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Golden Eagles set to make a run at the NCAA Tournament

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. --- The 2010-11 season saw the fruits of the Tennessee Tech women’s basketball team labor come to fruition, as the Golden Eagles captured their 16th Ohio Valley Conference championship. Now in her third season at the helm, the reigning OVC Coach of the Year Sytia Messer will look for that next step from her 2011-12 squad.

“People can expect to see our team playing with toughness and passion,” Messer said. “We’ve learned how to win, now we ha   ve to take our game to the next level.”
The Golden Eagles begin the season Monday, at 7 p.m., with an exhibition contest against Bryan College in Eblen Center. TTU opens the regular season at East Tennessee State on Friday, Nov. 11, in the opening round of the Preseason WNIT.
Basketball season tickets are now on sale and can be purchased at the TTU Athletic Ticket Office by calling (931) 372-3940. Tickets can also be purchased online at TTUsports.com.
During the 2010-11 season, Messer guided the Golden Eagles to a 23-8 record, along with an OVC-best 15-3 record, en route to the program’s 35th winning season. The 23 wins included a 10-game winning streak and at least one victory against every conference rival.
“Last season, I saw a team improve from a middle-of-the-road team, to a team that captured the OVC Championship,” Messer said. “Our players really bought into our system and vision, and it paid off tremendously.”
Tech’s record last season, and its crop of returning talent for the upcoming season, earned TTU the top spot in the OVC Preseason Poll, as the Golden Eagles edged out UT Martin by four points.
“The OVC regular season championship is up for grabs,” Messer said. “Three of the top four teams from last season return nearly all of their starters, so each team will have to be ready to play each week.”
One thing that Messer can count on as the season opens is the level of leadership and maturity that has been molded over the past two seasons. This year’s team will feature 11 returnees, including four seniors, plus three newcomers, including a pair of transfers.
“One of the main things that a lot of people might not see from the stands that a coach sees really well is the amount of leadership our team has this season,” Messer said. “The leadership Tacarra (Hayes)  has brought over the last two seasons has been great and she is already taking it to a new level in her senior season.”
Of TTU’s returning seniors, no one is more decorated Hayes. Named to all-OVC team for the second straight season last year, the reigning OVC co-Defensive Player of the Year has been named the OVC Preseason Player of the Year by OVC coaches.
Hayes put together a solid junior campaign, finishing atop the Golden Eagles in several categories including points (525), rebounds (234) and assists (145). With her 525 points, Hayes became the 26th member of the 1,000 point club at Tech and she now ranks 18th on the all-time scorers list with 1,208 points.
Joining Hayes in the senior class are Brittany Darling, Rachel Glidden and Krystal Stirrup. Darling and Glidden started in all 31 games last season, as they both finished in the team’s top-five in points with 236 and 211 points, respectively.
Darling made her presence felt in the paint all season last year, as she finished her first season at Tech with five doubles-doubles and seven OVC Newcomer of the Week awards.
Glidden did most of her damage on the perimeter, notching a team-high 47 three point field goals. She also boasted a sharp eye at the charity stripe, connecting on 42-of-48 attempts.
Stirrup played in 26 games last season and made six starts.
The Golden Eagles welcome back three additional upperclassmen in juniors Katherine Barker and twins Kellie and Kylie Cook.
The Cooks combined for 48 starts last season, and accounted for a combined 349 points a year ago. Barker made eight appearances last season.
TTU also welcomes back four additional players for their second season on the team including sophomores Molly Heady and Briana Jordan, and red-shirt freshmen Diamond Henderson and Candace Parson.
Heady, who played in all 31 games as a rookie, finished her freshman season second on the team in scoring with 274 points, to go along with 173 rebounds and one double-double. Her 85.5 shooting percentage from the line topped the OVC charts, as she was named to the OVC all-Newcomer Team.
Jordan, also made her presence felt as she finished second on the team in assists with 73, and fourth on the team in points with 231. She started in Tech’s final eight contests of the season, including TTU’s WNIT contest against Auburn.
Henderson and Parson, who each suffered season-ending injuries last season, return as red-shirt freshmen looking to make up for lost time.
In Tech’s exhibition contest against Bryan College, Henderson dazzled the Tech faithful as she poured in a team-high 22 points. Parson took part in six games last season and tallied seven points and six rebounds against long-time rival Middle Tennessee.
Tech also welcomes in trio of newcomers in junior Jala Harris, sophomore Christina Caddy and freshman T’Keyah Williams.
A former member of the UAB team, Harris should provide an instant spark to the offense, as she averaged 15 points per game her freshman season. She was named the Conference-USA Freshman of the Year for her efforts.
A JUCO transfer out of Barton (Okla.) Community College, Caddy finished her first season averaging 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists per game.
Williams, a former teammate of Parson at Dillard High School, was selected by College Sports Madness to finish as the OVC Freshman of the Year, and should help shore up the post.
“All three of our newcomers coming in are proven winners,” Messer said. “T’Keyah has won two high school championships and Jala was the Conference-USA Freshman of the Year.”