Honors continued to roll in for South Carolina with two of three individual awards and a conference-leading three All-SEC recognitions from the Associated Press, as announced by the organization Tuesday.
Head coach Dawn Staley was the unanimous selection for Coach of the Year, the second Gamecock leader to earn the award. Sophomore guard Tiffany Mitchell became just the third in school history and the first since Jocelyn Penn in 2003 to garner an AP All-SEC First Team nod. Mitchell was the AP's only unanimous All-SEC selection. Alaina Coates captured the second Newcomer of the Year honor in South Carolina history; both recognitions have come under Staley's tutelage. Coates was also an All-SEC Honorable Mention. Junior forward Aleighsa Welch earned a spot on the All-SEC Second Team. The Gamecocks are the only team with a representative on both teams as well as an honorable mention.
"From last night's No. 1 seed to today's award announcement, we continue to appreciate the national attention our program is getting, and I love seeing our team rewarded for all of its hard work and sacrifice to put us in this position," Staley said. "But a new season starts for us this weekend, and we are ready and focused on achieving our next milestone in a great season."
An all-around impact player, Mitchell leads the Gamecocks in scoring (15.2 ppg), assists (3.5 apg) and steals (1.9 spg). In conference action, Mitchell was the only player in the SEC to earn a spot among the league's rankings in scoring (ninth), rebounding (16th), assists (11th) and steals (seventh). Improving her efficiency, Mitchell is shooting 50.8 percent from the field, including 51.5 percent from 3-point range. The SEC coaches' Player of the Year has scored in double figures in all but three games this season and was the team's top scorer 12 times, including eight SEC games.
A five-time SEC Freshman of the Week selection, Coates stamped her authority on the league right out of the gate, posting double-doubles in each of her first three SEC contests. She is the only freshman and only non-starter in the league to rank among the top 25 in scoring (12.0 ppg) and top 20 in rebounding (8.0 rpg). Her eight double-doubles are one shy of the South Carolina freshman record and include five in SEC play. Her 64 blocked shots this season are a new Gamecock freshman record and second on the program's all-time single-season list. Coates became the first freshman in league history to earn multiple awards in a season from the coaches as she was named Freshman of the Year and co-6th Woman of the Year.
Welch added this season's second-team recognition after last season's honorable mention selection. She is second in the SEC and among the nation's top 15 in field goal percentage (.572). She has shot at least 50.0 percent in 25 of 31 games this season, including 10 games of at least 70.0 percent. Welch ranks 17th in the league in scoring (13.7 ppg) and ninth in rebounds (7.5 rpg). In addition to expanding the range on her jump shot, Welch has blocked 42 shots this season, nearly double either of her previous seasons. Her 1.4 blocks per SEC game are ninth-best in the league. Welch collected a first-team honor from the coaches earlier this month.
Staley led the Gamecocks to the program's first SEC championship with a record 14 conference wins. South Carolina's 26 regular-season victories are the most in school history and include four wins against nationally ranked teams with three of those coming on the road. The Gamecocks were ranked as high as No. 4 in the nation, the highest mark since January 1982, and turned in their first undefeated home season in Colonial Life Arena history. Staley was voted Coach of the Year by her peers two weeks ago.
South Carolina earned the first No. 1 seed in program history and will begin play in the Stanford Region of the NCAA Tournament on Sun., Mar. 23, against Cal State Northridge. ESPN will have the broadcast of the matchup at 5:30 p.m. ET.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR - Meighan Simmons, Tennessee
COACH OF THE YEAR- Dawn Staley, South Carolina
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR - Alaina Coates, South Carolina
u-Tiffany Mitchell, South Carolina
Isabelle Harrison, Tennessee
Meighan Simmons, Tennessee
Courtney Walker, Texas A&M
t-Martha Alwal, Mississippi State
t-Christina Foggie, Vanderbilt
t-Tia Faleru, Mississippi
Theresa Plaisance, LSU
Bri Kulas, Missouri
Aleighsa Welch, South Carolina
Jaterra Bonds, Florida
Tyrese Tanner, Auburn
Shacobia Barbee, Georgia; Alaina Coates, South Carolina; Jessica Jackson, Arkansas; Valencia McFarland, Mississippi; Jennifer O'Neill, Kentucky; DeNesha Stallworth, Kentucky