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February 29, 2012

Hayes joins long list of elite Golden Eagles

When one enters Tennessee Tech's Eblen Center, one of the first things a person would notice are all of the Ohio Valley Conference championship banners for women's basketball on the west end of the Eblen Center. Sixteen to be precise.

A veritable "who's who" of women's basketball players have graced the court wearing the Tech purple and gold including greats like Cheryl Taylor, Emily Christian and Janet Holt.

Over the last four seasons, fans of Tech women's basketball have witnessed not only the re-birth of the program, but they have also witnessed another great who will join the chorus of great players at Tennessee Tech in Tacarra Hayes.

A native of Lebanon, Ky., Hayes' small stature of 5-7 does not make her stand out, but her sheer will and desire, along with the ability to take over a game, have made her one of the best and most feared players in the OVC over the last four seasons.

"The first time I saw her I thought, wow, what a great athlete," head coach Sytia Messer said. "Her ability to get to the basket off the dribble is the best of any player I have ever coached at any level."

Rachel Glidden and Krystal Stirrup, who came in as freshmen with Hayes, were also impressed when they first saw Tacarra on the court.

"My first impression of her on the court was that this girl is fearless and you could see that this girl could really play," Krystal Stirrup said.

"On the court she is a very hard worker," Rachel Glidden said. "She has a strong desire to win and never gives up. She also has her teammates' backs no matter what happens."

When Messer took over the reins of the Tennessee Tech women's basketball team in 2009, she began to mold Hayes into one of the top players Tennessee Tech has ever seen.

"Coach Messer is a players coach and she has given me so many good learning experiences," Hayes said. "She knows exactly what my strengths are and she set me up for success at Tech."

Each year under Messer, Hayes has garnered several conference accolades including seven OVC Player of the Week awards, an OVC co-Defensive Player of the Year award and the 2011 OVC Preseason Player of the Year.

Hayes has also been named to the all-OVC First Team the last three seasons, becoming just the eighth player to accomplish that feat and first since Emily Christian did it in 2006.

Former TTU women's basketball coach Bill Worrell also lauded Hayes' ability.

"She has a tremendous drive to succeed, similar to what we've seen with other great players that came through here and she's had a good support system around her," Worrell said. "They've run the offense through her the past couple of seasons and she has accepted the challenge."

Her scoring ability is undeniable as she is approaching Melinda Clayton's career mark of 1,712 points, which ranks ninth all-time at Tech. Currently sitting at 1,705 points, Tacarra became the 26th member of the 1,000 point club in just 81 games at Tech.

Many of the Tech faithful may remember a couple of games in 2010 including her 41-point game against Tennessee State or her triple-double against Morehead State.

"During my first season when Tacarra scored 41 points against TSU I turned to coach (Coretta) Brown and said that Tacarra would be a special player," Messer said.

Hayes' scoring ability may take center stage, but what separates her from others in her ability to contribute in all facets of the game.

Along with ranking in the top 10 in scoring, Hayes is near the top of the list several other categories including rebounds (671, 11th), assists (420, 8th) and steals (173, 11th). 

Chris Moye is the only other Golden Eagle to rank in the top 11 in points, rebounds, assists and steals at Tech.

"She is similar to Chris in that she is such a versatile player," Worrell said. "She's an all-around ball player, and I think the fans have appreciated watching her and seeing what she's done for this program."

When Hayes joined Glidden and Stirrup as a member of the freshman class in 2008, the trio developed an instant bond that has only strengthened over the last four seasons.

"They are truly my best friends," Hayes said. "When I get married they are going to be my bridesmaids."

Glidden and Stirrup also expressed similar feelings.

"I would say they are my best friends," Glidden said. "I wouldn't want to come into a program without them. They are a big reason why the last four seasons have been so much fun."

 "From the very beginning we were all very close," Stirrup said. "If you saw one of us then you saw all of us. We've been like sisters since freshman year and she's been a really good friend."

Off the court, Hayes has been equally lauded by her coaches and teammates.

"Off the court, she would do anything for you," Stirrup said. "She's just a really good friend."

"She so hilarious off the court," Glidden said. "She always keeps us laughing."

Perhaps Hayes' best accolade has come from Messer.

"Tacarra should be remembered as a great player on the court and a great person off the court," Messer said. "I have never seen Tacarra not sign an autograph or talk with the fans. We will truly miss Tacarra when her career is over."