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Golden Eagle women look to send out seniors with win Saturday night vs. UT Martin

Golden Eagle women look to send out seniors with win Saturday night vs. UT Martin

By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – As the Tennessee Tech women's basketball team's regular-season comes to a close on Saturday, it's a bittersweet moment.

It's the time to honor one of the most prolific classes in Golden Eagle history, recognizing their exploits, celebrating their victories and extending the gratitude for representing the Purple and Gold. But, at the same time, the road is not yet complete.

In addition to Saturday's regular-season finale against UT Martin – tipping off at 5:30 p.m. from the Eblen Center – the Ohio Valley Conference Basketball Championships in Evansville, Ind., are next week, and there's still the opportunity for postseason basketball after that.

But for six of the seven seniors and graduate students being honored on Saturday, this is the final regular-season home game. No question after the game has finished and the team lines up in a tunnel to celebrate their departing comrades, it will be a special moment.

The Senior/Graduate class of 2022 will be honored following the women's game against the Skyhawks after the men's senior honorees have been recognized.

In preparation for this week's Senior Night, I sat down with the Golden Eagle seniors and graduates, giving them a chance to reflect on their careers at Tennessee Tech.

For devoted manager D.J. Horton, senior Grace Pelphrey and graduates Kesha Brady, Megan Clark, Mackenzie Coleman and Anna Jones, as well as graduate Jordan Brock – who will return next year for a sixth season following a preseason knee injury -- it's a family.

Jordan Brock: This class is just super special because you can see the bond that we all have, the togetherness that we have with each other. It speaks volumes on how we have come together and have connected with each other. It's been very special to be a part of this class through my five years at Tech.

Mackenzie Coleman: Well, usually we hang out with each other 24/7 like a lot of the time, on and off the court. We are always doing stuff together, we live together, so we can't really get away from each other. It's going to be different not seeing each other every single day so we are going to have to really use FaceTime and text and meet up for some girls' trips. But definitely we will be keeping in touch.

Anna Jones: I think that's our secret ingredient right now – how close we are to each other as a group. We knew it all along but now, January, February – it's really starting to come together and work. We've been building up to that this whole time, but now that it's all coming together, it's making it a lot of fun. 

Grace Pelphrey: The best part is just how close we've gotten over the past three years. I mean they were nice and welcoming in the beginning, but we've just kind of been together for a while now. All the struggles and the games and the practices with each and every day, we just get closer and so I think just knowing that we truly care about each other, it's an amazing feeling.

Kesha Brady: I love our chemistry and our bond -- we love each other on the court but most definitely off the court. Our thing is, we say this all the time, this senior class is so funny.

Anna Jones: We think we are a lot funnier than what we actually are, but we joke about this, how close we've gotten this year. Our whole team, but especially our seniors, has gotten really close, and it's just been fun playing with your best friends. It's fun coming and practicing when your best friend is on the other side, so I think that has been really special about this year because it's very genuine.

It's an incredible run over their five seasons. In just the last four seasons alone, the Golden Eagles are 72-33, winning 47 of their 73 OVC contests. Their numbers are staggering with four 1,000-point scorers and a combined 5,532 points and 2,085 rebounds, ranking among the program greats.

Those numbers have led to great results, becoming the first Tech class to win 15-plus games for four straight seasons since the 2001-02 Golden Eagles and the first to win double-digit OVC games for four straight seasons since 2006-07. With 13 OVC wins this season entering Saturday's contest, it's the most league wins in a single season since Sytia Messer guided Tech to 15 OVC wins in 2010-11 and its highest regular-season finish since Jim Davis' 2012-13 squad claimed a share of the regular-season title.

Their careers could have already come to a close if not for the COVID-19 pandemic, but with the opportunity to extend their careers another season, this class bucked the trend of transferring out. They wanted to win at Tennessee Tech and put a banner in the rafters of the Hooper Eblen Center.

Mackenzie Coleman: With last season, it was somewhat cut short and there was a lot of uncertainty. We didn't know what was going to happen and there were ups and downs the entire season. Having a full season to be able to come back and be on a mission – kind of a do-over year – has been really fun and really rewarding so far.

Megan Clark: Knowing that this is our last year, we knew we really wanted to make the most of it.

Mackenzie Coleman: We need to finish out this season strong – we have one more regular-season game left and we still need to take care of business there, then going into a tournament with momentum there. Then, hopefully, OVC tournament champs.

Megan Clark: Not hopefully champs, our mission is to be the champs.

Of course, it's daunting playing for a program like Tennessee Tech that has a rich tradition of basketball history. The players certainly know how important it is. For Mackenzie Coleman, it's played a major part of her identity at Tech. Playing in 140 games for the Golden Eagles, she's scored 1,444 points to rank 15th all-time and has 11 double-doubles in her career with 693 total rebounds, the 12th most in school history, and 165 blocks, the third most behind teammate Anacia Wilkinson and Tech Hall of Famer Melinda Clayton Hatfield. She's cemented her legacy at Tech and become part of the tradition as well.

Mackenzie Coleman: It's Tennessee Tech women's basketball. Putting on that jersey means a lot. It means so much to the community and it's huge here in Cookeville. There's a rich history. When you leave here, you're walking away from one of the best women's basketball programs in the country, so just knowing that I've been a part of that and I made a name for myself here, it's really something you can take with you throughout the rest of your life.

Anna Jones came from another tradition-rich program in Middle Tennessee and she still understands the impact of having a veteran group like this to continue representing the university. Since moving over to Cookeville, Jones has emerged as a leader. This season alone, she has four double-doubles and has gone on an incredible tear over the last 11 games, averaging 17.9 points and 8.5 rebounds during that stretch, making a case for OVC Player of the Year.

Anna Jones: Coming from someone who has transferred, I think it's really special to have a group of seniors to stay here for five years like that. In college basketball, five years can be a lot and I think to have four people willingly come back and buy in, provide their leadership has been so special. It's so fun to be a part of. It's the reason I wanted to come here when I was a junior – I could see it then, and it's just continued to grow and grow.

Kesha Brady: And I can add on to her – Anna is a huge piece that we really needed. Ever since she's been here, it's really brought us all together. She should've been here four years ago, but, hey, we are glad to have her now. She's really added so much to this team and I'm very appreciative.

Brady understands the importance of different players undertaking roles for a team. After all, she's been a major part of Tech's effort on both the offensive and defensive sides, collecting 114 steals and 503 rebounds to go with her 1,362 points. Brady's career is an incredible one, ranking 18th in all-time scoring and 23rd in scoring average, seventh in free-throws attempted, ninth in 3-pointers attempted and tied for 12th in 3-pointers made. With everyone playing their part, the Golden Eagles have become a force in the OVC. 

Pelphrey had a unique road to joining the Golden Eagle program – her father was named the head men's basketball coach at Tech, then she transferred to Tech, earning a spot on the Tech women's roster. Ever the consummate teammate, Pelphrey has played a big role, providing leadership in many ways.

Grace Pelphrey: I love being here with my dad. I've always loved being a coach's kid because I always get to, you know, bust up on him and he can always bust up on me. And I get to stay and watch him, so I love it. I feel like I'm part of two teams.

The transition wasn't difficult at all as she quickly adapted to the Golden Eagle program. It seems like yesterday players like Jones and Pelphrey just joined the team, but time, as they say, flies.

Grace Pelphrey: It's a little sad. It's like a story you don't want to put down, like a movie that like you don't want to stop watching. It's gone by really fast and I'm just excited to see how far we can go with this team because I think we really do have a special group of girls who are all bought in. I'm trying to not be sad about it and just try to enjoy each and every present moment.

Clark, following Brock's injury, stepped into the starting role well. Even though she missed three games early in the OVC slate, Clark has started 22 of the team's 26 games this season, averaging 6.5 points and 1.9 rebounds per game, providing valuable toughness and leadership on the floor. She currently ranks third in the conference in 3-point percentage, hitting at a .423 rate.

Megan Clark: This whole season is probably the best memory I'm going to have, because this has been our best season out there. All of us working together and being a part of it, it's exciting. I'm thrilled about what's ahead of us and we'd like to end the season on a good note.

For Brock, the season didn't go the way she would have wanted with the injury just before the opening game of the campaign, but that doesn't mean there hasn't been a positive. Brock will have another year to build on her record-setting numbers, and while it will be tough to celebrate the departure of her teammates she came into the program with, she knows they'll still be close.

Jordan Brock: Absolutely. I would love nothing more than to be out there with this team, but to be able to spend time with them and watch them do as well as they are, it's special. I am excited to come back for my sixth year and get one more opportunity to play the game that I love. One good thing about this class is that I know these are my best friends for life. No matter how much time we spend apart, they're always going to have my back and I'm going to have theirs.

The class' success had to come from somewhere and it starts at the top with the leadership. This was Kim Rosamond's first recruiting class at Tennessee Tech and what a class it has been. For as special as the players are to Coach Rosamond and her staff, they are just as special to the players.

Jordan Brock: I can't use any other word to describe it other than amazing. I'm very grateful to be at a place for people who care about me about as much as my mom does. They've probably helped me more than anyone else get through some major adversity in my life. I can't thank them enough for not only this year, but a lifetime because they've helped me grow into the woman I am today.

Mackenzie Coleman: It's been great having a relationship with (Coach Rosamond). She does a great job at bonding and having a real relationship with you. It's more about the person than the player here and I think she really tries to stay true to that testament. I mean, she's like our mom, too. We were her first recruiting class, so it's going to be bittersweet for sure. There are going to be some tears probably towards the end, but it's been great and she's definitely made me a better person.

Megan Clark: Speaking from a team standpoint too -- she's turned the whole program around just by her culture that she's instilled and I'm just glad we were a part of it. 

Kesha Brady: I love it. I mean, I try to stay on their good side, because if not--

Anna Jones: And it's really hard for Kesha to do that-- 

Kesha Brady: I know, but I honestly love it, I wouldn't want to be playing with other staff. That's part of the reason I came back my fifth year – to continue playing for them. Coach Rosamond doesn't know this but before she came here, she was at Vandy. I really loved her and I wanted to play with her and when she left and came here, I was like, "Mom, I gotta go to Tech." Being with this staff is definitely special because they know what they are doing. They not only care about you on the court, they most definitely care about you off the court. This staff is special. 

For Horton, she's a big part of the team behind the team. Working countless hours behind the scenes, Horton helps with logistics, laundry, catering, practice – you name it, she's probably had a role to play. Assisting Director of Basketball Operations Emily Hatfield on the day-to-day needs of the program, Horton has been a vital piece of the operation.

D.J. Horton: Through being a manager, I have found a family working with the coaches, players and other managers. I'm so thankful for all of the opportunities I have received over the last several years with being a part of this family and culture. Basketball is one of my greatest passions, so it has been a blessing to get to be around it every day as the manager of such a culture-based program like Tennessee Tech.

It's obvious that there are things they'll miss when their time in the Purple and Gold comes to a close.

Mackenzie Coleman: Probably just each other and getting to spend time with each other every day.

Megan Clark: We are probably going to miss the things we don't appreciate now and then look back -- like when Coach Ro yelled at us-- 

Mackenzie Coleman: or when we had to run those stairs…

Kesha Brady: (I'm going to miss) each other-- 

Anna Jones: For sure…

Kesha Brady: And honestly even the fans like whenever it's a big game just having their support. I will miss that.

It's always better to leave a program behind in better shape than you found it. These student-athletes have certainly done that. There's always a good piece of advice to pass down to teach the younger players and keep them aiming for the top.

Mackenzie Coleman: Don't take any day for granted because it's over before you snap your fingers. Tomorrow, they are going to be seniors and have a couple of games left in their regular season and they are going to be thinking, 'Hey, I wish I would have done this.' Just have no regrets -- lay down the line every day.

Megan Clark: Keep working every day, just keep grinding one step closer one percent better every day.

Anna Jones: Buy in from the first day you get here. I know a lot of things are different from what your used to or what you've been doing, but if you buy in to everything Coach says, everything that your seniors and the older girls say, it is going to make for, one, your experience a lot more enjoyable but, two, it's going to change you and it's going to be really good.

Kesha Brady: I would say to run your own race, but to also stay confident, continue to keep working. Some people may be ahead of you or you may be stuck right here in this spot and you may not be meeting any goals or anything, but just continue to have confidence in yourself and always believe in yourself because your teammates and coaches believe in you. If they didn't, you wouldn't be here so just always be confident in yourself and never lose hope.

Grace Pelphrey: I would say don't be afraid to mess up because your desire to succeed should always outweigh your fear of failure. We don't need to see failure as like a negative thing but more like feedback. To just get better, decide to give it your all, and if you mess up, you know it's alright – just respond and let's get back to it.

Buddy Pearson will have the call on 106.1 The Eagle, while Dylan Vazzano and Frank Harrell will handle the ESPN+ stream (subscription required). Sam Brooks and Mindy Odom will have the game on WCTE, while Carson Crouch and Franklin McCarthy will have it on student radio 88.5 FM WTTU.

Tickets for Saturday's game are on sale now. Call (931) 372-3940, visit the Hooper Eblen Center ticket office or visit TTUsports.com to order.

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