TALLADEGA -- The Talladega College women’s basketball team made history Sunday afternoon. The Lady Tornadoes defeated Xavier 59-42 to win to win their first Gulf Coast Atlantic Conference tournament championship.

“It feels great for the girls, my associate head coach, Ashawnte Hawkins, and myself to take the women’s basketball team where they haven’t gone before,” TC head coach Kevin Herod said.

“These young ladies wanted to do this; they wanted to get this done. They wanted to get it done not just for themselves, but they really had a particular interest to get it done for the school and for the former Lady Tornadoes. We always have former players to come in from all different years, and they understand the tradition of winning. They set a goal of wanting to make history this year.”

By winning the GCAC conference championship, the 25th ranked-Lady Tornadoes automatically qualified for the NAIA National Basketball tournament in Billings, Montana, on March 15-21. The Lady Tornadoes will find out their seeding and who they will matchup against Wednesday night at 7 when the tournament bracket is released.

Herod believes playing some of the top teams nation in the Rotary NAIA Invitational in Jackson, Tennessee, early in the season helped  his team get prepared for the national tournament.

“Sometimes when you lose, you actually win,” Herod said. “We understood how much better we needed to get, so we have gotten better over the course of the season. Going 11-1 in the conference, again, we understood that we have to play hard every night. We might not make shots every night, but we have to play hard every single night to not just to be competitive, but to win.  

“Going into this tournament, you are one-and-done. They understand that, and it is a sense of urgency. You must play hard, you must play together and we are ready for the challenge.”

What makes what TC has accomplished so amazing is the adversity the team went through during the season. The Lady Tornadoes lost five players, including three sidelined with knee injuries. Herod credits the seniors’ leadership for the success the Lady Tornadoes had this season.

“Usually, when you lose one or two, that could change the projection of your team,” Herod said.  “A lot of teams don’t win after stuff like that happens. For us, we didn’t take it as a failure, we took as a challenge. We had senior leadership from Sashanique Youngblood, Shahana Zeigler, Victoria Schallberger, Tanajee Wells and Tashieba Henry. Those seniors stepped up and became leaders to all the newcomers that came in and provided a spark for us day in and day out.”

The success the Lady Tornadoes had this season did not go unnoticed by the conference. TC had three players make the all-conference team as well as the player, newcomer and coach of the year.

Tajanee Wells was selected as GCAC Player of the Year. Wells is the second straight TC player to be selected for the honor. Last season, Shakeena Benton was selected.

Wells is averaging 18.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals and ranks in the top five in the GCAC in scoring average, field-goal percentage and rebound average. She's also been named First Team All-GCAC in each of the past three seasons.

“Amazing player, amazing student-athlete and an amazing woman,” Herod said. “She was one of our best offensive players, she was one of our best rebounders and she was one of many leaders on this team.  She really did deserve to be Player of the Year, and as I say to her teammates, that award goes to her because everyone pitched in to help her maximize her ability on and off the floor. She would tell you the same.”

TC’s Jasmine Lee-Stackhouse was chosen as the GCAC Newcomer of the Year award as well as being second team all-conference. The Brooklyn, New York, native averaged 11 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

“She is an amazing young player (junior),” Herod said. “We didn’t expect her to bloom as fast as she has.  She came in and she worked extremely hard to get in the position that she is in. There has been great post players that have played here, and she understood that she had to come in and work hard. Even on the days that she failed, it was getting her close to success, and she was able to do that this year.”

Henry was selected first team all-conference. The senior from Lynwood, California, averaged 13.5 points per game.

“She is such a talented young lady,” Herod said. “She is one of the better offensive players that we have had in the program. She always works hard, she is extremely positive and she is a great teammate. It was an amazing blessing to coach them all.”

Herod was named GCAC Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season. Over the last two seasons, Herod has led the Lady Tornadoes to a 22-2 record in conference play as well as 61-29 record overall in three seasons.

“Honestly, I am not big on Coach of the Year, because I feel that should go to my staff and my players,” he said. “The players and my associate head coach, Hawkins, are there and they are putting in the work every single day. They trust in the program, and like I said before, Coach Hawkins is amazing associate head coach. I don’t think staff members get enough credit for what they put in day in and day out. She is truly gifted in what she does, and the players respond to her and myself. They need to call it a team award, because that is what it truly is.”

Herod, who is also the athletic director at TC, said he is grateful for the support the athletic programs receive from the school's administration.

“I am very appreciative of Dr. (Sharon E.) Whitaker (Davis), the vice president student affairs, and (President) Dr. (Billy C.) Hawkins for just being so supportive of our athletic department and basketball teams. I say this and it is true, teams win championships, but it is very difficult to go far without the support of your administration. We have 100 percent backing from our administration.”

LaVonte Young is the Sports Editor for The Daily Home. Contact him at lyoung@dailyhome.com or follow him on Twitter @LYoung_DHSports.