On April 27, 2012, long-time assistant coach Misti Cussen was named the 10th head coach in the history of the Oral Roberts University women’s basketball program.
It took her less than a year to lead the Golden Eagles to the promised land.
Cussen guided the Golden Eagles back to the NCAA Tournament in her first season at the helm of the ORU program, as the team won the 2012-13 Southland Conference regular season and tournament titles. The NCAA berth was the first for ORU since 2008.
After a tough season in her second at the helm of the Golden Eagles, Cussen rallied a young team to win five of their final seven games during the regular season and finish third in The Summit League after being picked in the preseason polls at seventh.
Not shy about playing the best teams in the country ORU finished 18-16 after finishing a non-conference schedule that featured Tennessee, Baylor, Kansas State and Wisconsin. However, the most important wins came in March as victories over Texas State and No. 1 seed New Mexico pushed the Golden Eagles into the WBI Semifinals where a one-point loss to Louisiana ended their season.
All-American and Summit League Newcomer of the Year, Vicky McIntyre, posted one of the most impressive single-season performances not only in ORU history, but in the NCAA annuals. McIntyre finished her season just three rebounds shy of the all-time single-season mark after leading the country in rebounds per game and finishing second in blocks per game and double-doubles. She also posted two triple-doubles including the first ever in The Summit League Tournament as ORU fell just shy of an upset win over eventual champion, South Dakota State.
The Golden Eagles again proved to be contenders in The Summit League after another tough non-conference schedule a win over two-time league champion South Dakota helped spark a six-game win streak. ORU would finish 10-6 and earn the No. 4 seed in The Summit League Tournament as they advanced to the semifinals.
A trio of Golden Eagles earned Summit League honors at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season with Faith Ihim being named Summit League Sixth Woman of the Year. Sophomore Kaylan Mayberry was named to the 2nd Team All-Summit League, while freshman Maria Martianez earned a spot on the Summit League All-Newcomer Team.
ORU posted a 9-20 record in 2013-14, as a young team with only three returners gained experience against a daunting schedule. The non-conference slate was ranked as the 8th-toughest in America as postseason clubs from Navy, Marquette, Missouri and Nebraska dotted the early-season calendar.
Despite the rough start, ORU found its footing late in the 2013-14 season and set the foundation for future success. Cussen’s team won their final seven Mabee Center appearances and rallied to clinch a Southland Conference Tournament berth on the regular season’s final day.
ORU was able to slay each of the Southland’s best programs during Cussen’s second season. The Golden Eagles were the only team to beat each of the Southland’s top four finishers in 2013-14, including a Jan. 25 win over eventual champion Northwestern State.
Player development, long a staple of Cussen’s coaching philosophy, was also on display in 2013-14, as long-time role player Christian Key blossomed into an All-Southland Conference performer. A single-digit scorer in each of her first three seasons, Key led ORU with 14.0 points per game in her final collegiate season, good enough to nab a spot on the SLC’s postseason honor roll.
ORU was 18-13 in Cussen’s first season as head coach, with a 15-5 record against Southland Conference rivals. Under Cussen’s direction, Kevi Luper and Jaci Bigham earned All-Southland honors as seniors, while Luper was named Most Valuable Player at the SLC Tournament.
Cussen led the Golden Eagles through a brutal opening stretch in her first season. After playing a non-conference schedule that ranked as the 13th-toughest in the nation according to one publication, with road trips to nationally-ranked clubs from Baylor, Nebraska and DePaul, ORU was just 3-8 heading into the Southland Conference schedule.
But Cussen didn’t let the Golden Eagles fold the tents after their rough start, leading the team to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in five years. Under Cussen’s watch, the Golden Eagles won eight of their last ten games, including SLC Tournament victories over two-time defending champion McNeese State and regular season co-champion Sam Houston State.
Cussen’s ORU club gave No. 2 seed Tennessee a strong effort in their NCAA Tournament appearance. Playing in front of nearly 7,000 fans on women’s college basketball’s most hallowed court, the Golden Eagles scored the first two baskets of the game and led throughout the first half. ORU eventually succumbed to the Lady Vols, 83-62.
Cussen’s first season as head coach was one of the most successful debut campaigns in ORU women’s basketball history. Her 18 victories were the most for an ORU rookie head coach since Dixie Woodall won 31 games in 1977-78.
She also led ORU to a .722 Southland Conference winning percentage in 2012-13, the highest mark by a new SLC member in 25 years. ORU became just the third first-year Southland member to win the league’s postseason tournament, and the first since 1988.
“I am very grateful to Mr. Carter for this opportunity, and I can’t wait to begin this new chapter as the head coach at ORU,” said Cussen upon her appointment as head coach. “I love this University, and I am thrilled to continue coaching at a place where I have spent so many great years. I am also excited to continue working with such an outstanding group of young women, and I look forward to continued success in the future.”
Cussen spent 16 seasons as the program’s top assistant coach, ranking as one of the nation’s longest-tenured assistants at one school. She also led ORU’s summer camp efforts during that time and served as Director of Operations.
During Cussen’s tenure as an assistant coach, ORU experienced an unprecedented run of success. The Golden Eagles won five Summit League Tournament titles and a pair of Summit League regular season titles, and they made the program’s first five trips to the NCAA Tournament.
Cussen also led ORU to three Women’s National Invitation Tournament appearances as an assistant, including a pair of WNIT wins in 2011 over TCU and Tulane that were the program’s first postseason tournament victories in 28 years. ORU hosted both Tulane and Arkansas during their 2011 WNIT run, the first home postseason games in program history.
ORU achieved 273 victories during Cussen’s time as an assistant coach, including five 20-win seasons. In 2011-12, the Golden Eagles posted their third consecutive 20-win campaign, a first for the program in nearly 30 years. As both an assistant and the program’s head coach, Cussen helped the Golden Eagles to 84 victories from 2009-13, the program’s best four-year stretch since 1976-80.
Cussen has recruited and coached some of the finest players in ORU history during her time in Tulsa. All-American Kisa Bradley was part of Cussen’s first ORU team, in 1996, while Oklahoma natives Krista Binam and Kevi Luper have also earned All-American status during Cussen’s tenure. Seven Golden Eagles have earned conference player of the year honors under Cussen, and 35 of Cussen’s student-athletes have earned all-conference designations.
During the 19 season that she has been on the Golden Eagle bench, Cussen has coached 56 conference players of the week, 14 conference all-newcomer team selections, six conference newcomers of the year, three conference defensive players of the year, one sixth woman of the year and a pair of Naismith Trophy Watch List nominees.
Success in the classroom is also a hallmark of Cussen’s leadership. In the last three seasons, Key, Luper and Bigham each earned Southland Conference All-Academic Team selections, while McIntyre was named to the Division I-AAA ADA Scholar-Athlete Team after their senior seniors. The three All-Academic selections tie for the most in the league during ORU’s two-year tenure.
ORU has not shied away from facing top-level opponents during Cussen’s three seasons. The Golden Eagles have faced 13 power conference foes since 2012, second among Summit League rivals. Cussen has scheduled games against national champions Baylor and Tennessee along with other traditional powers Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Michigan and DePaul during her time in charge.
“Misti Cussen is the right coach for this program,” said ORU Athletic Director Mike Carter upon Cussen’s hiring. “She has all the attributes we look for in a coach for our women’s basketball team. She is an outstanding recruiter with strong ties in Oklahoma and Texas and has been a vital part of our team for the last 16 years. Misti has demonstrated her ability to lead the program and to build upon the successes that we have enjoyed in past seasons.”
As a player, Cussen began her collegiate career at the University of Kansas (1989-91) before transferring to Southern Nazarene to finish her final two years. Cussen joined the SNU coaching staff in 1996 before moving to ORU before the 1996-97 season.
During the summer of 2006, Cussen had the opportunity to serve as a head coach for Athletes in Action, as she took a team of current and former college players on a month-long tour of India. During their stay, the team played in various exhibition contests against local universities while also volunteering in humanitarian relief efforts.
Cussen received her Bachelor of Arts degree in speech communication from SNU in 1993 before earning a master of arts in communication education in 1994.
An Oklahoma native, Cussen prepped at El Reno High School, where she was an All-State selection, named to the Super Five team, and selected as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Female Athlete of the Year. Misti and her husband, Kyle, currently live in Broken Arrow with their two children, Cassie and Caia.