Women’s hoops collects Summit League awards
March 3, 2017
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The Summit League awarded five members of the Western Illinois women’s basketball program with all-conference awards yesterday. As a whole, the program took home a record eight awards for the 2016-17 season.
“It’s been such a special year,” said Western Illinois women’s head basketball coach JD Gravina. “Everything worked out for us and came together but for us to do this in such a difficult conference is incredible.”
Gravina was named Summit League Coach of the Year for leading Western to their best season since 2006. This is the fifth time the program’s coach has received the award, the first time since Leslie Crane in the 2004-05 season. Gravina’s squad set a program record for regular season wins (23) as well as home wins (13).
“Personally, it’s a dream come true,” Gravina said. “It’s a great honor but this is such a team award. They all are. We look at them as recognition for our entire team.”
Junior guard Emily Clemens was named the Summit’s Player of the Year for 2016-17. She is the first Leatherneck to win the award since Ashley Luke in 2014-15, and fifth in program history. Clemens joins Luke, Zane Teilane, Tiffany Cornelius and Oberon Pitterson.
“(Clemens) is such a special player,” Gravina said. “To be able to score the way she has and distribute the ball to her teammates makes her a complete player. Last year she wasn’t recognized by the conference and she made that a personal goal of hers this season. To win Player of the Year in this conference is quite an accomplishment.”
Clemens also tied Luke for most conference Player of the Week honors in a single season with five. Clemens led the Summit League in six categories this season. She was first in points per game (19.2), assists per game (7.1), steals per game (2.5), minutes per game (37), assist/turnover ratio (2.9) and free throw percentage (87.9).
Junior guard Morgan Blumer was given three mentions by the conference on Thursday. She earned All-League First Team honors, was named Transfer of the Year and made the All-League Newcomer Team. Blumer scored 30 or more points in a single game this season twice and posted 20 or more six times. She broke the program record for 3-point field goals this season with 75 (and counting). She also averaged the third most points in the conference with 16.8 and was number one on ESPN Sportscenter’s Top Plays for her shot from the opposite free throw line against IUPUI on Jan. 25. Blumer was named the Summit League’s Female Athlete of the Month for January and won the conference’s Player of the Week honors twice.
Junior forward Olivia Braun also made the All-League Newcomer Team with Blumer. She led the Summit League by averaging 2.9 blocks per game. Her nine blocks against Oral Roberts on Jan. 7 was the second most in a single game in program history.
“It’s really nice seeing them make such an impact after sitting out last year,” Gravina said of his newcomers. “They slowly built confidence on a daily basis and blossomed in our system.”
In her sophomore year, guard Taylor Higginbotham earned All-League Second Team honors this season. Higginbotham recorded 20 points or more five times this year and already has over 800 career points. She ranks third in the conference with 14.6 points per game and two steals. She was also named the Summit League Player of the Week on Jan. 9 as well as the NCAA Women’s Basketball Starting Five on Jan. 11.
“(Higginbotham) got off to a rough start this year and really turned it on,” Gravina said. “The transition from freshman to sophomore is one of the hardest to make in college athletics. I’m so proud of how she managed that.”
Gravina kept coming back to teamwork. He stressed that every award is thanks to each player he coaches. “We all cheered for each other while I announced the awards,” Gravina said.
“We were all truly happy for each other. We can use accolades like this to build confidence going forward. We earned the right to be called the top seed in this conference and I want us to enjoy it.”
The Leathernecks boast more recipients than any other team in the Summit League, edging out South Dakota State (4) and South Dakota (3). The Leathernecks will take on Denver on Saturday at noon in the opening round of the Summit League tournament in the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.