In sports, we often talk about the power of one: the power of one player to impact a teammate or a team, the power of one coach to transform a player's life, or even the power of one referee's whistle to change the momentum of a game. As the head coach who has had a behind-the-scenes view to the last six seasons of Tennessee Tech women's basketball, I want to take this time to talk about the power of one senior class that helped revive and reinvigorate TTU WBB. Kesha Brady, Jordan Brock, Mackenzie Coleman, Megan Clark, Anna Jones and Grace Pelphrey have all left an undeniable mark on Cookeville, Tennessee Tech and all who love this program.
When our staff took over in April 2016, we had two priorities: 1) Work to establish relationships with the current players, and 2) recruit, recruit, recruit. Recruiting started with securing Allison Clark and Melanie Walls as assistant coaches. Both Coach Alli and Coach Walls have been loyally by my side for the last six years, and when those two talented coaches joined our staff, players soon followed. The recruiting class of 2017 – Brady, Brock, Coleman, Clark and 2021 graduate Abby Buckner – will always hold a special place in my heart, not only because they were our first recruiting class at Tech, but also for the way they helped shape this program on and off the court. This class grew in numbers and talent over the years as Grace Pelphrey joined us as a transfer in the fall of 2019, and Anna Jones soon followed in the spring of 2020. Both Grace and Anna have added so much in their own way, and they have truly helped to complete this class.
When Kesha, Jordan, Kenzie, Meg and Abby entered as freshmen in the fall of 2017, the trajectory of Tech women's basketball looked a lot different. Our program from 2006 to 2017 had struggled through eight losing seasons in 11 years. Our staff had just completed our first season, and the days of the Golden Eagles setting the standard for women's basketball in the OVC felt very distant. Through it all, this group saw the success of the past and believed in the vision this staff had for the future. The future only got brighter and the wins more consistent when Anna and Grace joined our basketball family. Our coaching staff also grew in number and strength as Director of Basketball Operations Emily Hatfield arrived in 2019, and Coach Jasmine James joined us in 2020.
The numbers are impressive – 548 games played, 5,532 career points, 2,085 rebounds, 79 overall victories, 51 OVC wins and seven All-Conference postseason awards doesn't even begin to tell this group's story. One might start to understand a little more when you recognize this class as the first Tech class in 15 years to win double-digit OVC games for four straight seasons and the first Tech class in 20 years to win 15 or more games for four consecutive seasons.
Our staff can now walk into any recruit's home and sell not only an incredible past tradition but also a consistently high level of success in the present. What began as a vision six years ago, this class has helped make a reality on the court.
As a coach, you always understand the importance of stats – and the above stats are certainly impressive – but the best story of all is in the hearts and faces of these amazing young women. Each journey has been different, but each unique and special.
The laughs and the memories have been continuous, and the good times have been plentiful, but the struggles have been real as well. From a freshman year that only produced seven wins and a season-ending injury for Kesha, to playing through a historic pandemic, to a heartbreaking season-ending injury in November with Jordan, and countless individual challenges/injuries that each has had to overcome – this class has seen and handled it all. Through the peaks and the valleys, I have watched them grow from young girls into the amazingly strong women they are today.
Proud is an understatement. There is no question, as their coach, I am biased – not because they are women's basketball players – but because I am fortunate to see the human side every day. Their personalities, their kind hearts, their competitive spirit, their determination, their funny quirks will be just a few of the many things I will miss getting to experience on a daily basis.
Each one has reminded me that young people can and will do hard things. Each one has inspired me to keep learning and growing every new day. Each one has modeled for me that it truly is better to serve than to receive. Each one has showed grit, toughness and determination in the face of challenges, and each one has helped me strive to be a better coach and person.
I am so grateful for every senior class that has touched our program over the last six seasons. Each will always hold a special place in my heart, but these are also interesting times in which we live. College athletics is just a reflection of the ever-changing landscape we navigate daily. It is not lost on my staff and I that in an era where it would be much easier to leave than stay, this class of five fifth-year seniors – Anna, Kesha, Jordan, Mackenzie, Meg – and one fourth-year senior – Grace – chose to give us an additional year of their life.
What a true gift this season has been. There have been some tough blows and events out of our control, but senior leadership has shown up in different ways to carry us throughout the season. Team 52 has had a special season, and we aren't done yet. Even through adversity, I would bet on the heart and character of this team any day of the week.
There is one final unsung hero who should be mentioned, and that is our graduate manager D.J. Horton. The team behind the team is so important, and D.J. leads that team at an elite level daily. If they handed out OVC "Manager of the Year" Awards, there is no doubt who has my vote.
In closing, to the Class of '22, I hope your teammates will always be remembered as your sisters, your coaches will always be thought of as family and Tennessee Tech will always be your "Home." It has been an honor and a privilege to be your coach and watch you represent Tennessee Tech on and off the court. You have put this program back in the hunt for championships, and you have brought fans back to the Hoop because you play for each other and you play the game the right way.
Thank you for believing.
Thank you for giving your heart and soul to this program.
Thank you for staying.
Most of all, thank you for leaving this program better than you found it.
I love the "BOSSES" you have ALL become.