Reese’s consistency, toughness lifted Lady Eagles to great heights

Post player Sarah Reese was a three-time NAIA All-America pick for OC.
Post player Sarah Reese was a three-time NAIA All-America pick for OC.

By Murray Evans
OKLAHOMA CITY (Feb. 4, 2013) – After a standout career at Owasso High School, Sarah Reese faced a tough decision – play for Oklahoma Christian or Cameron University? She chose the latter and realized soon it wasn’t where she needed to be.

The 6-foot-1 post player transferred to OC before her sophomore year and felt right at home. She played like it, too, improving each season – earning NAIA All-America honors and Sooner Athletic Conference first-team honors three times each while helping the Lady Eagles to the first three of what became a run of eight straight national-tournament berths.

That sustained level of excellence earned a spot in the OC Athletic Hall of Fame for Reese, who now uses her married name, Tyszko, and will join five others for the induction ceremony and banquet on Feb. 8.

“I loved coach (Stephanie) Findley and coach (Cory) Cole and OC had a good science department,” Reese Tyszko said. “I’m glad that I made the decision to go there.”

Reese Tyszko wasn’t a flashy or demonstrative player, but from the moment she arrived on OC’s campus before the 1999-2000 season, she produced results. As a sophomore, she led the Lady Eagles in scoring (18.4 points per game) and rebounding (12.3 per game) and was named as the Sooner Athletic Conference newcomer of the year.

She grabbed 395 rebounds that season, still OC’s single-season record, and earned third-team NAIA All-America honors after leading the Lady Eagles to the second round of the national tournament. She had 20 rebounds in a win over John Brown (Ark.), tying what then was the school record.

As a junior, she averaged 15.8 points and 9.0 rebounds per game and was named to the second-team All-America list as OC again went to nationals.

Her senior season, 2001-2002, her scoring average jumped to 19.4 points and she averaged 10.3 rebounds. OC went 20-14 but reached the second round of the national tournament. She became OC’s second first-team All-America selection, following Pam Kelly (1988) on that list. (Two others have since joined that exclusive club.)

Reese Tyszko also starred in the classroom, earning CoSIDA Academic All-District third-team honors as a senior.

“Sarah is probably the best back-to-the-basket post player we’ve had,” said Findley, who’s been OC’s head coach since 1985 and was involved with the program for seven seasons before that. “Sarah positioned well. She was able to position herself before the ball ever got there and bump it off the glass or get fouled and go to the line.

“She was a good free-throw shooter. She was pretty clutch. When we needed it, she’d get it for us.”

Despite having to deal with knee and back problems, Reese Tyszko had 996 rebounds during her three seasons, fifth on OC’s career list, and her 1,707 points rank her sixth all-time at OC in scoring. Her 661 points as a senior place her fifth on OC’s single-season scoring chart and she holds the school’s career rebounding record (10.5 per game).

She also recorded a school-record 52 double-doubles in 95 career games, including 16 doubles in 34 games as a senior.

“With Sarah, it seemed like every time we turned around, she was getting double-doubles,” said Ali Griffin, OC’s point guard during Reese Tyszko’s time at OC. “She worked hard and she made you work harder.”

Reese Tyszko teamed with fellow inside standout Lindsay Wilson – the NAIA’s career leader in blocked shots – and Griffin to form a formidable inside-outside trio. When all three got rolling, the Lady Eagles were tough to stop.

“Sarah and Lindsay packed a pretty good punch in there,” Findley said. “You couldn’t help over on Sarah too much, because Lindsay would be backside getting the rebound if her man left. That kept Sarah from getting double-teamed as much as she would have otherwise. Plus, having Ali outside helped that, too.”

Reese Tyszko credited Cole, a former standout for OC’s men’s basketball team who spend several season’s as Findley’s top assistant with the women’s squad, with instilling within her a tough mindset.

“Coach Cole was always pretty focused on defense and rebounding,” she said. “Putbacks and stuff like that. So that’s what I focused on. It helped to have Lindsay inside and having a guard who can shoot as good as Ali does.”

What impressed Findley most about Reese Tyszko was her work ethic.

“She had a good basketball IQ,” Findley said. “Not all kids have that. She was a good leader and a hard worker. She set the tone.”

That work ethic has continued into Reese Tyszko’s professional career, first as a teacher, then as a physician’s assistant. She lives in the north Texas town of Prosper with her husband and two sons. She has remained in touch with many of her former teammates and at least one of them plans to travel to Oklahoma City to see Reese Tyszko receive OC’s highest athletic honor.

“She is just one of those people you immediately have a respect for,” Griffin said. “Sarah and I are still friends. She’s just a good person all around. I wouldn’t miss getting to see her get this award. I am so happy for her.”