MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – The end of the 2019-20 basketball season was akin to The Twilight Zone for many teams and players across the nation as many teams and fans were left to ponder “what if” or “if only.”
Despite the cancellation of several conference tournaments and the annual NCAA Tournament, Middle Tennessee State will be taking a much more optimistic approach to the start of the 2020-21 season.
MTSU was riding a wave of success and entered the Conference USA tournament with a 13-5 record and fourth-place finish. The Blue Raiders were scheduled to take on 12th -seeded Louisiana Tech in a quarterfinal round game after the Bulldogs stunned fifth seed UAB in a first-round game one day earlier.
Instead, the tournament was cancelled because of the Coronavirus that halted the nation.
“I think we had the most momentum of any team heading into the tournament,” said MTSU coach Rick Insell, who has guided the Blue Raiders since 2005. “I think we had as good a chance to win (the conference tournament) as anybody.”
No one will ever know.
What is certain is that the Blue Raiders will be among the favorites when the new season gets underway.
The bulk of the MTSU roster is likely to return next season, including sisters Aislynn and Anastasia Hayes. Both have already received numerous awards in their young collegiate careers.
Aislynn Hayes was recently selected to the Her Hoops Freshman Fab 15 All-American team and just the second Blue Raider to earn All-American honors as a freshman.
Former MTSU standout Ebony Rowe earned All-American honors during her freshman season of 2010-11.
“She’s like a sponge,” said Insell, who is 361-157 during his time at MTSU after leading the Blue Raiders to a 21-9 record before the season was halted. “She is a gifted player and wants to take everything in.”
Insell, who has guided MTSU to nine NCAA Tournament appearances and five trips to the WNIT, knew he was getting something special when he recruited Hayes.
“She’s great,” the Blue Raider coach said. “She did absolutely everything right in high school and she has a passing for doing things the right way.”
But even the veteran Insell could not have envisioned a season like Hayes had in 2019-20.
The young Hayes, a five-foot, eight-inch guard, averaged 14.1 points and 3.1 assists per game during her rookie season. She was the 10th leading scorer in C-USA and her assists ranked her ninth in the league. She was selected as
the conference freshman of the year this past season.
“I feel blessed, she said of the Fab 15 honor. “I know I had worked so hard, but I was just expecting to play a few minutes a game in my first season … I certainly didn’t expect to become the starting point guard as a college freshman.”
Three more seasons will likely see even more standout performances, according to Insell.
“She has a flair about her and I truly think the best is yet to come,” he said.
Anastasia Hayes, a 5-7, guard, also had a season to remember in Murfreesboro after transferring to MTSU.
Insell is thankful for that.
She began her career at the University of Tennessee and was chosen as the sixth player of the year in the Southeastern Conference in 2017-18 before returning home to Murfreesboro and joining the MTSU program.
All the elder Hayes did this past season was finish second in C-USA in scoring with 18.7 points per game and adding six rebounds per contest. She was also fourth in the league in assists (4.1) and was voted the conference
newcomer of the year.
“She’s special,” Insell said of Anastasia Hayes, “No ifs, ands or buts, she has the potential to become a professional. She has that many qualities.”
The Hayes backcourt tandem was something the older Hayes valued.
“I really didn’t expect her to have the impact that she did as a freshman,” Anastasia said of her younger sister. “But I do know that getting to play alongside of her really helped improve my game.”
The return of the Hayes sisters is not the only thing Insell is looking forward to in 2020-21.
He also expects the return of Taylor Sutton, the OVC freshman of the year in 2018-19, and Charity Savage.
Sutton ranked 15 th in the conference in scoring a year ago with 12.6 points per game and Savage finished 28 th in the league with 10.9 points per outing.
With campuses around the country closed down and unlikely to open up to students before the start of the fall semester in August the Hayes sisters are left to work out on their own.
“It’s hard not being around the gym and my teammates,” the recent All-American said. “I just shoot around every morning and work on keeping in shape and working on improving my three-point shot.”
Anastasia Hayes is following a similar regime while working on a more consistent jump shot and a more consistent attempt from behind the arc.
About the only thing the Hayes have come up short on is recruiting within the family.
A younger sister, Alasia, a five-foot, seven-inch guard, has signed to play at Notre Dame in 2020-21.
One can only dream that the Blue Raiders and Irish meet in the NCAA tournament next season.
Her Hoops Freshman Fab 15
Aliyah Boston, South Carolina
Haley Cavinder, Fresno State
Dyaisha Fair, Buffalo
Abby Feit, Evansville
Alex Fowler, Portland
AISLYNN HAYES, MIDDLE TENNESSEE
Jada Holland, Grand Canyon
Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech
Ila Lane, UC Santa Barbara
Ayoka Lee, Kansas State
Kyla McMakin, Longwood
Kayla Padilla, Penn
Alissa Pili, Southern Cal
Maddy Siegrist Villanova
Sam Brunelle, Notre Dame
Zia Cooker, South Carolina
Leilani Correa, St. John’s
Abbey Hsu, Columbia
Rickea Jackson, Mississippi State
Taylor Jones Oregon State
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Middle Tennessee standout guard Aislynn Hayes has been named to the Her Hoops Stats Fab 15 Freshmen All-America team, as announced by the officials with the organization Thursday.
Hayes is the second freshman all-American in program history and the first since Ebony Rowe was so honored in 2010-11.
The players were selected from the nation’s 32 conference freshmen of the year recipients. These 15 players dominated their conferences and ranked highly among freshmen and all players in the nation in various statistical categories.
“To be named to an all-America team is a tremendous honor and Aislynn certain is extremely deserving,” Lady Raider Head Coach Rick Insell said. “She had a tremendous season for our basketball team, one of the best seasons of any freshman in the country and there are several.
“There are more and more freshmen making an immediate and significant impact in the women’s college basketball. I appreciate those who put this outstanding team together as these players are deserving of such recognition based on their contributions.”
Her Hoop Stats Release
Hayes was named Conference USA Freshman of the Year and was a seven-time winner of the league’s freshman of the week honor, which is second most in C-USA history. Hayes also became the first player ever to be named United States Basketball Writers Association National Freshman of the Week.
“I was really surprised and honored when I was informed of the news,” Hayes said. “I was excited to be able to contribute to our team’s success and play a role in my first year. To be recognized as an all-American is icing on the cake. I appreciate my teammates and coaches for believing in me, and those responsible for this team for considering me.”
Hayes, the daughter of Arnett and Sherry Hayes, was the Lady Raiders’ second-leading scorer with 14.1 points per game. She was ranked among C-USA’s Top 10 for minutes (2nd, 36.8), 3-point field goals made (2.0, 6th), assist-turnover ratio (1.1, 8th), assists (3.1, 9th) and scoring (14.1, 10th).
The 5-foot-6 guard scored in every game, including 23 in double figures. She had eight games of 20-plus points and posted her career high of 25 twice – against UTSA and WKU.
Part of the criteria for inclusion on the all-American team included being a conference freshman of the year, as well as standing within the respective conferences and NCAA statistics.
Her Hoop Stats aims to provide consistent, reliable and easy to access data about women’s basketball for both mobile and desktop environments.
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.