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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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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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but perhaps the most significant was the one in Stillwater, where the women’s team took to the court for the first time since the death of head coach Budke and assistant coach Serna.

From ESPN’s Brandon Chatmon: Cowgirls return to court with a win

On Saturday, the Cowgirls wore patches on their uniforms of the number “4” that featured the initials of each crash victim and the date of the accident stiched onto the number. Coppin State players wore orange T-shirts emblazoned with the number “4” during their pregame warmups.

“Today was much deeper than the basketball part of it,” OSU interim coach Jim Littell said of the Cowgirls’ 59-35 victory over Coppin State at Gallagher-Iba Arena. “We had a chance to pay honor today.

Writes Jessica at Swish Appeal: Oklahoma State 59, Coppin State 35 – “The healing process, I believe, started today.”

After the last buzzer sounded and the tradition of singing the alma mater at midcourt was finished, another round of applause was given, another moment of celebration was had – and this one all the more personal. In something I have never in my life seen before, the entire team, players and staff alike, went directly up in the stands to the Budke family and gave hugs to Kurt’s wife, three children and parents.

“It really meant a lot to all the girls,” Lindsey Keller said of the moment in the stands after the game. “It was for him (Budke) and Coach Serna and we just want to honor them and show our respect. We love them.”

Gina Mizell at News Ok writes: Reflecting on the Oklahoma State women’s basketball tragedy

I’ve learned a lot about the school that I cover during the past week. I’ve learned what made Budke and Serna special people, and hearing others talk about them made me wish I had gotten to know them. But I’ve learned more about the Oklahoma State people. I’ve seen what a tight-knit, passionate group it is all throughout football season, but this tragedy has really shown how supportive and loyal Cowboys and Cowgirls are to their school and each other. That is what’s going to get the OSU faithful through yet another extremely difficult time.

Jenni Carlson Cowgirls honor their coaches in first game since plane crash

Moments before the start of a basketball game that was about so much more than a basketball game, the big screen at Gallagher-Iba Arena flashed to the home bench.

There were smiles. There were laughs.

There was joy.

From Jimmie Trammel at the Tulsa World: Cowgirls play emotional first game since coaches’ fatal plane crash

During a postgame press conference, OSU president Burns Hargis’ voice cracked when he acknowledged the Budkes’ presence at the game.

“The week they have had would devastate any of us,” Hargis said. “And for them to come out and support these girls was, I think, wonderful.”

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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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