Mississippi State is enjoying its most successful stretch of women's basketball seasons in school history, with three straight deep runs in the NCAA tournament including national runner-up finishes in 2017 and '18.
East Hamilton senior Madison Hayes is ready to join the party and try to add to the Bulldogs' accomplishments.
On Friday afternoon, Hayes took to social media to share a video of her committing to coach Vic Shaefer's program while surrounded by her high school teammates.
The Bulldogs are 104-10 the past three seasons and 194-56 overall under Schaefer, who led the team to a sweep of the Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament titles last season. Before taking the league's 2017-18 regular-season crown, the Bulldogs had never won an SEC title.
"Coach Schaefer really knows what he is doing and has been through it all," Hayes said. "All of his players love him, and I have been able to relate to him really well. Mississippi State has a great program, and I feel like it is the best fit for me."
Ranked as the nation's No. 29 women's basketball recruit in the 2020 signing class by espnW, Hayes visited Starkville last week, with her only other official basketball visit to North Carolina State. The Wolfpack are entering their sixth season under Wes Moore, a former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach who has led N.C. State to four NCAA tournament appearances.
Faced with a tough decision, Haye believes she made the best one possible, and especially because Schaefer's teams are known for their defensive intensity. While the 6-foot Hayes has produced robust offensive numbers for the Lady Hurricanes, including 2,229 points in a varsity career that began when she was in eighth grade, she might be at her best on defense.
"Mississippi State believes I can really be a great fit as a 2 or 3 guard and one who plays defense hard all over the court," said Hayes, who averaged four steals and 3.1 blocks per game as a junior. "Coach Schaefer is really big on defense, and that is kind of my thing.
"My defense makes my offense. It's all heart for me. Just being aggressive with the player who thinks they can get past you. I go out there and lay it all on the line for my team to give us a spark."
Hayes averaged 25.2 points, 12.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists while shooting 49.3% from the floor and better than 60% on 2-point attempts for East Hamilton last season, and she has been in the limelight since then. The Times Free Press chose her as its Best of Preps Scrappy Moore female athlete of the year for 2018-19 after she was honored as Tennessee's Miss Basketball for Class AAA in March. In June she played a big part in the United States winning a gold medal in the FIBA 3x3 U18 World Cup in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
While Hayes is not bound to Mississippi State until signing her national letter of intent — the first opportunity for 2020 signees is this Nov. 13 — she said she is "110% committed" to the Bulldogs. Still, she admitted it was tough to say no to the numerous other Power Five conference programs after building relationships with those coaches and teams through the recruiting process.
Now, able to let out a sigh of relief with her decision made, Hayes hopes to push East Hamilton to an unforgettable 2019-20 season. The Lady Hurricanes went 21-13 last season, when they reached the regional semifinals before falling to Stone Memorial.
"State championship is the last thing I want to cross off," she said. "That's what I have my goals set on. It would be the best thing for us all. I am excited for one final ride."