NASHVILLE, Tenn. - In a season when Tacarra Hayes led the Golden Eagles in nearly every statistical category, it was only fitting that the sophomore was named first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference on Thursday. Hayes received her recognition at a reception held at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Nashville a night before the OVC semifinals kickoff at the Bridgestone Arena (formerly the Sommet Center).
Hayes was not the only Golden Eagle on the Tech women's basketball team to be honored Thursday as freshman Kellie Cook was voted to the OVC all-newcomer team.
OVC postseason awards were voted on by conference coaches and sports information directors.
Hayes earns her first career All-OVC honor after leading the team in scoring (16.9 ppg), rebounding (5.8 rpg), assists (4.5 apg), steals (1.8 spg) and blocked shots (0.5 bpg). She also ranked among the conference leaders in many of those categories, finishing the season second in the OVC in scoring, third in steals, fourth in assists and 12th in rebounding. Hayes was also ninth in field goal percentage at 42.4 percent.
"She's a tough match-up because of her ability to get to the hole. Her first step is as quick as I've seen, and it makes her difficult to defend," said Sytia Messer, TTU women's basketball coach. "She has the ability to pull up off the dribble or even play in the post. She's an all-around player."
After playing much of last season as an undersized post player, the 5-foot-7 Hayes handled most of the point guard duties for the Golden Eagles this season in addition to seeing time at shooting guard, small forward and power forward.
"In my opinion, she was the most improved player in the OVC," Messer said. "I was very impressed with her this season, and she is definitely deserving. She was a clutch player and the person we went to down the stretch when we needed a basket."
Hayes was indeed Tech's go-to player. In the final five minutes of games this season, Hayes scored 77 points while shooting 57.5 percent from the field. In comparison, Kellie Cook was second on the team with 34 points scored in the final five minutes of contests.
Hayes was twice named OVC Player of the Week throughout the 2009-10 season, the only Golden Eagle to earn that distinction. In the first week of the season, Hayes picked up Player of the Week honors after also earning All-Tournament Team accolades at the Islander Tip-Off Classic. She led the team in scoring, rebounding and assists for the tournament as she scored a then-career-high 21 points against Alabama before totaling 16 points, six assists and six rebounds in a win over Air Force. Hayes picked up her second OVC Player of the Week nod after scoring 39 points in a win over Austin Peay and nearly recording a triple-double two nights later against Tennessee State.
Hayes also made her mark on the Tennessee Tech record book this season in a memorable performance against in-state rival Tennessee State. On February 15, Hayes was nearly unstoppable as she scored 41 points in a crucial Golden Eagle victory on the road. Her 41 points marked the highest single-game point total for any Tennessee Tech guard in school history, a mark that Hayes had set earlier in the season when she scored 39 points versus Austin Peay.
In addition to all of her high-scoring games, Hayes also put her stamp on the season when she recorded just the 10th triple-double in TTU history on January 7 against Morehead State. Hayes finished the contest with 15 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds as she became the first Golden Eagle to accomplish the feat since 1994.
"Tacarra had some great performances this season," Messer said. "I think we're going to see her elevate her game to a new level going forward."
Cook began her Tennessee Tech career with a 22-point scoring performance in her first collegiate game against Alabama, and she remained one of Tech's primary scoring options all season long. A 5-foot-11 guard from Madison, Ala., Cook created mismatches for opposing defenses due to her ability to score from anywhere on the court.
"One of the biggest things with Kellie is her size," Messer said. "She's a good size guard and difficult to defend. We run a lot of players for her to post up, and then we also run plays for her to get open from three."
Not only did Cook excel statistically on the court, but she was also the vocal leader and only team captain for the Golden Eagles - a great deal of responsibility for a true freshman.
"Kellie had a lot of pressure on her and did a great job," Messer said. "She was our captain and a freshman, and she handled it with grace and class. She does so much right off of the court, and it carries over on the court."
Messer also noted that Cook's work ethic was second-to-none.
"She was always the first one in the gym getting extra shots up," Messer said. "She is always going above and beyond what is asked. Her leadership is tremendous."
For the season, Cook averaged 12.6 points per game, the second highest scoring average on the team. She also averaged 4.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists per contest. Always a threat from beyond the arc, Cook knocked down 47 3-pointers on the season, the second most for a freshman in the OVC behind her sister, Kylie.
Cook set a career high for points in a game against Murray State on February 11 when she hit a career-high five 3-points en route to scoring 26 points. One night game earlier, Cook recorded her first career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds against Morehead State.
During the regular season, Cook once earned OVC Freshman of the Week honors when she posted a team-leading 20.3 points per game during a three game stretch in early January. She also chipped in with 6.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.0 steals per game. Against Eastern Kentucky, Cook got the Golden Eagles off to a fast start, scoring 13 of the team's first 15 points on three 3-pointers, a pair of free throws and a mid-range jumper to help put the team ahead, 15-0, less than four minutes into the game before tying her then-career-high with 23 points.
Hayes and Cook helped the Golden Eagles to a 14-16 record overall and 8-10 mark in the OVC. Tech advanced to the OVC Tournament after tying for fourth place in the conference regular season standings before falling to Austin Peay to conclude the season. The team's 14 wins this season were the most since 2005-06.