Best friends. Roommates. A pair of 1,000-point scoring juniors. Hailey Tucker and Hayden Priddy have changed the direction of Southwestern Oklahoma State women’s basketball since the second they stepped on the court for the Lady Bulldogs.
Tucker and Priddy didn't know each other prior to college, despite both hailing from Oklahoma. Just three years later, the two have grown seemingly inseparable on the court, and into two of the best players in program's history.
“Coming in together, you just become best friends like that," Priddy told NCAA.com. "We’ve just grown. We know how each other plays. At one point Hailey looked at me during a game and said, 'I can only make a shot if you pass it to me.' It’s that kind of relationship. I know where she’s going to be, she knows where I’m going to be, so to share that with somebody is pretty cool.”
“It’s the coolest thing ever," Tucker added. "Hayden and I have been best friends and roommates for our three years here. It’s cool to have someone by my side that entire time, and build a program with our coaches and other teammates, it’s an amazing experience.”
So just what have Tucker and Priddy done since the dynamic duo arrived in Weatherford, Oklahoma? The Lady Bulldogs went 12-15 the season prior to their arrival. In their first season, the team improved by eight wins, reaching the Great American Conference tournament finals. Last season was more of the same, finishing with their second straight 20-win season, falling just short in the GAC tournament once again.
Now, SWOSU is 19-1, undefeated in GAC play and No. 10 in DII, the highest ranking in program history.
“I think that we’ve expected and wanted to be in this position that we are this year every year that we’ve been here," Tucker said. "[The coaches] want us to be the best, and we’ve always played the best. Now that we’re finally up there, it’s an unreal feeling. We haven’t been in this position before, and now that we are, we want to stay there, we want to continue this tradition from here on out.
“We’re blessed to have those 20-win seasons, but we always strive to do better than the year before. The fact that we haven’t won a GAC championship, or not even making it to the championship last year, we were just really disappointed in that. We believe that we should have two under our belt right now, so that’s kind of pushing us to go get it this year and next year.”
What's different on the court for the Lady Bulldogs? There are several factors leading the charge, but being able to grow together and slow down the game has certainly helped.
“It comes down to composure and maturity," Priddy said. "There’s been games where we are down by 10 or 15 points and even when we’re down, nobody looks up and says, ‘oh no, we’re going to lose.’ They always say know you’re good, but still be humble. I think that’s what it is. We know we’re good enough, but we know we have a target on our back and have to play our best every single game.”
Another key factor is the better you get, the better recruits come along. Take freshman Bethany Franks for example. Franks is fourth on the high-scoring Lady Bulldog attack, putting up 10.8 points per game. She also leads the team with 9.3 rebounds per game, tops in the GAC.
“It’s nice to see new girls come in every year and fill that one little piece we were missing," Priddy said. "Last year Tyra [Aska] came in, and now Bethany [Franks] comes in. She played in my AAU organization so I knew who Bethany was, but I didn’t know how good she was. That first game she stepped onto the court, I remember I looked at coach and said, ‘this [girl] is good.’ She doesn’t make a whole lot of mistakes.”
On January 21, in a 91-78 victory over Oklahoma Baptist, Priddy led the way with 20 points. One of those baskets put Tucker and Priddy in a league of their own.
Only 12 players in the storied history of Lady Bulldog Basketball have scored 1,000 career points.— SWOSU Athletics (@SWOSUAthletics) January 21, 2018
Two of them still have a full season of eligibility remaining after this year! #DynamicDuo #EarnIt pic.twitter.com/dGBogNqVpG
Priddy and Tucker are the only duo currently in DII that have reached the 1,000-point plateu as juniors. It's no wonder this team puts up the fourth-most points per night in Division II.
“It’s a cool thing," Tucker said. "Our coaches put us in a great position to be able to succeed. We average about 85 points a game. We score a lot, so someone is going to be scoring at least 20. We happen to have two doing that.”
So what's next for the two?
“My mom called the other day, and asked if she thought I would ever catch [SWOSU’s all-time leading scorer Kelli] Litsch. I said, 'probably not in my wildest dreams would I be able to score 2,700 points, it’s an unreachable task.’ I think the personal goals are the championship rings now.”
“I think I don’t have anymore personal goals," Priddy added. "I never got a championship ring in high school, so getting that is first. And then a national championship ring is a close second. A thousand points is more than I ever thought I could do.”
In order to do that, the Lady Bulldogs will have to figure out a way to beat the Arkansas Tech Golden Suns in the GAC tournament. They already beat them once this season and have a matchup this coming Saturday against their postseason advesaries. But it's in the postseason that matters most, where Arkansas Tech has eliminated SWOSU the past two seasons.
“People always say that our rival is Northwestern [Oklahoma State], but I always think our rival is Arkansas Tech," Tucker said. "They have knocked us out of the tournament my freshman year in the championship and last year in the semis. They think that we’re their rival, too. We love beating them. Trying to get another win over them this weekend will be a great thing.”
As great as the two are, there is no denying the structure and culture created by head coach Kelsi Musick plays a key role.
The Lady Bulldogs are alone atop the GAC. A big win over rival Arkansas Tech this Saturday could build their lead to a three-game cushion. The postseason is once again in sight for Tucker, Priddy and the Lady Bulldogs, something that is now the accepted norm. That's what the two hope will remain the norm long after they're gone.
“I want people whenever they think back to say, ‘wow, that girl can play ball,'" Priddy said. "I don’t want to be known just for my offense, or for my defense.”
“I would like to be remembered as someone who started from not where we wanted to be, to becoming someone that could leave a legacy behind," Tucker added. "To build a program that can be successful and are champions. I would like to be known as someone who had to come in and work hard to make this program such a legacy.”