HARRISONBURG — James Madison shooting guard Kirby Burkholder dressed like she was ready to accept an award Wednesday night at the Colonial Athletic Association women’s basketball awards banquet in Arlington.
And why not? This was pretty much preordained.
The CAA’s coaches named Burkholder the league’s Player of the Year on Wednesday, making real what was assumed to be a foregone conclusion after the Turner Ashby High School graduate averaged a Colonial-best 19.1 points per game – along with 8.4 rebounds an outing – while leading the Dukes to the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.
“She looked like she was getting an Academy Award,” JMU coach Kenny Brooks said by cellphone with a laugh.
Wearing a long black and white gown, Burkholder was only the most notable of the Dukes’ award-winners Wednesday.
Nikki Newman, a fifth-year senior and a TA grad, was named the CAA’s Defensive Player of the Year for a second time. The 6-2 forward also won the award in 2012 before missing most of 2013 with a broken foot. She is the third CAA player to win the award twice.
Newman also helped Turner Ashby sweep the CAA’s top two individual awards.
“I think it goes to show how much work coaches have put in at JMU, even back to our high school,” Newman said. “I think Kirby, she’s very deserving of the award she got tonight. … I think it says a lot about the Valley and it says a lot for JMU. But, like I said, I didn’t do it on my own.”
Brooks, in his 12th season, was named the CAA’s Coach of the Year for the second time. This season, the Waynesboro native guided Madison to a 25-5 record entering the CAA tournament, where JMU begins play Friday at noon in the quarterfinals at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md. The Dukes (25-5)will play the winner of No. 8 William & Mary and No. 9 North Carolina-Wilmington.
Burkholder, the CAA’s best 3-point and free-throw shooter, also was the league’s preseason Player of the Year and won Player of the Week seven times.
“It’s just a great feeling,” said Burkholder, who went from being a freshman without a position to one of the best 3-point shooters in JMU history. “It just shows from when I was a freshman to where I am now. It’s just a lot of emotion and looking back, seeing how much I’ve overcome and how much I’ve worked and how much my coaches have developed me. It’s a good feeling.”
Burkholder is the fifth JMU player to be named the CAA’s Player of the Year, joining Dawn Evans (2011), Tamera Young (2008), Meredith Alexis (2007) and Sydney Beasley, who won it twice: 1987 and 1988.
While Burkholder said she didn’t think she was guaranteed to win it, Brooks said it was a no-brainer.
“I thought she was pretty much a lock,” Brooks said.
Newman also was named third-team All-CAA, meaning the league’s top defensive player is, according to the league’s coaches, at best, the league’s 11th-best player. The first time Newman won Defensive Player of the Year, she did not make any All-CAA team.
Newman didn’t care — “Nope. Not at all,” she said — but Brooks said it bugged him a little. Still, he was just happy she was finally All-CAA.
“She’s definitely more deserving of a higher all-conference selection, but the fact that she got Defensive Player of the Year and she was all-conference, I’m very pleased with that,” Brooks said.
Burkholder was the Dukes’ only first-team selection, despite JMU beating CAA opponents by an average of 26.9 points per game. Joining Burkholder on the first team were Delaware’s Kelsey Buchanan, Towson’s Tanisha McTiller, College of Charleston’s Alfreyea Tolbert and Northeastern’s Jewel Tunstall.
Junior forward Toia Giggetts and sophomore guard Precious Hall made second-team All-CAA for JMU. Newman was the only third-team pick, but she made the all-defensive team. Sophomore forward Jazmon Gwathmey also made the all-defensive team for JMU.