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March 3, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. – For the second-straight season, SEC Champion South Carolina hauled in four of the six individual awards, adding three first-team, one second-team and one defensive team entry in the coaches’ vote for SEC awards announced by the league office today. Junior Tiffany Mitchell became the seventh woman in league history to earn back-to-back Player of the Year honors, while senior Aleighsa Welch brought home the Gamecocks’ first ever Scholar-Athlete of the Year award. Freshman A’ja Wilson made it back-to-back Freshman of the Year awards for South Carolina – just the second time in league history that has happened – and joined Mitchell and Welch on the All-SEC First Team. Dawn Staley shared Coach of the Year honors, and sophomore Alaina Coates earned spots on the All-SEC Second Team and All-Defensive Team.

“Our players continue to show that committing to team success still allows you to reach individual goals,” Staley said. “In our program, we talk about how important it is to focus on the process of improving every day, not on wins. Focusing on team goals instead of individual is the same thing. I know these players had these awards in mind at the beginning of the season, but their first priority was to help our team to another SEC championship. It’s satisfying to see them achieve both these things, with a few more of our team goals still ahead of us.

“It is fitting that Aleighsa [Welch] is our program’s first Scholar-Athlete of the Year for her leadership of our team both on the court and in the classroom. That balance is an aspect of our program that we don’t highlight enough, but her example is one of the reasons our team is successful in that area as well. The team has worked hard on their partnerships with the professors at the University of South Carolina, who play a key role in earning honors like this.”

Mitchell, who was the Gamecocks’ first ever SEC Player of the Year last season, did not disappoint in her reprisal of the role this season as she became the first to earn the award outright in consecutive seasons since LSU’s Seimone Augusts (2005, 2006). Her 14.8 points per game are second in the league, and she ranks third in the league in field goal percentage (.515) and free throw percentage (.828). She is one of two SEC players to rank among the league’s top 15 in scoring, assists (13th, 2.8 apg) and steals (T-8th, 2.0 spg) – sharing the honor with Georgia’s Shacobia Barbee, who missed eight games due to injury.

Welch was a Capital One Academic All-District selection last season and has been a team captain for the last three seasons. A sport and entertainment management major who ranks among the program’s all-time best rebounders, she is one of just nine Gamecocks to record over 1,000 career points and 800 career rebounds. She is two rebounds away from becoming just the fourth to reach 1,000 and 900 career points and rebounds, respectively. Welch’s leadership and sacrifice have been difference makers for the Gamecocks the last two seasons as she played a key role in developing the confidence of younger teammates by ceding minutes and shots early in the season. When the spotlight is brightest, Welch is as well, averaging 9.9 points and 8.7 rebounds against ranked opponents this season.

Wilson managed lofty expectations all season long, joining the Gamecocks as the No. 1 recruit in the nation. Her talent and maturity allowed her to blend easily into the Gamecocks’ offense and locker room. She is the only freshman to rank among the SEC’s top 10 in scoring and rebounding, coming in 10th with 13.7 points per game and eighth with 7.0 boards per outing. Her .516 field goal percentage is good for second in the conference. Her efficiency is illustrated by her needing just 600 minutes to score her 398 points this season, including 218 points in just 329 minutes of SEC action. She has five double-doubles to her credit, including a South Carolina freshman record-setting 19-rebound performance in the season finale at No. 13/15 Kentucky, pairing with her 16 points. Wilson has led the team in scoring a team-high 13 times this season. She is the eighth SEC Freshman of the Year to make the All-SEC first team as well.

Coates is the league’s third-best rebounder at 8.1 per game and is second in the conference with 11 double-doubles this season. Fourth in the league in blocked shots, she has swatted 1.5 per game and is 10th in the SEC in free throw percentage at .705. Coates’ 21 career double-doubles are already ninth in program history, and she has led the team in rebounds a team-high 14 times this season, including seven SEC contests.

Staley joins Pat Summitt (Tennessee in 2003 and 2004) and Joe Ciampi (Auburn in 1988 and 1989) as the only SEC coaches to repeat as league Coach of the Year, sharing this season’s honor with Mississippi State’s Vic Schafer after earning the award outright in 2014. Known as a defensive coach, Staley has this season’s team ranked among the nation’s top 20 in scoring at 76.7 points per game and seventh in field goal percentage (.477) while still among the top-10 defenses, yielding just 53.3 points per game. She has improved South Carolina’s overall and SEC win totals every year of her career, including this season’s program-record 15 SEC victories.

As the No. 1 seed in this week’s SEC Tournament in North Little Rock, Ark., South Carolina will take on the winner of the game between the eight and nine seeds, Ole Miss and Arkansas, on Fri., March 6, at 1 p.m. (ET) in the quarterfinal round.

Co-Coaches of the Year: Dawn Staley, South Carolina and Vic Schafer, Mississippi State
Player of the Year: Tiffany Mitchell, South Carolina
Freshman of the Year: Aj’a Wilson, South Carolina
6th Player of the Year: Jennifer O’Neill, Kentucky
Defensive Player of the Year: Jordan Jones, Texas A&M
Scholar-Athlete of the Year: Aleighsa Welch, South Carolina

2015 All-SEC First Team
Makayla Epps, Kentucky
Danielle Ballard, LSU
Tia Faleru, Ole Miss
Tiffany Mitchell, South Carolina
Aleighsa Welch, South Carolina
A’ja Wilson, South Carolina
Cierra Burdick, Tennessee
Isabelle Harrison, Tennessee
Courtney Walker, Texas A&M

2015 All-SEC Second Team
Jessica Jackson, Arkansas
Jennifer O’Neill, Kentucky
Jordan Frericks, Missouri
Martha Alwal, Mississippi State
Victoria Vivians, Mississippi State
Alaina Coates, South Carolina
Jordan Jones, Texas A&M
Courtney Williams, Texas A&M

2015 SEC All-Defensive Team
Linnae Harper, Kentucky
Danielle Ballard, LSU
Martha Alwal, Mississippi State
Alaina Coates, South Carolina
Jordan Jones, Texas A&M

2015 SEC All-Freshman Team
Haley Lorenzen, Florida
Mackenzie Engram, Georgia
Alexis Jennings, Kentucky
A’Queen Hayes, Ole Miss
Victoria Vivians, Mississippi State
Morgan Williams, Mississippi State
A’ja Wilson, South Carolina
Rebekah Dahlman, Vanderbilt