Women’s basketball has chance to clinch OVC title

With one game left in the regular season, the Tech women’s basketball team has a chance to clinch an Ohio Valley Conference-record 16th regular-season title Saturday at home against Jacksonville State. Tech (21-6, 14-3 OVC) beat JSU 79-63 in their last meeting in December and holds an 11-3 lead on the all-time series record.

Tech continues to be led by junior guard Tacarra Hayes, who had 31 points and 10 rebounds in the last game against JSU. Hayes leads Tech in four statistical categories: points per game, rebounds, assists, and steals. She also has a team-high nine games where she has led the team in both points and rebounds. In OVC play this year, Hayes is sixth in scoring and fourth in rebounding and assists.

Combine those numbers with the efforts of freshmen Molly Heady and Briana Jordan and junior newcomer Brittany Darling, and second-year head coach Sytia Messer’s squad is looking good headed into March’s OVC Tournament.

Tech has only lost in conference to Morehead State, UT-Martin and Austin Peay. With each team, Tech has also beaten them once, making the season series with each team tied at 1-1. Tech is also 7-1 at home in conference, with that lone loss coming in its last conference game against Austin Peay. Despite that loss, Tech still has a 12-2 record in its last 14 games. Coach Messer also foreshadowed late-season success way back in September.

“It’s quite a strong stretch of [early-season] opponents,” Messer said. “But I’d rather face challenges early in December, so that we can finish strong in February and March.”

Because Tech is a relatively young team with no seniors on the roster, coach Messer said early in the season that a big focal point was to allow the team to develop for the future. The young players have grown as the season has progressed as Messer thought, but the team has done so well that they are experiencing immediate success.

Before the season began, Messer referenced a tough schedule as something that would challenge the team early but allow them to finish strong. After four losses in nine games toward the beginning or the season, including losses to Middle Tennessee State and Kentucky, Tech went on a 10-game winning streak.

“This schedule will be a great opportunity to challenge our young players and help us to get to the next level,” Messer said. “We feel like we’ve put together a competitive schedule that can help get us to the NCAA Tournament.”

Tech is ranked 17th in this week’s Mid-Major poll, its third straight week at that spot. Tech is the only OVC-team ranked in the poll.

If the season ended on Wednesday, the OVC seeds, one through eight, would be as follows: Tech, Morehead State, UT-Martin, Eastern Illinois, Austin Peay, Jacksonville State, Southeast Missouri State, and Tennessee State, respectively.

The top two teams in the OVC receive two byes in the conference tournament, which begins Wednesday and lasts four days. The OVC tournament is held in Nashville at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium. The winner of the tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Tech’s last championship came in 2005-06 when it shared the title with Southeast Missouri. SEMO later had to forfeit its share of the title due to rules violations.

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