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Fans bow their head in prayer as Father Kenneth Harder of the Saint Francis Xavier Catholic Church of Stillwater delivers his message.

By Chris Day

Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER – Three words echoed repeatedly throughout Gallagher-Iba Arena on Monday afternoon as the Stillwater, Oklahoma State and Big 12 communities celebrated the lives of Cowgirl women’s basketball coach Kurt Budke, assistant coach Miranda Serna and two Oklahoma State alums.

These words – love, passion and compassion – captured the essence of the Cowgirls’ basketball coaches and former state Sen. Olin Branstetter of Ponca City and his wife, Paula Branstetter, who died Thursday in a plane crash during a recruiting trip.

Their lives were celebrated at 1 p.m. Monday in a memorial service in Gallagher-Iba. Approximately 6,000 OSU fans, students, dignitaries and fellow Big 12 coaches attended the 90-minute service.

Love describes the Branstetters who met at Oklahoma State and later married. They also loved the Oklahoma State women’s basketball team. Often, the Branstetters sat behind the scorer’s table, cheering for the Cowgirls, speaker Larry Reece said.

It also fits the Cowgirl coaches who turned an 0-16 team into a Sweet 16 team in two years and annually transformed a group of players into family.

The standards to be a Cowgirl basketball player are clearly detailed on the first page of the program’s handbook.

“It reads God, family, education and basketball,” interim coach Jim Littell said. “That’s how coach Budke lived his life and raised his family. Coach was very strong in his faith and beliefs.”

The power of his faith and beliefs as well as his fatherly attitude toward his players turned the team into family, former OSU guard Taylor Hardeman said.

“Coach Budke simply changed lives and was a father figure to his players,” Littell said.

Serna was a coach and big sister to the players, Hardeman said. She listened to players’ problems, offered counsel and provided guidence.

“She cared for her players much more than she cared for herself,” Hardeman said.

The coaches had a passion for basketball, Littell said.

Serna often was the first coach in the office and last to leave, he said. She liked planning game strategy, but loved recruiting players to Oklahoma State University.

Her passion showed in 2008 as the Cowgirls were preparing for their Sweet 16 game against Louisiana State.

The players were gathered to watch game film, Hardeman said. Serna had a surprise – an inspirational video with clips from “Remember the Titans,” “Gladiator” and “Little Giants.”

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