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Coaches killed in crash built winner together

STILLWATER, Okla. — Kurt Budke turned Oklahoma State's women's basketball team into a winner and hoped he had found the place where he would coach until he retired. Miranda Serna had passed up opportunities to leave his side, staying loyal to the man whom she had helped win a junior college national championship and then rebuild a big-time college program.

Having succeeded together, Budke and Serna died together — perishing in a plane crash on a trip aimed at building their team's future.

Budke, 50, the head coach, and Serna, 36, his assistant, were killed Thursday when the single-engine plane transporting them on a recruiting trip crashed in steep terrain in Arkansas, the university said Friday.

The pilot, 82-year-old former Oklahoma state Sen. Olin Branstetter, and his 79-year-old wife, Paula, also died when the plane sputtered, spiraled out of control and nosedived into the Winona Wildlife Management Area near Perryville, Ark., about 45 miles west of Little Rock.

There were no survivors.

"This is our worst nightmare. The entire OSU family is very close, very close indeed," OSU President Burns Hargis said.

The crash was the second major plane tragedy for OSU sports in about a decade. In January 2001, 10 men affiliated with the men's basketball team died in a crash in Colorado.

Former assistant coach Jim Littell will serve as interim head coach. Games scheduled for today and Sunday were canceled.

"Our players right now are totally devastated," Littell said. "They loved Coach Budke, they loved Coach Serna."

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Jason Aguilera said it would issue a preliminary report in five days, but it could be more than a year before its investigation ends. The weather at the time was clear.

Budke coached Serna and Trinity Valley (Texas) to a junior college national title in 1996. Serna went on to play for Houston and later was an assistant under Budke at Trinity Valley and Louisiana Tech before they went to Oklahoma State.

Budke was 192-99, including 112-83 in six-plus seasons in Stillwater. He took over a program with eight Big 12 wins in the previous three seasons, and in his first season, 2005-06, OSU bottomed out at 6-22, 0-16 in the league. But by his second season the team made the NCAA Tournament and in 2008 it reached the Sweet 16 for only the second time in school history.

Budke is survived by his wife, Shelley, and three children. Serna is survived by her parents and sister. OSU will hold a public service for both on Monday at Gallagher-Iba Arena, where the basketball team plays.

Coaches killed in crash built winner together 11/18/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 19, 2011 5:30am]

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