Talisha Washington is First Black Woman to be Named SLIAC Coach of the Year

Head women’s basketball coach Talisha Washington, ’13, frequently uses the word “navigate” to describe a coaching season that ended with a tournament championship and the title of Coach of the Year.

The nautical term is a fitting description for a season where COVID-19 forced all sports teams nationwide into uncharted waters. But for Washington, charting a clear course in the midst of challenge is what coaching is all about.

The Saint Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) formally recognized Washington’s leadership skills on April 10 following the Blue Jays’ 80-73 tournament championship win over the Webster University Gorloks.

SLIAC Commissioner Dick Kaiser officially awarded Washington the title of women’s basketball Coach of the Year — a title no other Black woman in the conference has received in the 32-year history of the conference.

The achievement takes place after Washington, who also coaches women’s golf, was appointed head of the team just over a year ago.

“It is quite an honor, considering everything that went on this year,” she says.

Washington and all Westminster coaches modestly downplay exactly how they managed the 2020-2021 Division III athletics seasons, which included unusual tasks such as locker room maintenance, contact tracing, campus-wide cleanup duties, and meal delivery to quarantined students.

Staying active was the primary goal for coaches and players when in an upside-down fall season forced conference games for most sports to be delayed until spring. Many coaches of winter sports, such as basketball, began their practices earlier than usual.

All conferences faced student-athletes who were apprehensive about playing. Some, at many other colleges, quit or transferred at the prospect of not being able to play at all.

“At a lot of institutions, we saw kids transferring at semester to go and play somewhere else due to the uncertainty if they would even have a season, but that didn’t happen here,” Washington says, crediting her staff for maintaining positive attitudes. “Communicating, keeping everyone engaged, and having hope that we would play was important. I’m very thankful to our President, Dean of Students, and Athletic Director for figuring out a way to give our student-athletes a safe season.”

Interim President and Chief Transformation Officer Donald P. Lofe, Jr., congratulated Coach Talisha Washington and her team on April 22 in the Historic Gymnasium.

The Fulton, MO, native adds that a certain amount of adversity had to be overcome even prior to the pandemic in order for her players to come together as a team. That meant Washington and her staff hit the road a minimum of four nights per week to recruit players.

“We wanted to bring in girls who really wanted to play to win … and that led to having a recruiting class of seven freshmen and five transfers,” she explains.

Teammates underwent a three-week social quarantine mandated by Washington prior to the season in January.

“They couldn’t go out at all and could only go to practice, class and work. And I’m super proud of them, because they knew what needed to be done to get their season in.” Washington says with a smile.

The clear focus and hard work played off: The Blue Jays women’s basketball team finished 12-3 overall and 7-2 in the conference.

Like her players, Washington celebrated a SLIAC conference tournament championship as a student-athlete. The win took place when she was a senior in 2013, the last time the team won the SLIAC Tournament Championship.

Washington went on to graduate from Westminster with a degree in Sports Management before earning a master’s degree in Athletic Administration from William Woods University in 2016.

Winning this year’s championship and Coach of the Year award is not the only victory Washington has experienced recently. On Jan. 21, SLIAC also appointed Washington to be chair of the conference’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

“We are working to make sure our conference provides growth opportunities for student-athletes, coaches, and administrators when it comes to supporting a diverse and inclusive community. It’s important to make sure we are doing our part to educate.” she explains.

When Washington isn’t managing committees or coaching, she enjoys spending time with family, which includes her 13-year-old daughter, Kenzi, who runs track and plays both softball and, of course, basketball.

“During the conference championship, Kenzi couldn’t be there, because of COVID restrictions, so she watched the game online, and she was so emotional, she cried,” Washington says, adding that her dad bought her a T-bone steak in honor of both her victory and campus nickname, “Coach T.”

She credits her older brother, Jeremy, who was a three-sport athlete in high school, for inspiring her love of basketball.

Ultimately, giving credit to others comes naturally to Washington. She says the Blue Jays’ conference win is because of the grit and determination of every student-athlete on her team.

Washington reflects, “It’s something when you have a group of girls that stay together through adversity, and honestly, that’s what these girls did the entire season, from August all the way up until April.”

Watch for a comprehensive recap of all Blue Jays athletics awards in upcoming issues of Westminster Monthly.

 

 

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Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is a Media and Content Strategist at Westminster College in Fulton, MO. A 1992 graduate of the College, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communication in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.