Hours after she celebrated her first regular-season victory as coach of the UCSB women’s basketball team, Carlene Mitchell woke up to the news that her counterpart at Oklahoma State had been killed in a plane crash.
“Devastated!” Mitchell posted on Twitter. “Lost a great friend, mentor and coach! Kurt Budke gave me a chance as a player and helped groom me as a coach.”
Budke and his assistant coach, Miranda Serna, were aboard single-engine plane on a recruiting trip. It crashed in an Arkansas forest Thursday afternoon, killing both coaches along with the pilot and the pilot’s wife.
Mitchell’s association with Budke goes back to 1993-94, when she played on his Trinity Valley (Texas) team that won a national junior college championship. A native of Dewitt, Arkansas, Mitchell said that Budke called her “Little Razorback.”
“You wanted to play hard for him, because you knew he cared,” Mitchell said Friday afternoon. “I’m mad and sad; I can’t believe it. I keep watching TV to see if it’s real.”
In a chilling coincidence, Mitchell was an assistant women’s coach at Oklahoma State in January of 2001, when a Colorado plane crash killed 10 men connected to the university’s men’s basketball program, including two players. Mitchell began a 10-year tenure as a Rutgers assistant later that year. UCSB hired her as head coach in May. On Thursday night, the Gaucho women defeated St. Mary’s 61-52 in their home opener.
Mitchell stayed in touch with Budke, who came to Oklahoma State in 2005. “We were really good friends,” she said. “He was excited when I got the UCSB job.” Mitchell kept her sadness to herself at practice Friday. “I’m going to protect the kids’ emotions,” she said. The Gaucho women play Loyola Marymount at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Former Santa Barbara High standout Maria Cordero, who was a two-year starter at Oklahoma State, expressed “shock and disbelief” at the school’s latest tragedy. Cordero was especially close to Serna, the assistant who recruited her out of Central Arizona Community College. “She was always high-spirited, a great heart,” Cordero said. “She made sure we were pumped up and ready to play.”
Cordero was a senior in 2008, when the Cowgirls reached the NCAA Sweet 16. She and her teammates were grieving with each other in on-line messages Friday. “Everyone’s in shock,” she said. “Andrea Riley is playing in Turkey. She says she’s been crying all day.”
Cordero, who played a year in Spain after college, now lives in North Carolina. She intends to finish two more classes to become the first in her family to earn a college degree. She said Serna, who had taken the same path out of Guadalupia, N.M., inspired her to see it through. “She taught us to believe in ourselves,” Cordero said. “She was a wonderful person.”