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Oklahoma Head Coach Sherri Coale
Rare is the coach who embraces the balance of student and athlete like Sherri Coale. Even fewer teams have had success while emphasizing the books on the same level as the balls.
The symmetry is a trademark of Coale's program.
She meticulously prepares her athletes to excel in the classroom and on the hardwood. In essence, master the game of life and the challenges presented on the court will fall like dominoes.
Those obstacles have routinely been bulldozed during the Coale's 11 years as the head coach of Oklahoma.
The numbers speak for themselves.
Take for example the 21 straight semesters with a combined team GPA of 3.0 or better, the five Big 12 Regular Season Championships, the 68 Academic All-Big 12 honors, the four Big 12 Tournament Championships, the eight All-District Academic Team members, the eight straight NCAA Tournament appearances, the four Academic All-America Team Members and the five Sweet 16 appearances.
The foundation was a laid years ago during a humble upbringing in the oil mining town of Healdton, Okla. Those morals have stood as the roots of Oklahoma women's basketball for 11 years.
Now they are flourishing on an elite level.
So as the Sooners sit on the cusp of the2007-08 season with the biggest national spotlight in program history already glaring in their eyes, Coale and company are sticking to their roots.
And the success that comes with them.
NCAA Final Four Season
Coale's previous years were just stepping stones to national prominence, as she guided Oklahoma to its first NCAA Final Four and national championship game during the 2001-02 season. The Sooners defeated Duke, 86-71, in the NCAA semifinals and lost to top-ranked and undefeated Connecticut, 82-70, in the title match.
By the conclusion of the greatest run in program history, OU had produced its best record in school and Big 12 Conference history (32-4); won its third consecutive Big 12 regular season title; ended the season with its highest ranking ever (No. 2 in the Associated Press and USA Today/Coaches polls); and captured its first NCAA Regional (West) and Big 12 Tournament titles.
That season, Coale also had three players selected in the first round of the WNBA draft: Stacey Dales (3rd/Washington); LaNeishea Caufield (14th/Utah); and Rosalind Ross (16th/Los Angeles).
Packing The Lloyd Noble Center
With these outstanding accomplishments and media exposure, Coale has sparked excitement across the state and nation. Oklahoma has ranked among the nation's top 20 in women's basketball home attendance for the last seven years, including back-to-back top-10 finishes the last two season and a record high fourth place finish in 2006-07 with an average of 10,433.
The largest crowd to ever witness a women's sporting event at the Lloyd Noble Center as 12,112 fans attended the OU-Baylor game on Feb. 12, 2006. That mark topped the previous record of 12,080 from 2003 when OU hosted Tennessee. The Sooners first surpassed the 10,000 attendance mark on Dec. 29, 1999, against top-ranked Connecticut (10,713 fans) and now own 18 all-time crowds of 10 grand or more. In 2006-07, OU drew 10,000 or more fans for eight of 12 home games, plus all three of its contests in the Big 12 Championship at Oklahoma City's Cox Center.
As the victories came, so did Sooner fans. More than a 1.2 million have watched an OU women's basketball game since Coale's arrival. Coale produced her first winning season in 1999 as OU played in front of 1,558 fans per game. Her 2002 Final Four team drew an impressive 6,606 fans per game and all of the attendance records have been re-written the last two seasons.
But Coale's plan isn't just taking place on the hardwood floor of Lloyd Noble Center. She has worked hard to show the public that the athletic and academic pursuits of OU players should be challenged to the fullest. All the while, she was making sure her players understood that the methods and rules of her program would make them better athletes and better students who would be able to adapt to the outside world once school was completed.
Coale, who was an Academic All-American and graduated summa cum laude from Oklahoma Christian, is a firm believer in succeeding in the classroom as well as on the court. Under Coale's guidance, her teams have consistently produced some of the highest grade point averages within the Athletics Department and have posted a combined team GPA of 3.0 or better every semester (21) of her tenure. Four teams (1999, 2001, 2002, 2003) have been named to the Top 25 WBCA Academic Team Honor Roll, while 32 players have earned Academic All-Big 12 honors 68 times.
One of Coale's proudest moments was when former Sooner standout Stacey Dales became OU's first player to earn Academic and Athletic All-America honors in the same season (2001-02). Dales also was voted the 2002 Verizon Academic Student-Athlete of the Year for all NCAA Division I sports. Dales' was later joined on the Academic All-America accomplishments list by Theresa Schuknecht in 2003 and Caton Hill in 2004.
While Dales may remain OU's most prominent player, her celebrity status is quickly being approached by Courtney Paris. After the 2006-07 season, Paris became the first player in Oklahoma state history, men or women, to win AP National Player of the Year. During her sophomore campaign, Paris led the NCAA with 33 double-doubles in 33 games, in addition to ranking second in rebounding (15.9), third in scoring (23.5), fourth in blocks (3.34) and 14th in field goal percentage (.570). Paris also joined Dales as the only other Sooner to earn consensus All-American honors in back-to-back seasons.
In perhaps the most dominating freshman year in NCAA history, Paris collected a bounty of national, regional and conference awards in 2005-06. Just one season into her career, Paris put herself right alongside Dales as the most decorated players in Sooner history. The Piedmont, Calif., native became the first true freshman to claim consensus first team All-America honors since the inception of the AP All-America team (1993). Paris finished her rookie campaign with 55 OU records, 16 Big 12 records and four NCAA records.
Dales became Coale's first Olympian and the school's first two-time Kodak first team All-America selection. She played on the 2000 Canadian National Basketball team that participated in the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Dales also repeated her Big 12 Player of the Year and All-Big 12 first team honors in 2001 and 2002.
In addition to these two standout players, Coale has coached three players to Big 12 Player of the Year honors four times, 13 players to all-conference honors 30 times and three players to first team All-America status. She has also developed seven players into WNBA draft selections, Dales, Caufield, Ross, Maria Villarroel (2004), Phylesha Whaley (2000), Dionnah Jackson (2005) and Leah Rush (2007).
Dales, Caufield and Hill were selected to the 2002 NCAA West Region All-Tournament team, followed by Dales and Ross earning NCAA Final Four All-Tournament honors. Caufield also repeated her All-Big 12 second team honors en route to earning honorable mention Kodak accolades. Hill and Ross appeared on the All-Big 12 third team, while Dales and Jackson were voted to the Big 12 All-Tournament team. Caufield was voted the Defensive Player of the Year by the Women's Basketball News Service and was selected as a Defensive All-American by the Women's Basketball Journal in 2001. Jackson, after appearing on the All-Big 12 second team for two seasons, received first team All-Big 12 honors and honorable mention Kodak honors for the 2005 season. Redshirt sophomore Chelsi Welch earned second-team honors in 2003. Welch also was named co-Big 12 Freshman of the Year and earned Freshman All-America honorable mention accolades from womenscollegehoops.com that same season.
Coale and her Sooners have also been honored by USA Basketball. During the summer of 2005, the Sooner mentor was named to the USA Basketball Committee by the NCAA. She will serve on the national board through 2008. During the summer of 2006, Coale was also promoted from the WBCA Board of Directors to the Vice President of the national organization.
Previously, Coale had served as an assistant coach on the 2001 USA Basketball Women's Junior World Championship Team that won a bronze medal in Brno, Czech Republic, in July 2001.
Leah Rush made her debut with USA Basketball when she was invited to the 2005 USA Basketball Women's National Team Trials. Rush, an Amarillo, Texas, native, was one of the 16 finalists for a spot on the USA World University Games Team.
Sophomores Ashley and Courtney Paris have arguably more international experience than the entire Sooner roster. Both earned gold medals on the 2004 USA Basketball Youth Development Festival West Team. The twins were also invited to tryouts for the 2004 Junior National Team, 2005 USA U19 World Championship Team and the 2006 USA U20 World Championship Team. Courtney went on to mak ealll three teams and earned three gold medals in three international tournaments with the squads.
Currently, Courtney Paris is a part of the USA Senior National Team pool of 22 players that are vying for a spot on the next Olympic team.
Welch and Hill represented OU and USA Basketball during the summers of 2003 and 2001, respectively. Welch, a native of Plainview, Texas, was one of 12 Big 12 All-Stars who represented USA Basketball during the 2003 World University games. Hill was Coale's first player to make a USA Basketball squad. The former Ada, Okla., standout helped the United States to a gold medal at the 2001 World University Games in Beijing, China.
Getting her teams involved within the Sooner family and the community has always been a priority for Coale. She believes it's important for her student-athletes to give back to the community that supports them.
Each player under Coale's supervision has participated in the Sooner Big Sis Program, a program that enables players to volunteer their time as mentors and teacher's aides to elementary schools in the Norman community.
In addition, each season the team gives back to the community by volunteering its time to a nonprofit organization. Last year, the team got involved with Habitat for Humanity. In previous years, the team has volunteered with the Oklahoma City's Children's Hospital (2005-06), J.D. McCarthy Center for Children with Developmental Disabilities in Norman (2004-05), the Children's Miracle Network (2003-2004), the CCFI (2002-03), as well as the United Way's "Meals on Wheels" program (2001-02) and the Norman Women's Resource Center and Battered Women's Shelter (2000-01).
Additionally, the women's basketball team and many other OU programs have made it an annual event to help host and run the Norman area Special Olympics.
After graduating from Oklahoma Christian, Coale received her first coaching assignment at Edmond Memorial High School, serving a two-year term as an assistant coach.
The next stop was as the head coach of the Norman High School girls' basketball team from 1990-96.
The OU transformation that Coale has spearheaded is strikingly similar to the changes she made at Norman High. She took a declining program and after an 11-12 performance in 1990, her debut season, the Lady Tigers never had a losing record under her tutelage. By the time she left for OU, Coale had directed NHS to two Class 6A state championships and a 147-40 career record. Her final two Norman teams went 53-2. Coale was honored as the region, All-State and Big All-City High School Coach of the Year in 1993.
Through the success of her high school teams, Coale had several players earn NCAA Division I basketball scholarships including Stacy Hansmeyer to Connecticut (1997-2000), Sarah Dimson to Stanford (1998-2001) and Sunny Hardeman (1998-01) and Shannon Selmon (1999-2002) to Oklahoma.
After being out of the high school ranks for six years, Hansmeyer and Coale were inducted into Norman High School Hall of Fame together in February 2002.
For Coale's life accomplishments, the community of Healdton, Okla., declared August 26, 2001, as "Sherri Coale Day."
Coale isn't the only coach in her household. Her husband Dane, whom she met while at OCU, has been the head baseball coach at Purcell High School for 14 years. She married the former OCU baseball player on June 20, 1987. The couple has two children, son Colton, 14, and daughter, Chandler, 10. The former Sherri Buben and her brother, Jack, are the children of Beverly Stash and Joe Buben. Jack and his wife, Laura, have six-year old twins, Jackson and Jaycie.