After surviving its conference tournament and winning the 2023 SIAC Championship, the Tuskegee women’s basketball team is gearing up to head down south to take on top-seeded Tampa in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Head Coach Trelanne Powell set down with HBCU Gameday for an exclusive interview to discuss the season and the Golden Tigers’ NCAA tournament journey.
Before accepting the challenge in Tampa, Tuskegee had to climb the mountain to the SIAC Championship. The Golden Tigers had a successful season with 26 regular wins and a 20-0 conference record; the championship was icing on the cake even though it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine.
“But we did have we had a lot of ups and downs on our team. We played I want to say six games without our point guard this year. So we’ve been through some things this year, this season. And I think it’s a testament to this program. Like I said, our upperclassmen who found a way to get it done” said Powell.
Starting at Tuskegee in 2018, Powell had to shape the Golden Tigers to be the winning bunch they are today.
The Tuskegee women’s basketball team had only won 6 games during the 2017-2018 season. In her first season as head coach, Powell and the Golden Lions racked up 20 wins; the largest winning season since 2000. During the 2019-2020 season, Powell led the program to their second NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008. Honoring her accomplishments, Powell was named 2022-2023 SIAC Coach of the Year
Tuskegee women’s basketball has done a full 180 since Powell’s entrance. Powell understood she had a major assignment to rebuild the infrastructure of this program. “I just think coming in with the mindset of we cannot fail, we cannot let our administration down, we can’t fail this program and these student-athletes. So it was amazing to see the turnaround to have one of the biggest NCAA turnarounds in history.”
Low Rankings in the NCAA Division II South Regional Rankings
Despite its impressive record, Tuskegee was sitting at No.8 in the NCAA Division II rankings. During the interview, Powell explained that the unpredictable accessibility to non-conference games for HBCUs and even for women’s basketball in SIAC hinders the chances of a higher ranking.
When deciding who to challenge, the coaching staff is tasked to build games utilizing current stats, rosters, and other factors that could change going into the next season. Along with this, Powell mentioned the risk in setting Tuskegee up for the tough matches.
“We we basically have to be like our men’s team and just go play the top teams in both conferences and see, you know, if we win or not.”
Why is it harder for women’s sports in HBCU conferences like SIAC to gain the competitive respect they deserve? Student-athletes deserve to be recognized for the dedicated efforts they put in for a winning season. But there are no definite criteria to define a competitive schedule to make both the conference and the NCAA satisfied therefore diminishing the respect.
“I just think it’s really unfair to our kids who are conference champions. And we are ranked behind people who had to receive an at-large bid in the regional but, you know, I just feel like fair is fair. But a lot of people will say, well, it’s fair playing the tougher opponents. So I get it, you know there’s two sides to it; all we can do is make the best of the opportunity that we have. And I’m going to tell my kids is Tampa is the number one team, if we want to win this region, we got to go through them anyway. Or through the people that beat them.”