Nearly 11 years ago, Oklahoma State was struck with tragedy, when a plane carrying 10 men associated with its men’s basketball team crashed near Denver, killing all on board.  Last Thursday afternoon it faced tragedy for the second time in a little over a decade, when a small plane carrying women’s head basketball coach, Kurt Budke, and assistant coach, Miranda Serna, crashed into a heavily wooded area in Perry County, Ark., killing them, along with 82-year-old pilot and former Oklahoma state senator, Olin Branstetter, and his wife Paula.

After the 2001 crash, which killed two players, four team officials, a play-by-play announcer, a radio engineer, and two pilots, it was a made rule by the university that all planes used by the school’s sports teams must undergo safety checks before taking off.  However, for traveling coaches, it was a more lenient rule that they could decide upon under their own discretion.  Budke, 50, and Serna, 36, were traveling on a recruiting trip to scout players in Little Rock, and sadly, they did not take the precautionary option before leaving the ground.

Budke, the former Louisiana Tech coach, was hired seven years ago to help rebuild a struggling OSU team.  In his first year, he was unable to pick up a win, going 0-16, but he was not discouraged by the Cowgirls’ embarrassing record.  In his seven-year tenure, he compiled a respectable 112-83 record including three trips to the NCAA tournament.  Last year, he coached the Cowgirls to their most successful season in the program’s history, finishing with their first-ever top-10 ranking, along with defeating six top-25 teams over the course of the year.  Throughout his coaching career, Budke was incredibly successful, amassing a cumulative record of 456-130, and leading four junior colleges to national championships.

He was loved immensely by the school and by the girls he coached over the entirety of his career.  Arguably his biggest fan was Serna, who followed him from school to school for years. She first met Budke when she joined the Trinity Valley basketball team, where the duo won a junior college national title in 1996.  After graduating, she re-joined the team to coach under him.  When he went on to Louisiana tech, Serna followed him, and when he moved on to OSU, she followed yet again.

The accident is currently under investigation, as it occurred in broad, cloudless daylight.  Several hunters witnessed the crash and immediately called emergency officials.

“The plane was spitting and sputtering and then it spiraled and went nose first into the ground,” said Perry County Sheriff Scott Montgomery.  “It went straight into the side of the hill.”

On Monday, thousands gathered in the Gallager-Iba Arena to celebrate the lives of Budke, Serna, and the Branstetters.  Students, faculty, alumni, and coaches from around the country lined the stadium wearing OSU’s black and orange team colors in tribute.

Last year — after being known for jumping from school to school — Budke realized that he had finally found his permanent home, so he signed a contract extension with OSU that would carry him through the 2017 season.

“This is where I want to be the rest of my life,” said Budke at the time.“This is where I want to finish my career.”

Budke fulfilled his wish, but far sooner than anyone would have imagined.

The Cowgirls had two of their games postponed this week as they mourned, but they plan to be back in action on Saturday when they face off against Coppin State. Associate head coach, Jim Littell, has taken over as the new interim head coach. Littell, Budke’s closest friend and best man at his wedding, will attempt to uplift the crushed spirits of the Cowgirls, and play the rest of the season as a tribute to their fallen coaches.