Tech’s women’s basketball team had already secured the program’s third consecutive 20-win season, a favorable first-round matchup in the ACC tournament, and in all likelihood a spot in the upcoming NCAA tournament. However, the players—particularly the seniors—wanted to leave their loyal fans a parting gift in their final game this season in Alexander Memorial Coliseum, and on Sunday they did just that.
The Jackets closed the 2008-09 regular season on a high note, upsetting No. 19 Virginia 74-66 in Atlanta to end the regular season with a 21-8 overall record and an 8-6 mark in ACC play. The girls rebounded from losses against two ranked teams to win their final three games, with Sunday’s win moving them past Virginia in the ACC standings and giving the Jackets the No. 5 seed in the upcoming conference tournament. “I’m really happy with our effort today.… We were playing for a lot today: seeding, fifth-place finish, an over-.500 record in ACC play for only the second time in the history of our program,” said Head Coach MaChelle Joseph.
Sunday’s game, the last home game of the season, marked Senior Night for the players. Tech has only two seniors this season: guard Jacqua Williams, a longtime starter who has provided strong defensive play and leadership throughout her career, and forward-center Tabitha Turner, who has primarily been a reserve and has played a key role as a post player for the scout team. Both were in the starting lineup, with Williams taking her usual guard position and Turner replacing freshman Sasha Goodlett at center.
“Jacqua Williams and Tabitha Turner meant so much to this program, on the floor and off the floor. It was important to our team that we give the best effort we possibly could to continue our winning streak at home on Senior Night,” Joseph said.
During the time that Williams and Turner have been on the team, Tech has witnessed considerable improvement on the court. In their freshman season of 2005-06, the Jackets stumbled to a final record of 14-15, and their 2-12 mark in conference play also resulted in Tech’s lowest winning percentage in ACC games since 1985-86. However, that year they put up a fight in the ACC tournament: the Jackets entered as a No. 11 seed, pulled off a big upset of Miami with a 17-point win, and battled Maryland to a close finish in the second round, falling 71-66.
In 2006-07, the team earned its first winning season under Joseph, posting a stellar 21-12 record. The most notable improvement was in ACC play, where the team rebounded to go 9-5 for the best winning percentage in conference play in team history. In the process, Tech defeated No. 4 Maryland 77-72, making the Terrapins the highest-seeded team the Jackets had ever beaten. After another 1-1 performance in the conference tournament, the Jackets qualified as a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament; they proceeded to win their first game in the tournament since 2000 when Williams, then a sophomore, hit a one-handed runner with 2.5 seconds left to defeat Depaul, 55-54. Unfortunately, the magic ran out, and Tech fell to Purdue in the second round.
The success of the following season was arguably more monumental—the 2007-08 campaign marked the first time the team had recorded back-to-back 20-win seasons, as Tech cruised to a final record of 22-10. The team lost only four games before February, and all four of those losses came against top-10 teams. In late January, Tech found itself somewhere it had not been since 1993—in the national top 25 with a ranking of No. 23, but a quick loss to Duke dropped them out once again.
After the regular season ended, Tech defeated Miami and fell in the second round of the ACC tournament for the third straight year. They once again qualified for the NCAA tourney, but their first-round game against Iowa State ended in defeat.
As the postseason approaches for this season, the team looks to draw on a number of major accomplishments to make a push in both the conference and national tournaments. The highlight of this season came on Jan. 22, when Tech defeated No. 2 North Carolina 66-62 in Atlanta for the team’s first ever win over a top-3 team. The Jackets have continued their run of success with a third-straight 20-win season.
After Sunday’s game ended, Joseph spoke briefly about her two graduating seniors and passed the microphone to Turner, who thanked the fans for their support. Before coming to Tech, Turner excelled in the classroom and starred in both basketball and volleyball at Pace High School in Miami. She saw little action with the Jackets as a freshman in the 2005-06 season, but as a sophomore, the 6-2 Turner took on a key reserve role at power forward and center; most notably, she played 17 minutes that year against then-No. 8 Georgia, scoring four points and collecting four rebounds. Her playing time decreased in her final two seasons, but she remained in an important role as a scout team member.
After Turner finished, Williams spoke to the crowd, expressing her appreciation for the fans’ support over the years. She also thanked the contingent of her family members, including her mother and her godparents, who had made the long trip to watch her final home game. Williams is a Seattle native, so opportunities for her family to watch her play have been rare.
Williams has been invaluable to the team as a fast and energetic point guard capable of pushing the tempo and speeding up the pace of the game. In fact, her speed has allowed her to secure a spot on Tech’s track-and-field team, where in 2007 she became an ACC champion as the anchor of the 4×100 relay team.
On the basketball court, William’s average of 11.6 points per game in 2008-09 is her highest single-season mark with the Jackets. However, she has been a stellar defensive player throughout her four years with the Jackets. Her most notable career statistic in basketball is her tally of 366 steals, which is the most of any Tech player and the seventh-most in ACC women’s history. She also has some hardware to show for it: Williams won the team’s Defensive Player of the Year award in her first two seasons.
“A lot of players can change the game on the offensive end. There are very few players who can take over and change it on the defensive end. That’s what Jacqua Williams can do; she can alter anybody’s offensive game,” Joseph said.
“Every memory here is a good memory; every game, every practice. [Coming to Tech] was a great decision…. I’m just thankful for the people around me who supported me for four years,” Williams said.