Clark-Heard Named Coach of the Year, Gooch Earns Defensive Player of the Year Nod

By: Robert Sampson, WKU Athletic Media Relations
By: Robert Sampson, WKU Athletic Media Relations

"I am really happy for Chastity and Alexis. They have invested into the new system and everything we have put in place here. We have put a lot on their shoulders and they have competed every day."

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Western Kentucky University coach Michelle Clark-Heard has been named the Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year and sophomore Chastity Gooch has named the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year, the league office announced Wednesday morning. In addition, Gooch and sophomore Alexis Govan were named First Team All-Conference selections in a survey of the leagues' coaches and media members.

The awards come on the heels of one of the nation's biggest turnarounds in 2012-13 by the Lady Toppers. WKU is 20-9 entering this week's Sun Belt Conference Championships in Hot Springs, Ark. after finishing the 2011-12 season with a 9-21 record. WKU earned the third seed and a first-round bye in the event after being picked to finish fifth in the East Division of the league in the preseason.

"The honors say a lot for how the players bought into what we were trying to do as a staff," said Clark-Heard. "Together, we have been able to show that Western Kentucky University is knocking on the door and that we are going to continue to, day-in and day-out, work hard to get back to where we need to be with our program."

In just her first year at the helm of the Lady Topper Basketball program, Clark-Heard engineered one of the best turnarounds in Sun Belt Conference history. Clark-Heard's team is one of five teams in league history to win 11 games more than they had in the previous season and one of two teams to win eight more conference games than the year before. Additionally, WKU is one of three teams in the nation that have won at least 11 more games than they did the previous season and one of just five teams that have won at least eight conference games more than the prior season.

"To win an award like this in your first year is special," said Clark-Heard. "I want to give a ton of credit to my assistants and to the team. Without them buying in and everyone being on the same page, this can't happen. If I could go down the line and give everyone of my assistant coaches and the team an award, I would. It is an individual award, but it is also a team award reflecting what we have been able to accomplish so far this season."

Clark-Heard is the third different coach in program history to win Sun Belt Coach of the Year and her recognition marks the seventh time in WKU history that a coach has claimed the honor overall. One of Clark-Heard's mentors, Paul Sanderford, also won the award in his first season as the coach at WKU in 1982-83. He won the award three times in his career and led the Lady Toppers to three Final Four appearances during his WKU career. Former WKU coach Mary Taylor-Cowles was the most recent WKU coach to earn the honor in 2007-08.

Gooch is the first player in school history to earn the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year award. She finished the regular season by averaging 16.0 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. She also compiled 72 steals and 56 blocks as she became the only player in Lady Topper history to record at least 400 points, 300 rebounds, 50 steals and 50 blocks in a single season.

"I told Chastity all along that she is capable of doing things that a lot of people can't do on the court," said Clark-Heard. "She can block, she gets steals, she can alter shots and she is one of the best rebounders I have ever seen because of her knack for finding the basketball. I am super excited for her and I know she will be thrilled. I think this will make her work harder and harder to be even more focused on the defensive end."

Govan finished the regular season scoring 20.0 points per game, shooting nearly 47 percent from the field, over 42 percent from behind the three-point arc and over 80.0 percent from the free throw line. She is in position to become just the seventh player in school history to average 20.0 points per game in a season. Earlier this year, Govan recorded the top individual scoring performance in the league this season by scoring 40 points against North Texas. In her top 3 scoring outputs of the season, she combined to score 99 points in 92 minutes. Govan has scored in double figures in every game this season and places among the top 10 in the nation in consecutive games scoring in double figures.

With Gooch and Govan earning first-team honors, WKU earned two first-team selections for the first time since 2005-06 and the 16th time in program history. WKU has had at least one first-team selection in 30 of the last 31 years. Gooch and Govan were Third Team All-Conference selections in the preseason.

"I am really happy for Chastity and Alexis," said Clark-Heard. "They have invested into the new system and everything we have put in place here. We have put a lot on their shoulders and they have competed every day. I am excited for them and excited for this program to have two First-Team selections."

WOMEN'S FIRST TEAM ALL-CONFERENCE

Jerica Coley (FIU, Junior, Guard)
Kortni Jones (Middle Tennessee, Senior, Guard)
Ebony Rowe (Middle Tennessee, Junior, Forward)
Chastity Gooch (WKU, Sophomore, Forward)
Alexis Govan (WKU, Sophomore, Guard)

WOMEN'S SECOND TEAM ALL-CONFERENCE

Taylor Ford (UALR, Junior, Guard)
Jane Morrill (Arkansas State, Junior, Forward)
Chenise Miller (Florida Atlantic, RS-Junior, Forward)
Icelyn Elie (Middle Tennessee, Senior, Forward)
Joanna Harden (Troy, Junior, Guard)

WOMEN'S THIRD TEAM ALL-CONFERENCE

Marita Davydova (FIU, Junior, Center)
Ashleigh Simmons (Louisiana-Monroe, Junior, Forward)
Loryn Goodwin (North Texas, Freshman, Guard)
Alexis Hyder (North Texas, Freshman, Forward)
Mary Nixon (South Alabama, Senior, Guard)

WOMEN'S PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Jerica Coley (FIU, Junior, Guard)

WOMEN'S DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Chastity Gooch (WKU, Sophomore, Forward)

WOMEN'S FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR

Loryn Goodwin (North Texas, Freshman, Guard)

WOMEN'S COACH OF THE YEAR

Michelle Clark-Heard, WKU


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