Transformation has taken place in Utica

Octavia Barnes goes up for two.

By Tim Ward

Octavia Barnes goes up for two.
Octavia Barnes goes up for two.

For years, the only sport that received considerable attention at Hinds Community College was football. Deservedly so. Coach Gene Murphy built the program to national prominence. Players would leave Hinds to sign D-I scholarships regularly, a few of those players worked their way to the NFL.

Over the past 15 years, women’s basketball at Hinds, has been an afterthought. Low attendance, lopsided defeats, and lack of interest virtually took them off the basketball map. Opposing coaches will not admit it, but at one point, if you coached women, seeing Hinds on your schedule almost meant an automatic win.

Two years ago, Hinds began searching for a new head coach. A culture change was necessary. Competitive women’s basketball needed to be played in Utica. Hinds’ administration selected Tomekia Reed, a former Lady Bulldog, to guide the program in a new direction. Excited to coach her alma mater, Reed hit the ground running. She knew initially it was going to be a battle.

“Taking the job, I knew what challenges I had to face. The first was restoring the facilities to make our campus attractive to top recruits,” says Reed. Reed was either in charge of or assisted in recruiting while being an assistant coach at the University of New Orleans, Louisiana Tech University, University of Southern Mississippi, South Georgia Technical College, Jackson State University, and University of Louisiana-Lafayette. In 2004 South Georgia Technical College gave Reed her first job as a recruiting coordinator. Ten years recruiting players proved pivotal for Reed’s first head coaching job.

Reed recounts, “My first year, I signed an entirely new team. They came in when we had nothing but belief in my vision for the program.” Vice President Debra Mays-Jackson, along with the athletic director, made the changes that Reed requested for the Hinds facilities. At the end of 2015-2016, Hinds Community College finished the season 10 & 13. Although the record was a losing one for Hinds, it marked the first time the women had double digit wins in years.

Positive momentum established credibility at Hinds. Top players signed to play at Hinds. The team bought into the process Reed and her staff guided and preached. “I’m with a group of faithful, dedicated, praying, hardworking young ladies and coaching staff. I wouldn’t want to be on this journey with anyone other than them,” Reed said.

High expectations loomed over the 2016-2017 season at Hinds. Will they at least reach double digit wins again? Has Reed turned the team around? On February 9, 2017, the Lady Bulldogs defeated division foe Copiah-Lincoln (Co-Lin), 78 to 61. Just another game right? Not quite. According to sources, it was the first time ever for a Hinds’ women basketball team to defeat Co-Lin in 29 years.

Three Lady Bulldogs were in double figures. Octavia Barnes led the way with 14 points, followed by Areleatha Gipson’s 12 points, and Twila Hill’s 11 points. The Lady Bulldogs have yet to lose since their historical victory. Finishing the season on a 5 game winning streak, Hinds hurdled another historic obstacle. As the third seed in their division, the Lady Bulldogs locked up a playoff spot in the MACJC tournament for the first time in 22 years.

Hinds finished the regular season 18 & 5. The turnaround was complete. Respect must be given. The Lady Bulldogs advanced to the second round of the tournament Monday night with a determined effort. Trailing by as many as 19 points, the team battled back, forced overtime, and dominated Northeast Mississippi Community College in the extra period. The “journey” continues.

Next up, Jones Community College, nationally ranked, and riding an 18 game winning streak. Jones defeated Hinds twice this season. However, the Lady Bulldogs have turned the corner since their last defeat.

No matter the results of this season, there is a new day in Utica. The women’s basketball team is different. A collection of women who win, are the women who proudly wear the Hinds jerseys. Reed said, “Upon accepting this job, the Holy Spirit revealed to me where I would be in two years. I’m not sure the ending, but he showed us winning. Day by day and game by game, our players are being molded into the vision that was shown to me.”

Reed continues, “My five year goal is to be state champions and make it to the National tournament to win.”

When asked about the turnaround in Utica, Mays-Jackson said, “Coach Reed delivered a promise when hired – that was to take the women basketball team to the state playoffs by year two. We are so extremely proud of coach Reed, her coaching staff and the wonderful and talented young ladies who grace the floor each night to represent Hinds CC and the Utica Campus with pride. We continue to cheer them on to future victories.”

Coach Reed and her staff have turned basketball around Hinds Utica.   PHOTOS BY TIM WARD
Coach Reed and her staff have turned basketball around Hinds Utica. PHOTOS BY TIM WARD

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