WISE – – The South Atlantic Conference announced its end of the year awards for the 2020-2021 women’s basketball season Wednesday. UVA Wise Head Coach Jamie Cluesman and her staff earned SAC Coach of the Year accolades while guard Caitlyn Ross and forward Kalee Johnson were named First-Team All-SAC; meanwhile, guard Nia Vanzant earned Honorable Mention All-SAC honors.
Cluesman’s Coach of the Year honor is the first for any women’s basketball coach in program history, regardless of conference. The third-year coach saw her Cavaliers picked ninth in the Preseason SAC Coaches’ Poll and it was quickly obvious that Cluesman’s crew was going to defy those prognostications.
After a season opening loss at Tusculum, UVA Wise won 10 consecutive games as the team improved to 9-1 in league play during the stretch. Overall, the Cavs did not lose a game from Nov. 25 – Feb. 5 as Cluesman guided the team to receiving votes in the national WBCA NCAA Division II Poll for the first time in program history.
UVA Wise also received regional recognition throughout the year as the team received votes in the Southeast Regional Poll and remains under consideration for the program’s first ever NCAA Tournament berth.
Cluesman’s team finished the regular season with the third most wins in the league and followed up the regular season performance by winning the program’s first postseason game since 2017. This year’s squad also knocked off a nationally ranked foe with an 80-72 win over No. 25 Tusculum inside the Prior Center in the regular season finale. It marked the second straight year Cluesman guided the team to a win over a nationally ranked opponent.
“It is truly humbling to be recognized as the Coach of the Year in the South Atlantic Conference, this conference is full of amazing coaches that are constantly improving the game of women’s basketball,” Coach Cluesman commented after learning of winning the award. “This award could not have happened without my amazing staff and players. Each of them brings something different to the table daily. I am grateful and honored to be surrounded by so many great individuals here at UVA Wise.”
For Ross, the awards continue to pile up. After a highly successful prep career, the sophomore has continued to impress at the collegiate level. Ross led the SAC in assists for the second consecutive season and to date ranks fourth nationally in assists per game at 7.0.
The Kingston, Tenn. product established a new career-high with 14 assists in a win at Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 25 before matching the number two weeks later at home when she recorded the second triple-double of her career in a game against nationally ranked Carson-Newman.
In Monday’s game with Anderson, she became the quickest player in school history to reach 300 career assists as she did so in just her 48th collegiate game. On the season, she averaged 15.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and seven assists per game while shooting 45.7 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from the 3-point line.
Through two seasons, the 5-foot-6 guard has amassed 687 points, 244 rebounds, 300 assists, 96 steals and a pair of triple-doubles. This season, Ross finished in double figure scoring 18 times while handing out at least five assists on 15 occasions.
“Caitlyn is the heartbeat of our team, her competitiveness and drive to take our program to the next level speaks for itself,” Ross’ coach stated when asked about her on-the-court talents. “She never complains or gets tired, Caitlyn is the type of player that will do whatever the team needs without asking questions.”
Johnson experienced a breakout campaign this winter. Asked to take on more of a rebounding and scoring role by her coaches, the 5-foot-11 forward did not disappoint. Johnson finished third in the league in scoring at 17.3 points per game while ranking sixth in the league in rebounding at 9.2 per contest.
The Elizabethton, Tenn. product racked up 11 double-doubles this season, one of which came in the opening round of the league tournament when she erupted for a career-high 30 points and 17 rebounds in a win over Queens University of Charlotte.
She finished the season by scoring in double figures in all but two games while tallying 15 points or more 12 times. The former Happy Valley High School standout collected the 1,000th point of her career Monday as part of an 18-point performance against Anderson; in doing so, she became the 22nd woman in program history to join the 1,000-point club.
To date, Johnson ranks 19th in school history with 1,003 points while having also corralled 478 rebounds to go with 110 steals. This season, she shot 82.5 percent from the free throw line to improve her career percentage to 79.9 percent, the best in program history.
“Kalee stepped up and played a different role this year than she has in previous years, we moved her to the forward position which allowed us to attack different matchups throughout the year,” Cluesman remarked when asked about her forward’s versatility. “Her ability to score effectively in all three areas helped propel her as our leading scorer; she brought her lunch pail every night to get the buckets and boards we needed to win games.”
Vanzant continues to be a scoring machine. A year after being named to the SAC All-Freshman Team, she earned Honorable Mention All-SAC accolades following a sophomore season that saw her average 14.6 points, six rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
The Murfreesboro, Tenn. native finished 10th in the league in scoring while ranking 19th in field goal percentage at 44.7 percent. The guard scored in double figures 16 times this winter while pouring in a quartet of 20-point games.
Named SAC Player of the Week after averaging 23 points and five rebounds per game while shooting 65.5 percent from the floor in a pair of wins over Mars Hill and Coker in January, Vanzant also posted a double-double in a win over Queens with 13 points and 12 rebounds on Feb. 13.
“Nia has been a difference maker in our program since the day she stepped foot on campus. One of Nia’s best traits is she never gets rattled,” Cluesman mentioned. ” Whether she’s getting the calls or not we know exactly what we are getting from her every outing; Nia has that next play mentality that allows her to continue to do what she does consistently.”
A complete list of this year’s all-conference teams and award winners may be found below:
Braelyn Wykle, Carson-Newman
Maddie Sutton, Tusculum
Caitlyn Ross, UVA Wise
Kalee Johnson, UVA Wise
Bryanna Troutman, Wingate
Lindsey Taylor, Carson-Newman
De’Ja Marshall, Mars Hill
Addison Byrd, Carson-Newman
Quin Byrd, Limestone
Shemya Stanback, Catawba
Samantha Michel, Anderson
Reagan McCray, Limestone
Haleigh Hatfield, Wingate
Nia Vanzant, UVA Wise
Jalia Arnwine, Tusculum
Brianna Dixon, Tusculum
Lauren Flowers, Lincoln Memorial
Skylar Boshears, Carson-Newman
Emily Harman, Lenoir-Rhyne
Reagan Kargo, Limestone
Peyton Davis, Wingate
Payton Cronen, Newberry
Amari Davis, Queens
Player of the Year
Braelyn Wykle, Carson-Newman
Freshman of the Year
Emily Harman, Lenoir-Rhyne
Defensive Player of the Year
Samantha Michel, Anderson
Coach of the Year
Jamie Cluesman, UVA Wise
Points Per Game – Braelyn Wykle, Carson-Newman, 23.3
Three-Pointers Per Game – Reagan McCray, Limestone, 3.57
Rebounds Per Game – Maddie Sutton, Tusculum, 15.3
Blocked Shots Per Game – Samantha Michel, Anderson, 2.52
Field Goal Percentage – Lindsey Taylor, Carson-Newman, 63.8
Assists Per Game – Caitlyn Ross, UVA Wise, 7.0
Assist-to-Turnover Ratio – Marta Rodrigues, Tusculum, 2.64
Steals Per Game – Lyrik Thorne, Catawba, 3.00
Three-Point Field Goal Percentage – Reagan McCray, Limestone, 45.5
Free Throw Percentage – Reagan Kargo, Limestone, 87.8
Team Scoring Offense – Carson-Newman, 81.8
Team Steals – Lincoln Memorial, 151
Team Field Goal Percentage – Carson-Newman, 47.0
Team FG Percentage Defense – Tusculum, 34.6
Team Assists – UVA Wise, 338
Team Rebounds – Anderson, 1,004
Team Blocked Shots – Anderson, 156
Team Three-Point FG Percentage – Tusculum, 37.7
Team Scoring Defense – Tusculum, 57.5
Team Free Throw Percentage – UVA Wise, 76.8
Team Assist-to-Turnover Ratio – UVA Wise, 1.23