Can Kahlaijah Dean and Oakland make noise in Horizon basketball race? Macomb Daily

Can Kahlaijah Dean and Oakland make noise in Horizon basketball race?  Macomb Daily

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Bring on the noise.

Coach Jeff Tungate’s basketball team is ready to make some — and hear some.

“It’ll be great to actually be playing in front of fans again,” the Oakland women’s coach said Monday, the eve of the Golden Grizzlies’ season opener against Toledo at the O’rena.

“We’ll have a crowd, and it’ll be great to get back to some sort of normalcy. We’re just glad to have the fans back.”

Oakland played to a 12-12 record that included a 12-8 Horizon League mark during the pandemic-shaped 2020-21 campaign.

The new season dawns with the Golden Grizzlies, who won eight of their last 12 games last season, picked to finish fifth in the 12-team league.

“We’re excited to get started,” said Tungate, a Rochester resident. “Last year, our players got a taste of winning. They really liked that taste, and now they want more.

“We’ve got really good chemistry.”

Kahlaijah Dean, a 5-foot-6 senior guard, leads Oakland’s quest to get loud in the conference.

The Californian led the team in several categories last season, including points (17.2 per game), rebounds (5.7), assists (4.4) and steals (1.9).

“She’s only scratched the surface of what she’s capable of,” Tungate said. “She’s explosive. She can handle it, she can shoot it, she can get to the rim.

“She scores, and she’s unselfish. She’s really good at finding the open player and trusting her teammates to make plays.”

Tungate said Dean could take “that next step” by becoming a more consistent defender.

She’ll have a veteran supporting cast complemented by six freshmen.

“We don’t need to count on the newcomers as much as we will a year from now,” Tungate said.

Senior Brianna Breedy returns at point guard after starting in all 21 games she played last season. The Ajax, Ontario, resident made 81 % of her free throws.

Kayla Luchenbach, a 6-0 senior from Clarkston, had a 10-point game against Michigan last season and figures to play an expanded role.

“We expect her to have a really good year in the post,” Tungate said.

Junior Breanne Beatty averaged 6.1 points last season.

“She’s really improved her offensive game,” Tungate said. “She gets to the rim better.”

Breanna Perry, a 6-1 redshirt senior, missed nine games because of injury last season, but Tungate said the Golden Grizzlies are “expecting big things” from the former Flushing High player.

Newcomers to watch include Illinois transfer Aaliyah McQueen, a 5-9 sophomore who played at Flint Carman-Ainsworth, plus freshmen Olivia Sims and Kendall Folley, who both hail from Ohio.

IUPUI was picked to win the Horizon League championship. The Jaguars, who play at Oakland on Dec. 4, are led by 6-2 Macee Williams, a three-time conference player of the year.

“She shoots at a really high percentage and is tough to guard,” Tungate said. “They’re picked first for a reason.”

Oakland’s game against Toledo tips at 7 p.m.

The Golden Grizzlies host Niagara on Friday, and they start Horizon League play at home against Youngstown State on Nov. 18.

Michigan State visits the O’rena on Nov. 26.

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