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Calhoun women open play today in state tournament

HUNTSVILLE – Calhoun Community College women’s basketball coach Candace Byrd-Vinson and her team started the season with two main goals.

“No. 1 was not to be last in the (Alabama Community College) conference,” Byrd-Vinson said. “No. 2 was to make the conference tournament.”

Some might have considered those goals to be lofty since it was the first season after the program had been shut down for more than 20 years ago.

The Warhawks can check off both goals. Calhoun (16-11 overall, 13-6 in conference) finished third in the North Division. The Warhawks face Bishop State today at noon in the ACCC state tournament being played in Huntsville at Alabama A&M’s new Event Center.

“I’m proud that they met those two goals,” Byrd-Vinson said.

Calhoun athletic director Nancy Keenum has coached several sports at the school since 1983 including the women’s basketball team from 1985-1995. She applauded Byrd-Vinson’s early success in re-establishing the program.

“I feel like Calhoun (women’s basketball) is back where it belongs,” Keenum said. “That was our expectation when we competed earlier and had some real success.

“Coach’s standards are extremely high. She holds her young ladies accountable. Not just in the game of basketball but everything else. She’s really involved in their lives.”

The Calhoun coaching job is a special one for the Tanner native, who coached high school basketball at East Lawrence and R.A. Hubbard. Byrd-Vinson coached the Chiefs to a Class 1A state championship in 2017.

“I took a leap of faith to reach out and apply for the position,” Byrd-Vinson said. “To be chosen to lead this program, restart the program is a great experience.”

The journey to the state tournament had its share of challenges. Not only was the program starting from scratch during its first season since 2001, time was short to assemble a coaching staff and roster after Byrd-Vinson was hired in April.

“I knew time was not on my side, and that I had to begin recruiting quickly,” Byrd-Vinson said. “Recruiting late in the year can be extremely discouraging as many athletes have already decided where they wanted to go, but I truly felt in my heart that we still stood a chance with obtaining athletes that could help us have an amazing season.”

Calhoun dressed 14 players in its season opener against Motlow State Community College. The Warhawks prevailed 100-43 in the reintroduction to the college basketball landscape.

The roster included four players from the surrounding area in Tashanti Watkins (Austin), Keyera Jeanes (Tanner), Morgan Morris (Elkmont) and Kyndall Crutcher (Athens). Taylor Thatch (East Limestone), the first player to sign, was redshirted as she rehabbed from a previous injury.

“It was super exciting,” Morris said. “I was glad that they were finally getting a program back.

“Seeing how much we’ve improved even from the beginning of the practice because we literally started practice in August to having a foundation that strong in, what, six months, it’s just big.”

That foundation, after inconsistency plagued the team early in the season, bore fruit down the final stretch of the schedule. Calhoun started the season 8-9 before winning its next five games and eight of nine before losing to Wallace State-Hanceville in its regular season finale.

“We’ve been working for a long time,” Watkins said. “We can see ourselves getting better every day.”

Byrd-Vinson also saw the team’s turnaround at practice.

“I remember we came back after Christmas. We had some running to do,” Byrd-Vinson said. “I saw then that their mindset had changed. It was more of a team. It transferred over from practice to the game.”

Other North Alabama players have contributed to the team’s success. Among them is Kennedi Hawkins. Hawkins, a 2020 Florence graduate, played basketball for one year at East Mississippi Community College. After taking a year away from school and basketball, she decided to attend Calhoun tryouts and return to the court with the program.

Hawkins learned that she still had plenty of game left in her. She finished the regular season second in the conference in scoring (17.1) and field goal percentage (65.8%) and first in rebounds (11).

Kesia Rogers, who played basketball at Sparkman and Mae Jemison, led the conference in 3-point percentage (61.4%). Rogers has also enjoyed being close to home and being able to frequently see family members in the stands.

Teammates Makiyah Horrison (Muscle Shoals) at 50% and Lesiah Rogers (Sparkman and Mae Jemison) at 49.1% are second and third, respectively, in 3-point percentage in the conference.

Although the team’s primary goals from the beginning of the season were met there is still more basketball to play. Calhoun beat Bishop State at home 80-68 in December.

“We’re focusing on not just being happy to be here,” Byrd-Vinson said. “We want to win.”

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