December 24, 2021
Jennie Baranczyk is embracing change and finding success at Oklahoma
The Sooners have sprinted out to a 10-1 record under their new head coach
Change is never simple, and to be honest, no one really likes it. In college athletics, we seem to see it more often with administrators, coaches, support staff and even student-athletes. At the University of Oklahoma, it had been over two decades since there was a coaching change in the women’s basketball program. In April 2021, a new era began, rooted in a foundation of success, team chemistry and a willingness to get to work.
Jennie Baranczyk arrived in Norman after nine years as the head coach at Drake, where she amassed a 192-96 record. She led the Bulldogs to six consecutive 20-win seasons and three NCAA Tournament berths and was named Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year in 2017 and 2018. Her teams were known for their high-powered offenses, consistently ranking among the nation’s best in field goal percentage and points per game. When the thought of moving came, it was simply about what the future could hold.
“I never looked at this job as a rebuild. I just wanted to come in and be part of it,” Baranczyk told The Next. “It was an opportunity to come to Oklahoma with great support from the administration, the makeup of this team and knowing what Sherri Coale was able to do here. Her support now of the program means a lot. I truly saw the potential that can attract great people and talent.”
But head coach isn’t the only title Baranczyk holds. Making the move to OU meant change as a wife and mother of three as well. Her husband Scott, a small business owner, transferred his work with him for the move to Norman. With the help of extended family and the collective Sooner women’s basketball family, their children – Eli, Jordi and Hope – have settled into their new home and community.
“I underestimated taking the job in April and how hard it would be on me and them because they were in school and finishing, but once we all got back together, it’s been great,” Baranczyk said. “They love their school and their teachers and are finding their teams, so it has been a good transition. We love where we are.”
Baranczyk quickly assembled a staff, surrounding herself with individuals who she knew brought different strengths to the table, and it did not take long to see that there was a deep foundation of team chemistry within the program. Everyone was ready to embrace what she wants the culture of OU women’s basketball to be now and in the future.
“I want them to love what they do, how they do it and who they do it with. Basketball is a great game and if they love it, then their own personal game comes out, hopefully with a smile on their face. And I want them to really compete – are you giving your best on every possession to help your team? We should make those around us better. And lastly I want them [to] love Oklahoma – that never leaves you.”
The Sooners head into the holiday break 10-1, riding a seven-game winning streak and the program’s best start since 2006-07. The schedule has not been easy, but they have found ways to win. They opened the year at South Dakota, escaping with a 73-71 win in front of a packed crowd in Vermillion, SD. Their only loss was in November to Oregon (98-93), and they drew national attention with a gutsy 99-91 overtime upset of #16 BYU on Dec. 10. Not to be outdone, they erased a 19-point deficit to beat Utah 83-76 on Dec. 21 in Norman.
Seniors Taylor Robertson and Madi Williams lead OU in scoring, and Robertson became the Sooners’ all-time leader in 3-point makes against Utah. Freshman guard Kelbie Washington has started all 11 games so far and leads the team in assists. The Sooners’ depth and experience did take a blow when redshirt senior Ana Llanusa went down with an injury against BYU.
The system that Baranczyk has brought in has infused a new sense of freedom for each player. It is grounded in team concepts – spacing, movement, passing, cutting and making reads on the floor. The pace of play is fast and the Sooners get up and down in transition. They are currently ranked second in the nation in scoring* (89.1 points per game) and fifth in assists per game* (19.4).
But they are still learning to play together on both ends. The OU coaches know they have some deficiencies, such as a lack of size defensively, and that is why they preach the importance of position defense and the need to make teams work harder to guard them on the other end.
“My personal philosophy is that everyone has the green light, but everyone also has to box out [and] play defense and everyone rebounds,” Baranczyk explained. “They all have to be able to post up and they all have to be able to pass. And then what you typically do well comes out of that. That freedom brings out the best in these players’ games.”
Decision-making has been one of the signature traits that Baranczyk says dates back to her playing days as an all-Big Ten performer at Iowa. “Lisa Bluder is a great teacher, and I was really lucky that I got to play for her. You got to make reads on the floor, and now I see that we can take basketball and teach problem solving, decision making and teamwork. I love using the game as a tool to teach those things. I got to do that as a player,” she said.
Baranczyk reached the career 200-win mark in early December, a milestone that may get a little more attention when there is downtime over the holiday break. But even if there are no games or practices for a few days, being a mom does not allow Baranczyk to take a possession off. Holiday shopping via Amazon is definitely happening late at night.
“My kids watch film with me before bed instead of reading some nights. But there are things they get to do that others do not. It’s very special and to have the team treat them the way they do is amazing. There are things that you miss as a mom along the way and that is hard,” she reflected. Her children have already made cameo appearances on post-game media Zoom sessions and trips to the locker room for celebrations this season.
“I do think it is really good for our players to see that our kids are not perfect and I’m not a perfect mom. It’s good for them to see that you can do both, [you] have your priorities … you fall down a lot and you find the balance.”
The Sooners host Wichita State on Dec. 29 before Big 12 play begins the first weekend of January. Their non-conference slate has been challenging but has prepared them for the nine other unique teams and styles they will see through March. No matter what the next three months brings, the OU women’s basketball program has collectively embraced change.
“I am having a lot of fun coaching this team,” Baranczyk said. “We are far from perfect. We fall down and we stand when we should be moving and [we] don’t always box out or jump to the ball, but it’s getting back to coaching every possession and having fun with it.”
*Per NCAA.com statistics for games through Dec. 21, 2021.
Written by Missy Heidrick
I am a former shooting guard at Kansas State and spent almost 20 years working in Higher Education and Division 1 athletics. I am currently a basketball analyst for television and radio, contributing correspondent at The Next, WBB Naismith Award board of selectors member and run my own consulting business. I am a proud mother of two and wife to a patient husband who is almost as big of a sports junkie as I am!