Byford said Serna was one of the most kindhearted women that she’d ever met in her life.

“She would do anything for any of us players,” Byford said. “She would bend over backward for you. She just loved life. She brought so much energy every day to practice.

Waters said Martin, who was recruited by Serna and developed a close relationship with both coaches, was reeling from the news.”The hardest thing is the closeness, because Coach Serna genuinely cared about Brittney and her family,” Waters said. “Miranda was like a sister to her, and she always stayed in touch with her parents, her grandma, everyone. And obviously Coach Budke was another reason she wanted to go to Oklahoma State. It goes way beyond basketball for the family.”

Flags will be lowered to half-staff Monday in Oklahoma in honor of the two Oklahoma State women’s basketball coaches, Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna, and the former state senator and his wife killed Thursday in a plane crash.Meanwhile, Oklahoma grieves. The state “is a close-knit community,” said Alex Weintz, communications director with Gov. Mary Fallin’s office. “It’s a difficult time I’m sure for the team and the school and the entire state. … When something like this happens, everyone is affected.”

If you’re a women’s basketball fan, you know how much Budke has meant to revitalizing the Cowgirls’ program. If you don’t follow the sport, this terrible news probably caught your eye because of the eerie connection to the January 2001 accident that caused so much grief and is memorialized at Gallagher-Iba Arena in a haunting tribute to the Oklahoma State 10.

You might not know much, if anything, about Budke, but he’s a guy you would have liked a lot. You could shoot the bull with him about all sports because he followed everything. You could jokingly fib about your last round of golf, or brag about your kids. You would know you were talking to someone who appreciated everything he had because he had worked so hard for it.

“Not many people in Division I have been at places where they were the coach, the counselor, the bus driver and swept the floors,” he would say. “All those experiences I look back on, and am thankful I went through them.”

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Kurt Budke, Miranda Serna die in crash

Oklahoma State women’s basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna have died in a plane crash along with two others, 10 months after the school commemorated the 10th anniversary of a crash that killed 10 men associated with the men’s program.

The plane went down Thursday night in Perry County, Ark., also killing the pilot — 82-year-old former Oklahoma state Sen. Olin Branstetter — and his wife, Paula. There were no survivors.

Reactions:

Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt: “The University of Tennessee Lady Vol basketball family is shocked and deeply saddened at the tragic loss of Oklahoma State head coach Kurt Budke, assistant Miranda Serna and the other victims of the plane crash.I’ve known Kurt for many years and enjoyed watching his success all along the way. He was a great guy and a wonderful family man. He had such a great passion for teaching and coaching the game of women’s basketball. Obviously, Miranda was a highly-respected assistant coach and had a promising career ahead of her. It is just so terribly sad that we had to lose them. Tennessee will be keeping Oklahoma State, the family and friends of Kurt and Miranda in our thoughts and prayers. Our hearts go out to them.”

WBCA CEO Beth Bass: “The entire women’s basketball coaching community is stunned and deeply saddened by the news from Stillwater this morning. Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna were our colleagues and friends. I’ve known Kurt since he was at Trinity Valley Community College. I just can’t believe it.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Oklahoma State University; the Oklahoma State athletic program; the Cowgirls coaches, players and staff; and the family and friends of Kurt, Miranda and the other individuals who died in this tragic accident.”

UConn coach Geno Auriemma: “This just hits you right between the eyes. I had gotten to know him in junior college. He had done a great great job in junior college. The whole time at Louisiana Tech and Oklahoma State I don’t think there isn’t any coach in the country that doesn’t know Kurt. … When I heard it my first reaction was how are the players? How are they going to handle that? It’s the equivalent of losing a parent when you talk about the amount of time you are with them. I had a former player lose both parents in a private plane accident. Its undescribeable. Who cares about the basketball but its about the relationship and Kurt and Miranda’s families. Conference realignment and stuff happening on college campuses but all of a sudden it numbs you.”

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