Women’s basketball sees third season of improvement conclude

Autumn+Kissman+takes+a+3-pointer+against+IUPUI.+The+women%27s+basketball+team+lost+86-64+in+the+Horizon+League+quarterfinals.

Jose Juarez, OU Athletics

Autumn Kissman takes a 3-pointer against IUPUI. The women’s basketball team lost 86-64 in the Horizon League quarterfinals.

Michael Pearce, Editor-in-Chief

When his team lost in the Horizon League title game in 2018, Head Coach Jeff Tungate was staring down a problem.

The majority of his team was graduating, including the entire starting lineup of Cierra Bond, Sha’Keya Graves, Taylor Gleason, Leah Somerfield and Korrin Taylor.

“We just graduated so many players,” Tungate said. “It put us in a tough spot.”

The following season, the team had their worst season since Tungate took over, finishing 3-15 in Horizon League play. At the same time, he was dealing with intense health problems related to a botched spinal surgery. 

Each year following, the team improved their record and finished better in the final standings. This season, the team had their first playoff home game under Tungate, finishing 12-8 in the conference and earning the No. 4 seed in the tournament.

In their first home playoff game, the Golden Grizzlies had a tough draw, facing the reigning league champion IUPUI Jaguars and the three-time player of the year Macee Williams. In the end, Williams and the 13-3 Jaguars defeated Oakland 86-64 and moved on to the Horizon League semifinals.

“We knew it was a tough draw coming in,” Tungate said. “But, we hoped after they had a few weeks off we could play our game and come out on top.”

Playing hard and fast can come with downsides, as the Golden Grizzlies saw against IUPUI. The Jaguars got out to a very early lead, forcing the Golden Grizzlies to play catch-up for most of the game. Even when Oakland was stringing together solid possessions, the reigning champs kept them at arms’ length.

“We just dug ourselves a hole early that we couldn’t climb out of,” Tungate said. 

Williams finished with a game-high 28 points and nine rebounds for the Jaguars. For Oakland, Horizon League first-teamer Kahlaijah Dean led the way with 13 points and three assists. 

The only other Golden Grizzly in double figures was senior Autumn Kissman, who finished with 10 points. In her final start at Oakland, Kissman grabbed five boards and blocked one shot as well. 

Moving forward, Tungate and the Golden Grizzlies are looking to improve for the fourth season in a row. To do that, avoiding digging holes like they had against IUPUI will be a priority.

To do that, the team will lean on Dean. Dean, who earned first-team honors before the tournament, will be in consideration for preseason player of the year after her improvement this season. Tungate stressed the importance of her consistency, while also mentioning that in order for the team to succeed, Dean needs to be the best leader she can. 

This year’s graduating class is Myka Cromwell, Kissman, Chloe Guingrich and Jalisha Terry. Guingrich and Kissman played the majority of their minutes in frontcourt roles, which means current juniors Kayla Luchenbach and Breanna Perry will see increased minutes for Oakland.

Perry, who missed time due to an injury, saw increased minutes as the season went on. Luchenbach showed her potential during a 15-point, 14-rebound game against Green Bay Jan. 1. 

“Kayla has proven she can hit the three and crash the glass,” Tungate said. “Bre never really recovered from her injury this season, people haven’t even seen her true game yet.”

Moving forward from a season that was defined by COVID-19, Tungate is just hoping for more normalcy in the remainder of 2021. Despite a good season, jumping through pandemic hoops is something Tungate hopes the team never has to do again.

With a diverse recruiting class coming in and a foundation built from years of steady recruiting, Oakland Women’s Basketball is looking to return to championship form.