Cowgirls Take A Step Toward Recovery

The emotions were palpable as the Cowgirls' first game following last week's tragic plane crash neared tip off. Just nine days removed from the deaths of coach Kurt Budke, assistant Miranda Serna and OSU alums Olin and Paula Branstetter, the pain has had little time to heal.

The pregame was first class. The small but vocal crowd of 3,554 in Gallagher-Iba paid its respects with a standing ovation rather than a moment of silence to honor the lives of the four. During team introductions, Cowgirl fans cheered for their opponents from Coppin State, who wore orange warmups with the number "4" emblazoned on their shirts.

As expected, amidst the cheering and positive energy in the arena, the Cowgirl players and coaches were misty-eyed and somber during introductions and pre-game festivities.

Cowgirl guard Jenni Bryan described the feeling as well as anyone.

"All kinds of emotions," Bryan said. "You're sad. You're happy. You're joyful. You're glad to be around great people and a great atmosphere.

"It changes minute to minute."

But once the game tipped, everything else seemed to subside. The tears went away and the girls ran up and down the floor; they competed, defended and set screens. They played basketball.

The place where they found their greatest relief was the place where one might have expected the wound to be its most tender without the comforting voices of Budke and Serna on the sideline.

For roughly two hours, Oklahoma State and Coppin State went at it en route to a 59-35 Cowgirl victory.

For two hours the focus was on execution, running the offense, rotating off screens and playing hard-nosed defense.

It would be foolish to think that those things mattered on this day but, in some ways, they really did. And that was a good thing. The Cowgirls were happy.

"It's OK to smile. It's OK to laugh out there. It's OK to show positive emotion," interim coach Jim Littell said. "That is not disrespectful. That's the way Coach Serna and coach Budke really wanted it."

And the Cowgirls got another thing Budke and Serna would have wanted — a victory.

Tiffany Bias led all scorers with 17 points and also led the game with five assists. Vicky McIntyre and Lindsey Keller led the Cowgirls with seven rebounds each. Thirteen Cowgirls saw action, 11 scored and 10 played double-digit minutes.

The Cowgirls held CSU to 11-of-58 shooting from the floor, good for just 19 percent and had nine blocks and eight steals.

OSU played well but wasn't perfect, but it didn't need to be. It looked like a team playing just its second game of a young season. There was plenty to be encouraged about on the court but the overwhelming positive was the fact that they were out there playing to begin with. It provided a big step in the healing process.

"It was fun getting to play together again," Bryan said. "We've been off for 13 days and trying to practice hard and control our emotions and this and that; coming together as a team and knowing that the girl to your right and the girl to your left is going to be there for you. Looking up in the stands and seeing everybody supporting us was huge. That's who we play for."

The pain is far from gone but Saturday was a major step and as coach Littell said:

"I think it's a start."

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