SPARTANBURG, S.C. – The 2015 Southern Conference women’s basketball postseason awards were announced on Tuesday, following a balloting of the league’s head coaches. Mercer guard Precious Bridges was named Player of the Year while Chattanooga guard Alicia Payne earned Defensive Player of the Year honors. Mercer’s Kahlia Lawrence was tabbed as the Freshman of the Year and Chattanooga’s Jim Foster was named the Coach of the Year.
Bridges led the league in scoring, averaging 20.2 points per game in Mercer’s first season in the Southern Conference. She is the first SoCon player to average at least 20.0 points per game since Chattanooga’s Alex Anderson averaged 20.5 points per game during the 2006-07 season. The senior also ranked third in the SoCon this season in both assists per game (3.8) and assist-turnover ratio (1.7) and led the league in minutes played at 38.3 per game.
Bridges accounted for the three highest single-game point totals by a SoCon player this season and was the only player to have multiple 30-point games this season. The native of West Palm Beach, Fla. totaled a league-high 43 points against Saint Louis on November 28 while also racking up 33 points twice. She was named the SoCon Player of the Week three times and was the SoCon Player of the Month for November, December and January.
Payne anchored a Chattanooga defense that allowed a league-best 50.3 points per game, which ranks third nationally in fewest points allowed per game. The junior guard ranks first in the conference in assist-turnover ratio (2.7), fourth in assists per game (3.6) and sixth in steals per game (1.9). She is the second straight Chattanooga player to earn defensive honors, as Taylor Hall received the award last season.
Lawrence had a standout freshman campaign, averaging 13.5 points per game to lead all SoCon freshmen in scoring this season. She added 5.3 rebounds per game, the fourth highest average by a SoCon freshman, and shot 80.0 percent (72-of-90) from the free throw line, ranking fifth overall and leading all freshman. She scored a career-high 26 points against Wofford on Feb. 16, the second highest single-game total by a SoCon freshman this season.
Foster earned his first SoCon Coach of the Year award in his second season at Chattanooga, leading the Mocs to a 26-3 record and a perfect 14-0 conference mark this season. UTC concluded regular-season play on a 22-game winning streak and claimed its third-straight regular season title, the second under Foster’s tenure. Foster’s team has yet to lose a game to a conference opponent in his two seasons at the helm of Chattanooga, going 32-0 in conference play and 3-0 at the SoCon Tournament last season.
ETSU, Furman, Samford and Chattanooga each placed two players on the all-conference squads while Mercer and Western Carolina each had a single representative. Mercer’s Bridges joined UTC’s Chelsey Shumpert and Jasmine Joyner and Furman’s Whitney Bunn and Brittany Hodges on the first-team All-SoCon squad. ETSU’s Serena Clark and Destiny Mitchell, along with Samford’s Hannah Nichols and Taylor Reece and Western Carolina’s Justin Taylor made up the All-SoCon second team.
The all-freshman team was comprised of Mercer’s Lawrence, ETSU’s Tianna Tarter, Chattanooga’s Chelsey Shumpert, Furman’s Cierra Carter and Samford’s Destiney Elliott.
Chattanooga’s Kayla Freeman, a senior forward from Carlton, Ga. was named the recipient of the Ann Lashley Inspiration Award. This award honors a student-athlete or coach who has shown outstanding courage or service. It is presented in memory of former Elon women’s basketball associate head coach Ann Lashley, who passed away on November 10, 2005 after a six-month battle with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
As a junior, Freeman suffered a career-ending injury to her left foot, as her arch collapsed and had to be surgically reconstructed. As a result, Freeman was forced to retire from the game as the lateral movement necessary to play basketball would be impossible.
Despite her injury, Freeman remained a part of the team, always willing to whatever she can to help her teammates both on and off the court. She remains involved with the team in different ways from assisting the coaching staff with various tasks to assisting her teammates at practices during drills.
Additionally, Freeman has maintained a 3.85 grade point average, despite spending countless hours in doctors’ offices and physical therapy sessions. She continues to impress others with her mental toughness and work ethic, which has earned her great respect from everyone she encounters, especially her teammates and coaches. She will graduate from UTC this spring with a degree in Psychology and will begin graduate school in the fall at Georgia Regents University.
The 2015 Southern Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament begins Thursday, March 5 at 11 a.m. at Kimmel Arena in Asheville, N.C. The championship game is scheduled for Sunday, March 8 at 1 p.m. on ESPN3.
2015 SoCon Women’s Basketball Awards
Precious Bridges, Mercer
Chelsey Shumpert, Chattanooga
Whitney Bunn, Furman
Jasmine Joyner, Chattanooga
Brittany Hodges, Furman
Serena Clark, ETSU
Hannah Nichols, Samford
Destiny Mitchell, ETSU
Taylor Reece, Samford
Justin Taylor, Western Carolina
Kahlia Lawrence, Mercer
Tianna Tarter, ETSU
Keiana Gilbert, Chattanooga
Cierra Carter, Furman
Destiney Elliott, Samford
Player of the Year
Precious Bridges, Mercer
Defensive Player of the Year
Alicia Payne, Chattanooga
Freshman of the Year
Kahlia Lawrence, Mercer
Coach of the Year
Jim Foster, Chattanooga
Ann Lashley Inspiration Award
Kayla Freeman, Chattanooga