NORMAN, Okla. -- The University of Oklahoma women's basketball team honored its own at its annual postseason banquet Monday night at the NCED Conference Center and Hotel.
The Sooners distributed team awards and relived an improbable season inaugurated by adversity and concluded in triumph.
Despite losing four players to season-ending injuries by Dec. 6, and adding two from the volleyball team just to be able to practice five on five, Oklahoma finished the year in third place in the Big 12 Conference and appeared in its 14th consecutive NCAA Tournament, the nation's seventh longest active streak, advancing to the program's 10th Sweet 16.
"This season, coaching this team, never felt like work," OU Head Coach Sherri Coale said. "These guys were an absolute joy to be around on a daily basis and they were believers in the cores of their bellies.
"All of us, we will forever be bound to one another by the special things that we did this year that required courage, commitment and an unwavering belief. Impossibility does not exist for this group of kids."
Junior guard Aaryn Ellenberg garnered the most honors, earning team MVP, offensive player of the year and the Mojo Award for greatest momentum changer
Ellenberg led the Big 12 Conference in 3-pointers made and 3-point percentage, setting OU season and career records in the process. Her 115 3-pointers made in 2012-13 was a higher total than 76 Division I teams accumulated.
The program marked the conclusion of four careers as Lyndsey Cloman, Whitney Hand, Jasmine Hartman and Joanna McFarland were recognized for their contributions.
Hand, a four-time team captain, suffered an ACL tear in Oklahoma's ninth game, ending her final collegiate season prematurely.
Coincidentally, her career was given a chance to continue as the San Antonio Silver Stars used their final pick in Monday's WNBA Draft to obtain the rights should she recover for the 2014 season, with Hand learning as a season highlight video was being shown to the banquet audience.
"Whitney is the most integral player I've ever had. She also became a very special teammate to all who had the privilege to play with her. Over the years, as I watch seniors graduate, one of the things they are saddest about is that they don't get to play with Whitney anymore. I don't know that you could ever give an athlete a greater compliment than that."
After becoming a start on Oklahoma's 2010 Final Four team, Hartman's career was also marred by an ACL injury. Hartman recovered to set an Oklahoma record by playing in 143 games in her career.
"She played every role we could ask her to play. There's probably never been a single better senior night story than Jasmine Hartman, Oklahoma versus Kansas, March 2nd.
"I know there was an argument inside her head – half the fibers of her being were saying, ‘Don't jump, don't do it!' and the other half, the half that won said, ‘Let's go!' Jasmine will forever have that experience in her repertoire."
McFarland finished her senior season as one of the nation's most dominant players. The 6-foot-3 forward collected 14 double-doubles over the team's last 26 games and averaged 14.4 points and 14.1 rebounds in the postseason.
"Jo is a living, breathing, walking billboard for what college is supposed to do. When it's all over and said and done, college is supposed to give you a diploma that says you can do something fabulous in the world for the rest of your life, but it's also supposed arm you for all the challenges that lurk in the bushes in the next phase of your life. Joanna McFarland is so armed."
Cloman, a co-captain, was force to retire from basketball in the preseason due to chronic back pain. She had spent the previous year rehabilitating and ACL tear suffered in the 2011-12 preseason.
"The thing I most appreciate about Lyndsey is that she was always game," Coale said. "It didn't matter. She was never too cool for anything. Whatever we wanted to do, she dove in head first. Her enthusiasm, with her approach to that bled into her teammates and she became a leader. "
The honors were not just limited to the team as the Sooners thanked their fans and commended two with special honors.
Julia Chew, local State Farm Insurance agent and Sooner Stilettos president, was recognized with the Sooner Service Award.
"She serves on more boards and is involved in more things in the communities of Norman and Oklahoma City than anyone I know," Coale said. "Yet, she agreed to take on the presidency of our Stilettos and has done an amazing job with that group this year."
Kay Tangner, volunteer coordinator at the Oklahoma Children's Cancer Association, was named the recipient of the Mary Jane Noble Humanitarian Award.
"Kay has an amazingly difficult job and she's done it for over 20 years. When I last spoke to her to check on one of the kids who had been a Special Spectator, there had been a miraculous shrinkage of her tumor. It was unbelievable news. We talked about another little guy that underwent a cutting-edge therapy and it was working.
"As we rejoiced about that news, she said, ‘We've lost seven this month.' Seven children -- that is what her job is: continually building relationships with kids and saying goodbye to them far too soon. She is an angel on this planet."
|2013 Sooner Team Awards|
|Defensive Player of the Year||Sharane Campbell|
|Offensive Player of the Year||Aaryn Ellenberg|
|Most Improved Player||Nicole Griffin|
|Most Valuable Player||Aaryn Ellenberg|
|Nail (exhibits extreme mental and physical toughness)||Jasmine Hartman|
|Glue (epitomizes what holds team together)||Whitney Hand|
|Monster Board (top rebounder)||Joanna McFarland|
|Shoush Award (selfless play)||Morgan Hook|
|'Charge' Award (most charges taken)||Sharane Campbell|
|Foxhole Award (best teammate)||Nicole Griffin|
|Mojo Award (momentum changer)||Aaryn Ellenberg|
|Sooner Service Award||Julia Chew|
|Mary Jane Noble Humanitarian Award||Kay Tangner|