Joni Taylor is Georgia’s first SEC women’s top coach since 1996

Georgia  coach Joni Taylor during a game against Florida at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh)
Georgia coach Joni Taylor during a game against Florida at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

Credit: Tony Walsh

Credit: Tony Walsh

ATHENS – It’s not often that Joni Taylor hears directly from Georgia football coach Kirby Smart. But she did Tuesday as Smart opened his spring football news conference by lauding Taylor for being named the SEC’s coach of the year for women’s basketball.

Taylor was given that distinction based on a vote of her conference coaching peers.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t open with a hearty congratulations to Joni and her staff and her team,” Smart said in a video conference call with reporters Tuesday. “I know she’ll be the first to share in the accolades of (being named) SEC coach of the year. But I think our conference speaks for itself in terms of women’s basketball coaches, and for her to be the SEC’s women’s coach of the year is pretty special. I know in our house we’ve enjoyed watching them perform this year. They’ve done some great things, and they’re a very exciting team to watch.”

The Smart household has more than a passing interest in women’s basketball. Smart’s wife, the former Mary Beth Lycett, is a women’s hoops alum.

Taylor definitely earned the distinction. Her team was picked to finish ninth in the 14-team SEC. Instead, the No. 17-ranked Lady Dogs finished the season 18-5 and, at 10-5 in league play, earned one of four double-byes for the SEC Tournament, which begins this week in Greenville, S.C. In five of Taylor’s six seasons leading the Lady Bulldogs, her teams have exceeded expectations based on the preseason coaches’ poll.

Taylor wasn’t the only Bulldog to be honored for their work this season. Senior guard Que Morrison was tabbed the SEC co-defensive player of the year, senior center Jenna Staiti was named a second-team All-SEC selection and Sarah Ashlee Barker earned a spot on the league’s all-freshman team.

But Taylor was receiving kudos from all over the country Tuesday, as well as right in her own backyard. Hall of Fame coach Andy Landers, who brought Taylor to Georgia as an assistant before he retired in 2016, was among those to congratulate her. Landers earned the award in 1984, 1986 and 1996.

“It’s humbling; my heart is very full,” Taylor said in a video conference call Tuesday. “There are a lot of really, really good coaches in this league, and to be recognized in that way is a really special thing because there are a lot of coaches who could’ve gotten it.”

It didn’t come cheaply. The Lady Bulldogs earned three Top 25 wins this season, including the program’s first season sweep of Tennessee since 1985. Led by four senior starters who all earned their undergraduate degrees before the season began, UGA led all SEC men’s and women’s teams with nine honorees on the SEC academic honor roll.

The Bulldogs next play in the SEC tournament Friday against an opponent to be determined.

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