For the first time in program history, Sacred Heart is home to the NEC Player of the Year, the NEC Rookie of the Year, and the Brenda Reilly NEC Coach of the Year all in the same season.
SHU senior forward Callan Taylor (Overland Park, KS/Blue Valley North) became the third Pioneer to claim the NEC Player of the Year award, joining Alisa Apo (2009) and Amanda Pape (2006). First-year Pioneer guard Gabrielle Washington (Mesa, AZ/Desert Ridge) earned top rookie honors, marking the third time in SHU’s NEC tenure that one of its freshmen has accomplished the feat. Meanwhile, Ed Swanson picked up the Brenda Reilly Coach of the Year award for the fourth time since 2004.
The fourth major honor, the NEC Defensive Player of the Year award, went to junior guard Felicia Barron (Springfield, MA/Central) of NEC regular season runner-up Quinnipiac.
The NEC unveiled its major award winners, two five-member All-Conference Teams, and an All-Rookie Team via social networking site Twitter. The announcement came four days prior to the start of the 26th annual NEC Women's Basketball Championship presented by Ruby Tuesday.
Taylor has been a notable force in the NEC for four years now, having burst onto the scene as a freshman member of the 2009 NEC All-Tournament Team. Now, as her career winds down, the 6-foot-1 forward will go down in the record book as one of the most-accomplished in both program and league history. The versatile post player, who has perfected a mid-range jump shot and can also connect from three-point range, has logged double-doubles (52) than any player in NEC history. Her 9.8 rebounds per game rank second on the NEC leader board and the 1,052 caroms she’s pulled in during her career are the most by an individual all-time at Sacred Heart.
“She did a marvelous job leading by example. We wouldn’t be where we are right now without Callan,” said Swanson of his all-NEC forward’s senior season.
Taylor won the league’s rebounding title as a sophomore and has put together back-to-back runner-up finishes since. For the second consecutive season, the 6-foot-1 forward from Overland Park, KS ranks amongst the NEC’s top-5 leaders in both scoring (17.0 ppg) and rebounding (9.8 rpg). Quite possibly the best all-around shooter in the NEC today, Taylor heads into the NEC Tournament as the league leader in field goal percentage (.499) while standing second in both free throw percentage (.868) and three-point field goal efficiency (.419).
Barron has bounced back from two knee surgeries to become the nation’s leader in steals (4.4/gm) this season. The Springfield, MA product joined former Bobcat Brianna Rooney, a two-time NEC Defensive Player of the Year, as the only two Quinnipiac players to earn the NEC’s top defensive honor. Spearheading Quinnipiac’s first 20-plus win season since 2008, Barron has carried the Bobcats through its toughest, and most-successful, non-conference showing in program history. Eleven of Barron’s 129 steals came during the Bobcats’ triumphant run through the St. Mary’s Thanksgiving Classic as Quinnipiac topped Big Ten member Minnesota and event host St. Mary’s. The 5-foot-7 do-it-all guard scores at a team-leading rate of 17.1 points per game, a mark that ranks third amongst NEC leaders. Barron has connected on 53 three-point field goals in 29 games and is also one of the league’s better free throw shooters. Her .767 conversion clip from the charity stripe was the NEC’s ninth-best in the regular season.
“I can’t think of a more deserving kid in my 17 years of coaching,” said Quinnipiac head coach Tricia Fabbri of the NEC Defensive Player of the Year. “I’ve never seen a player come off two ACLs [injuries], be healthy, and dominate like she has especially with the strength of schedule we had.”
Not even Pneumonia was able to stop Washington from showing off her abilities as a pure scorer. Helping Taylor shoulder the scoring load for Sacred Heart, Washington averaged 12.3 points per game and accounted for six 20-point performances with both marks leading all NEC rookies. The 5-foot-9 guard from Mesa, AZ produced the conference’s 12th-highest scoring average despite having to fight off a mid-season case of Pneumonia that sidelined her for two games and limited her action in two others. While Washington was not afraid to take the ball to the hoop, she gradually established herself as one of the NEC’s most-accurate long-range shooters. The five-time Choice Hotels NEC Rookie of the Week has hit 38 triples thus far and her .481 three-point shooting percentage is a league best.
“We put a lot of pressure on her to be our secondary scorer as a freshman. She’s really accepted that role and thrived in it,” said Swanson of the third NEC Rookie of the Year he has brought to Sacred Heart.
The NEC Coach of the Year award is another feather in the decorated cap of Ed Swanson. Since bringing the Pioneers into the Northeast Conference in 1999, Swanson has seen his team finish no lower than a tie for third place in the NEC standings. For the 11th consecutive season, Sacred Heart has managed to win at least 18 games, an unmatched feat in the NEC. No coach in league history has presided over more NEC victories than Swanson and his 177. His .738 league win percentage is the fourth-highest overall, but is the best amongst coaches who have coached at least 200 NEC games. For the first time since their perfect 18-0 run through the 2009 regular season schedule, Swanson leads SHU into NEC Tournament as the No. 1 seed.
The All-NEC First Team features a trio of players who comprise one of the most-accomplished senior classes in 26 years of NEC women’s basketball. Taylor along with LIU Brooklyn’s Ashley Palmer (Oxford, PA/Oxford) and Fairleigh Dickinson’s Mariyah Laury (Orange, NJ/Orange) will graduate as three of the league’s top-10 all-time scorers. Quinnipiac junior Felicia Barron (Springfield, MA/Central), who would be in the same class as the aforementioned three had she not missed a season due to injury, is the lone first team member who did not make the 2011-12 All-NEC Preseason Team. Making good on one of the coaches’ preseason prognostications, Robert Morris sophomore forward Artemis Spanou (Rhodes, Greece) was the lone underclassman to claim first team accolades.
Palmer ranked amongst the league’s top-10 leaders in both scoring and rebounding during each of her first three seasons in the NEC, and her senior campaign has unfolded no differently. The 5-foot-10 forward, who has the ball handling skills of a guard, captured the 2011-12 NEC regular season scoring title. In addition to her league-leading 19.2 points per game, Palmer pulls down the seventh-most rebounds (7.8/gm) in the conference. Amongst the league’s top-10 leaders in field goal percentage for a fourth year in a row, Palmer sits third (.492) heading into the postseason. With only three rebounds in LIU’s NEC Tournament quarterfinal matchup on Saturday, March 3, Palmer can become only the second player in conference history to accumulate 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career. With 2,026 points, the 2009 NEC Rookie of the Year is closing in on Amanda Pape (2,045) for third place on the NEC’s all-time list.
“She’s a great player who does a little of everything for us. She’s our go-to player,” said LIU head coach Gail Striegler.
The lightening-quick Laury stands only 10 points shy of 1,900 for her career. Already ranking seventh in the NEC all-time scoring annals, Laury has cemented her legacy as one of the purest scorers the league has ever seen. Her 17.4 points per game trail only Ashley Palmer for the conference lead ins coring average. Earlier this season, the 5-foot-7 New Jersey product accounted for the highest individual point total in a conference game since 2000 NEC Tournament when NEC Hall of Famer Jess Zinobile poured in 46 points. Laury scored 42 points on 16-for-28 shooting to lead FDU past Garden State rival Monmouth on Feb. 11. It was one of her league-leading 12 20-plus point performances of the regular season. Laury’s knack for taking it to the basket has resulted in the second-most trips to the free throw line of any other NEC player. Her .793 free throw percentage ranks fourth overall amongst league leaders, and first amongst those with at least 100 attempts.
“She made the First Team last year and had a better season all across the board this year,” said FDU’s Pete Cinella who has coached Laury throughout her entire collegiate career. “She played much better defense this year and she shoots over 40 percent despite seeing a lot of double teams and Box-and-1’s.”
Spanou has completed two full seasons of collegiate basketball and has two NEC rebounding titles to show for them. Following up her 2011 NEC Rookie of the Year award in grand fashion, the 6-foot forward averaged a double-double of 17.0 points and 11.0 rebounds per game this season. She put up seven consecutive double-doubles during the stretch run that landed Robert Morris the No. 4 seed in the upcoming NEC Tournament and has had double-digit scoring and rebounding totals in 17 of her last 18 outings. Her season’s scoring average is fifth in the NEC, while her rebounding mark is ninth in the nation. Whether it’s scoring on the block, creating her own outside shot, or finding an open teammate, there is little Spanou does not do on the floor.
“She goes inside and out, posts up, goes outside and shoots the three,” said RMU associate head coach Charlie Buscaglia of the Greek-born student-athlete. “At her size she plays really well inside and out.”
The five members of the All-NEC Second Team come from five different programs. Washington is the lone freshman to make the squad, but not the lone underclassman. Saint Francis (PA) sophomore Alli Williams (Altoona, PA/Bishop Guilfoyle) joins Washington and a trio of third-year players in earning second team all-league honors. Central Connecticut guard Jaclyn Babe (Pittsburgh, PA/Mt. Lebanon) is the lone member of the group who will not be advancing onto the eight-team postseason NEC Tournament. After leading Mount St. Mary’s back to the postseason following a two-year drought, Selina Mann (Gainesville, VA/Battlefield) becomes her team’s first all-NEC honoree since 2007. Meanwhile, Monmouth Alysha Womack (Springfield, PA/Cardinal O’Hara) continued her run of all-NEC selections.
Injury delayed the start of Womack’s season, but it was not enough to prevent the junior guard for earning her third consecutive all-NEC second team honor. The 5-foot-7 sparkplug missed the first 11 games of her junior campaign, but returned for the remaining 18 and made her presence felt. The Hawks won only three of their first 11 contests, but own a 14-4 mark since their top scorer returned. Leading the team for a third year in a row, Womack averaged 15.3 points per contest.
Williams’ sophomore season was more fruitful statistically than her maiden voyage and it was played under tougher circumstances. After being a rookie role player on a championship team, Williams was asked to be Saint Francis’ primary scoring option when 2011 NEC Tournament MVP Brittany Lilley suffered a season-ending injury in early November. The 6-foot forward responded by averaging 16.9 points per game (6th in NEC) and 8.8 rebounds per contest (5th in NEC). Her quick hands resulted in 2.9 steals per game (4th in NEC) and also helped her log the NEC’s first triple-double in nearly four years. In the Flash’s triumphant regular season finale at Quinnipiac, Williams tallied 18 points, 15 rebounds, and a conference single-game record-tying 12 steals.
Babe established herself as one of the NEC’s top-10 players during what was her first season at Central Connecticut after transferring from Duquesne. Helping fill the void left by the graduation of former all-NEC selection Kerrianne Dugan, Babe contributed in nearly every facet of the game. The 5-foot-8 Pittsburgh product ranked amongst the NEC’s top-7 performers in terms of both scoring (15.9 ppg) and assists (4.64 apg). One of the top rebounding guards in the league, Babe pulled down 7.8 caroms per game to rank 11th on the leader board. She also ranked 11th in field goal percentage (.447).
Mann would be an individual statistical conference champion in steals had she not been in the same league as the nation’s No. 1 thief. Ranking behind Barron on the NEC leader board, Mann averages 3.93 steals per game to sit third overall amongst the NCAA’s best. Her 139 assists (4.8/gm) are fourth-most in the league heading into the postseason and her 1.60 assist-to-turnover ratio stands as third-best. The prototypical point guard, who averages 6.0 points per contest, is great at applying pressure on the ball according to her head coach.
Sacred Heart’s Gabrielle Washington is one of three guards to earn NEC All-Rookie honors. Quinnipiac’s Jasmine Martin (Sicklerville, NJ/Timber Creek) and Saint Francis’ (PA) Alexa Hayward (Beaver Falls, PA/Blackhawk) are the other two. St. Francis’ (NY) Jaymee Veney (Fairborn, OH/Fairborn) and Fairleigh Dickinson’s Erika Livermore (Nazareth, PA/Nazareth), both post players, round out the five all-rookie selections.
Martin was the league’s 17th-ranked scorer despite coming off the bench for all 29 regular season contests. Her 10.9 points per outing tied for second overall amongst NEC freshmen and second on the team despite the fact she played averaged only 20.1 minutes per game.
Livermore made an immediate impact at the center position for the Knights. Her 7.1 rebounds per game ranked first amongst all NEC rookies and her 10.9 points per contest third. Connecting at a .471 clip from the floor, the 6-foot-1 post player is eighth overall on the NEC field goal percentage leader board.
Hayward made it easier for the Red Flash to cope with the loss of two starting players before the season even tipped off. Improving as her freshman season wore on, the 5-foot-8 guard wound up averaging 9.8 points over 27.1 minutes per contest. Hayward is only one of two NEC shooters to have made 60 three-pointer this season.
Veney was the centerpiece of a young St. Francis (NY) roster, 85 percent of which was filled by underclassmen. The 6-foot Ohioan led the Terriers in scoring (8.9 ppg) and rebounding (5.7 rpg) from wire to wire. In terms of efficiency, Veney (.495) was second to only NEC Player of the Year Callan Taylor in field goal percentage.