Heard named Sun Belt Conference women’s coach of the year; Govan, Gooch on 1st team, Gooch defensive POY

In one season, Michelle Clark-Heard lifted the Western Kentucky women’s basketball team out of a downward trend and into the conversation for a conference title.

Heard has been recognized for her part in the Lady Toppers’ turnaround with the Sun Belt Conference’s coach of the year award, the league announced today.

The Sun Belt’s all-conference teams and individual awards are decided by voting from the league’s coaches and media.

Heard has led WKU to a 20-9 record and the third seed in the conference tournament after the program finished 9-21 in 2011-12. The Lady Tops were projected fifth in the East Division in the preseason.

“I’ve got to give a ton of credit to those players,” Heard said. “When you have players that have bought in with such a change, it’s a testament to them. If I could give a coach of the year plaque to my whole staff, I would because this journey wouldn’t be the same without them. I know my name is on that, but it’s more of a team thing for me.”

WKU sophomores Alexis Govan and Chastity Gooch were named to the conference’s first team.

Govan is averaging 20 points per game, while Gooch averages 16 points and 11.3 rebounds and is third in the nation with 23 double-doubles.

“Everyone wants to win every game, but then I remember how awesome it is to have such a young team that has made such a huge turnaround,” Heard said. “Sometimes I think they may be too young to grasp what they’ve done, but hopefully this will open their eyes a little bit.”

The WKU duo was joined on the first team by Middle Tennessee’s Ebony Rowe and Kortni Jones, and Florida International’s Jerica Coley.

Coley, who leads the nation in scoring, was selected as player of the year. North Texas’ Loryn Goodwin was named freshman of the year.

Gooch was picked as defensive player of the year. She’s first in the conference in rebounding and blocks, and second in steals.

“Every day, I go back and I think how much those kids have improved and put so much on their shoulders,” Heard said of Gooch and Govan. “It’s really an honor for me to have the opportunity to coach them.”

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, 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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