This weekend, we spoke exclusively with the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs — and SEC Coach of the Year — Joni Taylor. I had the chance to sit down with Coach Taylor as they are in San Antonio prepping for their 34th NCAA Tournament appearance. The first-round coverage kicks off Sunday with her No. 3 seeded Georgia facing No. 14 seeded Drexel on Monday.
First and foremost with everything going on this year, it’s a miracle that both the men’s and women’s tournaments were pulled together within the time frame that it was. Usually, there is the excitement of being surrounded by other programs in the tournament. In fact, teams are spread out all throughout San Antonio to help limit interacting with one other due to covid.
“In years past there’s been this buzz, you pass by tourney town, you see people. I’m in a hotel with 4 other teams and I have no idea who they are. That’s how isolated they have us,” Coach Taylor stated.
Nonetheless, Coach Taylor is ready to keep leading Georgia. Taylor has undoubtedly led the Lady Bulldogs to success ever since she became head coach after Coach Andy Landers retired in 2015.
“I’m fortunate of the path that got me here. I felt prepared and hopefully, success comes with that and you put your best foot forward. Right now it’s about shaping the lives and minds of young women and challenging them to be the best they can be on and off the floor.”
And this 2020-2021 season is arguably one of her best.
The Lady Bulldogs enter the NCAA tournament with a 20-6 overall record as one of the top teams in the country. Taylor’s team has been finding success — especially during the SEC tournament. Georgia made it to the championship but fell short to South Carolina.
The Lady Bulldogs are led by their four outstanding seniors: Jenna Staiti, Que Morrison, Gabby Connally, and Maya Caldwell. The four have been using their momentum from an exciting SEC Championship and bringing the fire into this tournament. Georgia’s long and storied history in the tournament includes 20 Sweet Sixteen appearances, 11 Elite Eights, and five Final Fours. This year, they are a three seed in the tournament.
But, seeding means nothing in the game of basketball, and that’s the beauty of sports. According to Coach Taylor and from my perspective, this has to be one of the most dominating years in Women’s basketball where it truly is anyone’s game. Any athlete or coach knows it’s who shows up that day, who is most prepared, and who has the best team connectivity, and that is something that Coach Taylor stressed. Her team is ready, prepared, and excited to leave their mark.
“Our practices have a good vibe. We’re here to handle business and we are feeding off of each other’s energy,” expressed Taylor.
Outside of the playing itself, if you haven’t been living under a rock, you have probably seen the social media outrage these past few days leading up to the tournament. Players and staff from around the programs had numerous viral videos of the men vs women bubble environment showcasing the disparity and inequality female athletes face daily.
But as Coach Taylor emphasized, “change doesn’t happen from talking about it, it happens from action and that is what we want to see and we can all do our part.”
She went on to discuss how we can all take action by supporting the women, buying tickets, and watching the games, a sentiment I echo.
Even in all this chaos, Coach Taylor shared she has addressed it with the team, they talked about it and now they mentally have to block it out and focus to get the job done.
The Bulldogs take on the Drexel Dragons this Monday at 12 pm EST on ESPN. Make sure to tune in today and tomorrow as the tournament kicks off and let’s continue to give female athletes the recognition they deserve!