The 2009-10 season will truly be an historic one for the Tennessee Tech women's basketball team as the new-look Golden Eagles seek to rebuild the program following three consecutive seasons with a losing record. In an effort to regain supremacy both in the Ohio Valley Conference and on the national stage, Tech has brought in a new coaching staff and seven first-year players.
Head coach Sytia Messer was introduced as the new face of the women's basketball program in August, and she will enter her first season as a collegiate head coach following assistant coaching stints at Arkansas State and Memphis. Messer spent the last five seasons at Georgia Tech where she moved into the position of associate head coach. A Waldo, Ark., native, Messer brings with her a blue-collar attitude that she hopes to instill in her team.
"I want people to leave our games saying how hard we played," Messer said. "This will be a disciplined team, and I want my players to always leave the game with their jerseys wet from sweat."
Messer will have her work cut out for her as she attempts to mesh her seven newcomers with four returnees from last year's team that finished with a 9-21 overall record and 7-11 mark in the OVC. Furthermore, in the OVC preseason poll, Tech was picked to finish eighth in the conference this season. However, Messer is looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead and does not mind being picked toward the bottom of the pack.
"I'm very excited about this opportunity. We'll have to work hard, go in and prove ourselves," Messer said. "We don't have a lot of respect, and I like that. I like being the underdog."
Joining Messer on the coaching staff will be first-year assistants Dee Bell, Bett Shelby and Coretta Brown. Bell has eight years of head coaching experience under his belt, while Shelby was most recently an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Stetson. Brown played four seasons in the WNBA and was a coordinator at Georgia Tech for two seasons prior to arriving at Tech.
"I think I have one of the best staffs in America," Messer said. "I'm excited about having coach Bell here, especially because of all of his experience as a head coach. There are a lot of things that he can foresee because he's been in my position, which is helpful."
The Golden Eagle coaching staff will have to prepare for a very challenging schedule, especially early in the season when Tech will take on opponents from the Big 12, Southeastern Conference and Big East. Messer's Golden Eagles will start the season against Alabama this Friday before taking on national powerhouses Baylor on Tuesday and Louisville on November 22.
"I still haven't exhaled over my schedule yet," Messer said. "I'm excited about it because it's going to test us early. It's definitely going to prepare us for the OVC."
Tech begins OVC play on December 5 at Jacksonville State and will have to wait until January 2 for its first conference home contest against Southeast Missouri. The Golden Eagles will wrap up the regular season at home on February 27 against Jacksonville State, three days before the opening round of the OVC Tournament.
The Golden Eagles will look to utilize their versatility at the guard position and athleticism in the post in hopes of creating mismatches for opposing teams in 2009-10. Tech plans to get up and down the floor quickly to create easy baskets on offense and play attacking, suffocating defense in order to create turnovers.
Tech's young squad will have to grow up fast as the Golden Eagles will look to sophomores Tacarra Hayes and Krystal Stirrup to lead the team.
Hayes averaged 6.7 points per game in OVC play last season and showed how explosive she can be offensively with a 20-point game against Austin Peay. Forced to play out of position for much of the season last year, Hayes will be able to play in the backcourt this season where she will be able to best utilize her skill set.
"Tacarra will run through a brick wall for you. She was playing a little out of position toward the end of last year, but she can get away with it because she plays so hard," Messer said. "She's one of the quickest players getting to the basket off of the dribble that I've seen. She is definitely going to be an offensive threat for us."
Stirrup was a steady contributor off the Golden Eagle bench as a freshman, but she will likely see an expanded role for Tech in 2009-10. An athletic 6-foot forward, Stirrup averaged 5.8 points per game last season while pulling in 4.0 rebounds per contest. The sophomore has the ability to create mismatches for opponents because of her height and athleticism.
"Krystal is a versatile player, and we'll be able to utilize her in many different situations," Messer said. "She has displayed a great deal of leadership by example."
Sophomores Simone Rutledge and Rachel Glidden will be back for their second seasons with the Golden Eagles as well. Rutledge earned co-Most Improved Player honors on the team last season, while Glidden proved to be a threat from behind the 3-point arc for Tech.
Messer will certainly look for contributions out of her freshman class this season, and she is confident that they will be able to step in and make a difference right away. This preseason, she has been impressed with the work ethic she has seen from her newcomers.
"Our freshmen have done a tremendous job in terms of their leadership both on and off the court," Messer said. "It's exciting to know that I'll have them for four years. They work hard and have bought into my system from day one."
Entering the season as the seventh winningest program in NCAA history, the women's basketball team and head coach Sytia Messer hope the phrase "The more things change, the more they stay the same" applies to the Golden Eagle 2009-10 season as it looks for the 35th winning season in the program's history.
Season tickets are on sale for the 2009-2010 season, and are available at the Athletics Ticket Office in Eblen Center or by calling (931) 372-3940. Tickets can also be purchased online at TTUsports.com.