WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Lady Toppers hand out awards

J. Michael Moore

Laughter, closure and thanks were the themes during Tuesday night’s women’s basketball award banquet.

About 200 faculty, fans, players and family members attended the annual banquet honoring the Lady Toppers 2002-03 campaign – a 22-9 record, Sun Belt Conference Championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Western coach Mary Taylor Cowles thanked administrators, including president Gary Ransdell and athletic director Wood Selig for making Western one of the rising programs in the country, and pushing along the Diddle Arena renovation.

The banquet was held in one of two new auxiliary gyms – part of the multi-million dollar project.

Selig was equally pleased with the success of Lady Topper basketball, noting a 60 percent increase in attendance last season.

But the reason for celebration came with the Lady Toppers themselves.

Freshmen Tiffany Porter-Talbert received the Newcomer of the Year award. She won the same award from the Sun Belt Conference in early March.

Cowles praised Porter-Talbert’s athleticism and another freshman, Krystal Gardner, for her contribution.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever witnessed two freshmen making an impact on our program as our freshmen did this year,” Cowles, the Sun Belt Coach of the Year, said.

Gardner also received the Coaches and Academic Excellence award.

“They don’t keep stats for the things that she does,” associate head coach David Graves said before presenting the award.

Seniors Jennifer Slaughter and Tiffiany Diggins and junior Leah Lineberry were honored for their academic achievements, earning a three-point grade average or better during the season.

Junior guard Elisha Ford was named Defensive Player of the Year.

But the biggest award came from one of the Lady Toppers most emotional points of the season.

Senior captain Kristina Covington was injured in the first half of Western’s first game in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

The Lady Toppers were having their way with North Texas.

Then Covington hit the floor, her foot in pain.

“We just hit bottom,” Cowles said. “You could see it and you could feel it.”

Covington returned for the second half after spending some time in the training room, yelling at a television showing the game.

“There was no way you were going to keep Kristina from going back in that basketball game.”

Covington was named the Lady Toppers Most Valuable Player Tuesday night, ending her career on the Hill.

Diggins, Slaughter and Sun Belt Player of the Year Shala Reese – all seniors, also participated in their final event as Lady Toppers.

Western has five players returning.

Ford and Lineberry will be senior captains next season.

Porter-Talbert and Gardner are lone sophomores, while junior Leslie Logsdon has two years of eligibility left.

The Lady Toppers have currently signed five recruits for next season.

Reach J. Michael Moore at [email protected]