Monday, May 25, 2020 - by Betty A. Proctor, Chattanooga State
When Stacey Franklin took on the job of women’s head basketball coach for Chattanooga State, she expressed a determination to be the best, and her 2019-2020 team exceeded those expectations. As an all-freshman, entirely new team, the Lady Tigers came together very quickly to work through the challenging transition of becoming student-athletes. “Their toughness and determination was evident early on,” states Coach Franklin, who had the honor of being named 2019-2020 TCCAA Region VII Coach of the Year.
As the season progressed and the wins continued, Coach Franklin found that the level of confidence, understanding of the college game and overall team play grew significantly. “These girls truly love to play the game and compete. They have worked to come together to be successful as a team,” she shares. Their “can do” attitude led them to a regional championship with high hopes of bringing home the national title, but it wasn’t to be.
After wining the regional division title and anxiously awaiting to continue their pursuit of a national one, that toughness and determination was put to the test when the team received notice that the NJCAA national championship games were canceled due to the pandemic.
“Whenever you set out to achieve a huge goal and find a way to reach it through lots of hard work, it's disappointing not to have an opportunity to finish it,” laments Coach Franklin.
Naja Fenelon and teammate Shaquala Walton agreed that the season was a bittersweet moment because they could not finish what they started. They and team members have already begun thinking about the future and said, “This season we built a sisterhood and got better at something everyday. Next season, we will work 10 times harder to get there and compete against the best in the country to reach our goals." Coach Franklin agrees and says that the team will utilize the experiences and lessons gained this year as they work toward another successful season in ’20-’21.
“The special thing about this team is that at some point, each player stood out as a difference maker, whether it be as a teammate, in the classroom, during practice, or in games,” recalls Franklin.
Members of the 2019-2020 Lady Tiger team include, Shila McCord, Erica Lockhart, Naja Fenelon, Laila Blackwell, Michelle Smith, Gee Gee Hollingsworth-Pugh, Melisa Carter, Shaquala Walton, Alynzia Morris, and Gla’Mia Letcher. Several team members were recognized during the TCCAA Regional finals: Naja Fenelon, TCCAA Region VII Tournament MVP; Melisa Cater, 1st Team All-TCCAA; while Naja Fenelon, Shaquala Walton and Michele Smith were named to the 2nd Team All-TCCAA.
"This all freshman team won a Region VII championship because of a fearless mindset, consistent toughness and a real desire to win. We have no doubt that this setback, coupled with tons of hard work, will leave them with an even stronger hunger to achieve even more next season,” promises Coach Franklin.
According to Coach Franklin, when the 2020-2021 season premieres, all rankings will be new. They will be based partly on this season’s wins and losses, as well as players that will be returning vs. those who have transferred and/or graduated.