STILLWATER, Okla. —
It was quite poetic.
As the celebration wound down following the Oklahoma State women’s basketball team’s victory over James Madison to win the Women’s NIT, at center court stood the WNIT trophy on the very hardwood the Cowgirls had just claimed victory.
The trophy sat there as players, family members and media walked past it. The WNIT trophy quietly sat at the very spot the late Kurt Budke used to stand with potential recruits — smack dab in the heart of Historic Gallagher-Iba Arena — and tell them how much he loved Oklahoma State.
It was quite possibly the best place for the trophy won by a group of women that Budke, along with the late assistant coach Miranda Serna, brought together in Stillwater.
The memory of the coaches surround the WNIT championship run by the Cowgirls. OSU had been looked over by the NCAA Tournament selection committee and found itself instead hosting the WNIT. But it wasn’t just one game the Cowgirls hosted in the postseason, it was every single game they played in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.
Each time team members laced up their sneakers this postseason, they were doing so in the same locker room that Budke once stalked. When they hit the hardwood, they were doing so on the very court Budke stood and professed his love for the Cowgirl program.
And on Saturday, as OSU claimed its first WNIT championship in program history, Budke was there. He was there in his players and coaches. He was there when his wife Shelley was the last to climb the ladder on Eddie Sutton Court and cut down the net and then hoist the net skyward.
With Budke’s wife and kids present, along with his parents John and Mary Margaret, the Cowgirl players brought back to life the memory of the man everybody loved. The man they would have loved to have seen glaring down the refs while wearing his bright orange blazer for their biggest game of the season.
It was his memory that forced the tears from head coach Jim Littell, who had been friends with Budke since their time together at Friends University in Wichita, Kan., when he took the microphone to thank the 6,157 fans who came out to support the Cowgirls who had endured so much this season.
“I have never been more proud of a group of young ladies than I have this group,” said Littell, Budke’s former top assistant who took over after the tragedy. “They set the goal in November to pay honor, and I promise you they paid honor today and in this tournament.”
This season will mean so much for the Cowgirl program — beyond winning the WNIT championship.
And it was only fitting that it ended at center-court of Gallagher-Iba Arena, at the heart of the OSU basketball program. With the WNIT trophy surrounded by orange, in the one spot that brought so much love to man who was loved by so many.
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It was quite poetic.
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