Senior Night set to close out inaugural C-USA season

Seniors guard/forward Alexis Govan, guard Ileana Johnson, and forward Chastity Gooch will enter the final week of the regular season when they face Charlotte, Thursday, March 5. Aaron M. Sprecher/HERALD

Jonah Phillips

Saturday’s Lady Topper basketball game against Old Dominion will be senior night, with the careers of Chastity Gooch, Alexis Govan and Ileana Johnson all being celebrated during the matchup.

Along with the festivities, WKU has a chance to win the C-USA regular season title outright (they currently hold a portion of it with Southern Miss and UAB), needing just one win in their final two contests to do so.  

This senior class has the unique experience of being the only players left that saw the integration of Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard into the WKU women’s basketball program. 

Their freshman season (2011-12) under the coaching of Mary Taylor-Cowles, the team went 10-21. Upon the arrival of Clark-Heard, the team underwent a 13-win improvement to notch a 22-11 record and has rattled off an at least 20-win season since she joined the program. 

“I never would have guessed from my freshman year that we would have made it to where we are now so quickly,” Govan said. “Coach Heard came in that first year— changed everybody’s mentality and really changed the program. Now we are sitting here.”

Clark-Heard’s guidance was paramount to the success of the team as well as the development of the three current seniors. 

Gooch, Govan and Johnson have combined for 1,074 of the Lady Toppers 2241 total points this season.  The starting lineup of Gooch, Govan, Johnson, Kendall Noble and Micah Jones have netted 1,651 points this season, and the senior trio has accounted for 65 percent of that output. 

Gooch leads the Lady Toppers in points (490) and the starting lineup in field goal percentage at .506. Between C-USA Player of the Week honors, All-American candidacy and being named to the Naismith trophy watch list— her 899 minutes played this season has been topped only by junior Kendall Noble with 920. 

“Chastity is more of an on-court (leader). She brings a lot of that on the floor just by playing hard all the time,” Clark-Heard said. “But, everybody loves Chastity Gooch off the floor… they are all like sisters, but everybody loves being around her all the time.”

Senior captain Alexis Govan is second in Lady Topper scoring this season with 456 points, but holds the same points per game average as Gooch of 16.9.  

The vocal leader of the team on and off the floor, Clark-Heard maintains Govan’s assets extend far beyond her physical and athletic abilities. 

“The first year I was hear I kind of poked and pushed Alexis into the captain’s role,” Clark-Heard said. “Because I have seen it in her from day one when I stepped on campus. I think what she has done is tried to pass that along to other people… I think she will pass down that leadership role.”

 Ileana Johnson has started 23 of the Lady Toppers’ 29 games on the season, tallying 573 minutes on the floor in her senior campaign, where she has become much more active in the Lady Topper offense. Of her 269 career points, 128 have come in her final season on the Hill. 

“Ileana… I’m just so proud of her. She battled her way into the starting lineup—she always had the talent to be,” Clark-Heard said. “She is just an incredible student and an incredible student of the game.”

Before senior night takes off, the Lady Toppers play Charlotte on Thursday. 

The contest pits WKU (25-4, 14-2 in C-USA) against Charlotte (13-15, 9-7), who the Lady Toppers already defeated away from Diddle Arena 76-61 on Jan. 8. 

Saturday’s contest against Old Dominion (17-10, 10-6 in C-USA) will close out the Lady Topper inaugural C-USA season. In their last meeting at Norfolk, Virginia on Jan. 10, the Lady Toppers dished out a commanding 76-60 victory.