Baranczyk: Oklahoma women’s hoops has championship potential

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — New Oklahoma women’s basketball coach Jennie Baranczyk believes the Sooner program is close to returning to elite status.

The former Drake coach exuded energy and confidence as she addressed a group at the Lloyd Noble Center on Tuesday that included most of the players from last season’s team, which finished strong for now-retired coach Sherri Coale. That team struggled early but had quality wins over Iowa State, West Virginia and Texas in February to finish at 12-12.

Baranczyk feels that between the talent and the existing culture, the Sooners can soon be among the best. History shows it can be done — Oklahoma reached the Final Four three times under Coale.

“The potential to be able to fill this place and the potential to be able to compete for championships is absolutely what drew me here, and it is absolutely what we want to be able to do here,” Baranczyk said.

Her confidence is based on what she has seen from dominant Oklahoma programs such as men’s and women’s gymnastics, softball and football. She believes the commitment the school puts into those programs also exists for women’s basketball.

“When you talk about wanting to be able to compete for conference championships and national championships, you can’t just throw that out there unless there’s people doing it, and there are a lot of programs here at Oklahoma that do that on a very consistent basis,” she said.

Baranczyk is a two-time Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year who had a 192-96 overall record in nine seasons at Drake and led the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Drake spent multiple weeks ranked in the AP Top 25 during the 2016-17 and 2018-19 seasons.

Baylor stands in the way of Oklahoma’s potential return to greatness. The Lady Bears have won 11 straight Big 12 regular-season titles. Baranczyk said there’s more to the job than knocking off Baylor.

“I’m not going to go seek out playing Baylor, I’m going to go seek out playing in the Big 12,” she said. “There’s a lot of great teams in the Big 12, and so you want to compete every single day. We’re not going to circle one opponent on our schedule. We want everybody to have to circle us on their schedule.”

Oklahoma once was one of the teams to beat. Coale was a four-time Big 12 Coach of the Year who led the Sooners to six regular-season league championships and four Big 12 tournament titles. To return Oklahoma to that level, Baranczyk wants to pull from a strong local talent pool, then expand her reach. She recruited nationally at Drake and expects more doors to open now that she’s with the Sooners.

“Playing in the Big 12 — that’s a different level,” she said. “So yes, we’ll be able to have access and be able to recruit at a higher level because we’re at Oklahoma. But in terms of starting home first, that’s where we’ll start.”

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