Not many people had a better first 11 days of March than Anna Walker.
The Tennessee Tech junior, a 6-foot forward and former Bradley Central standout, started the month by earning a spot on the Ohio Valley Conference all-tournament team as she averaged 14.7 points in three games and the Lady Golden Eagles won a league tourney title for the first time in 23 seasons.
A week later, she spent a day in Murfreesboro, watching her high school alma mater win the TSSAA Class 4A championship in pretty dominating fashion, the Bearettes' seventh state crown overall but first since Walker was a junior on the 2019 title team.
Which team was better? The one that just stepped off the court or the ones that had Walker on the court?
Although she laughed when she said it, Walker explained she made sure Bradley Central's most recent champions knew they couldn't beat the Bearettes of four years ago.
"I may have told them that once or twice," Walker said. "We had a couple of days off of practice, so I went to the final, and just seeing those girls, that (current) senior class that I got to play with my senior year (when they were freshmen), seeing how they just got rewarded for all their hard work is really exciting. It also took me back to when I won and it brought back memories, but it was really fun to watch the win."
As for Walker's current team, Tennessee Tech is 22-9 and headed into the NCAA tournament's First Four, set to face fellow No. 16 seed Monmouth (18-15) — which won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament as a No. 7 seed — at 9 p.m. Thursday in Bloomington, Indiana. The winner gets to stick around to face No. 1 seed Indiana (27-3) on Saturday.
It's been an adjustment since Walker chose to transfer from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga after her first college season. She's been playing a bit more as a small-ball 5 in the Lady Eagles' system, and she has helped their success with per-game averages of 10.1 points (third on the team) and 5.0 rebounds (second).
"But these past two years have been the best two years of my life," Walker said. "I've just learned a lot on and off the court. I've made bonds here that will literally last for the rest of my life, and the coaching staff here has helped me so much just to develop as a player on and off the court as well.
"I took a chance coming here, but I think I definitely made the right decision."
Those bonds start with the coaches, an all-women staff put together by head coach Kim Rosamond. Walker's major is sports administration, and she hopes to become a head coach herself one day, so while being able to have those relationships is already valuable, they could prove even more so in the future.
"They talk to us all the time about just being a woman in today's age and today's time," she said. "Learning from them and seeing how they live their life has been big. They're role models for all of us."
The Golden Eagles are excited to be part of the First Four. There are a lot of conversations nationally about whether a conference champion should be part of what is essentially a play-in game, but Walker said the Lady Eagles wanted that opportunity.
"We're excited that we won the conference tournament, but we didn't do that just to be happy that we made it to the NCAA tournament," she said. "We're coming on a mission, and we want to win. We're looking forward to Thursday, because obviously if we don't win Thursday, we don't get to Saturday."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org.