Ryan makes Big Sky history, while fellow senior Chene Cooper is also recognized by league coaches
Senior Brianne Ryan of the Eastern Washington University women's basketball team now stands in a league of her own. Two years after being named the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year, the senior from Lynden, Wash., has been selected as the Big Sky Conference Most Valuable Player. Ryan is the only player in league history to win both awards in a career.
Senior Chene Cooper (Puyallup, Wash.) was also honored as a member of the All-Big Sky Second Team, announced Monday (March 5) following a vote by the league's nine head coaches.
Ryan, a unanimous first-team selection, is the second player in Eastern Washington history, and the second in three years, to take home MVP honors. Julie Piper earned the school's first-ever MVP award in 2009-10.
"We are really excited about Brianne winning MVP of the league," said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. "This is our second MVP in three years, which really shows what we are as a program and how we develop players."
Ryan, who was also a first-team selection as a junior last year, led the league in scoring throughout the entire 2011-12 campaign. She averaged 19.7 points per game in league play, while her overall season average of 19.3 ranks among the top 20 in the nation.
She was a three-time recipient of the Big Sky Player of the Week award, and took home a similar honor from College Sports Madness on two different occasions.
"It is certainly well-deserved, Brianne has earned it," said Schuller. "As a coach, you are always pleased when you see a player develop and grow into what you feel they can be. We never really had to use the word 'potential' with Brianne because she kept getting better and better each year. So much of her success is because of how hard she works. She practices as hard as any player we've ever had, and brings that in every game."
Ryan scored in double figures in every single game of the season, and had four games with 30+ points. Only two other players in the Big Sky hit the 30-point mark this year, and no one besides Ryan did it more than once.
She was among the top 15 players in the league in nine different statistical categories. She averaged 2.3 3-pointers per game to rank fifth in the Big Sky, while her free throw percentage of 84.3 was third-best. Beyond her offensive prowess, Ryan was ninth in steals (2.1) and 16th in rebounding (5.8).
"I think when deciding on the MVP, the conference coaches probably saw what everyone in the crowd sees and what we see every day in practice," said Schuller. "Brianne just has that ability to get the ball in the basket, and she does it a lot of different ways. She can put it on the floor, she can get to the rim and she really shoots the three well. She definitely makes it hard for other teams to defend."
"I do think Brianne might want to break off a little piece of that award and give it to Coop [Chene Cooper] though," said Schuller. "Coop has does a fabulous job of distributing the ball and getting the ball in great spots for Ryan. Those two have really clicked over the years, and were fortunate to play with one another. What incredible careers they've had together."
Cooper, one of the most prolific players in EWU history, earned her second-consecutive Big Sky accolade on Monday, as she was also an honorable mention selection in 2011.
The five-foot point guard led the league in both assists and steals throughout the entire 2011-12 campaign, and ranked among the top 10 in the nation in assists every week of the season. She averaged 6.8 assists per game and finished the regular season with 198 total - 60 more than the next closest player in the Big Sky.
Cooper had five games with 10+ assists, and posted four double doubles. In Eastern's game against the nationally-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs, Cooper was just two rebounds shy of a triple-double, as she finished with 16 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.
Cooper's assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.2 was the best in the Big Sky, while ranking 11th in the nation. She was also among the top 15 in league-only statistics in scoring (12.3), free throw percentage (78.0), 3-point field goal percentage (39.2) and minutes (33.9).
"It has been an honor to coach Coop," said Schuller. "She came in as a point guard who we knew had skills and could do some things, but really, she needed to get a lot stronger and learn how to shoot the ball a lot better. She has worked extremely hard year after year to do both of those things, and has succeeded. That, combined with her natural abilities, has made her into a fabulous point guard.
"This year, she has done everything we've asked of her," added Schuller. "I was actually disappointed she wasn't a first-team selection, but the first team is full of really, really good players this year and we understand there are limited spots. But when you look at her body of work, Coop has really had a fantastic season, and fantastic career."
Earlier this season, Cooper broke Eastern's all-time career steals record that had stood for 27 years. She now has 261 steals and counting, which ranks sixth in the Big Sky record book. Cooper is eighth in assists with 515, which is second all-time at EWU.
Both Cooper and Ryan joined the 1,000-point club this season as well. Ryan is currently third in school history with 1,432 career points, while Cooper is just outside the top 10 with 1,093.
Cooper and Ryan led EWU to a 16-13 regular-season record and 10-6 mark in Big Sky play. The team finished third in the league race to earn its third-straight appearance in the Big Sky Conference Championship.
The No. 3-seeded Eagles will take on No. 6 Sacramento State in the quarterfinals on Thursday (March 8) in Pocatello, Idaho.
2011-12 Big Sky Women's Basketballs All-Conference Team
Brianne Ryan, Eastern Washington#
Kaela Oakes, Idaho State
Chelsea Pickering, Idaho State
Katie Baker, Montana#
Katie Bussey, Montana State#
D'shara Strange, Northern Colorado#
#Unanimous First Team selection
Chene Cooper, Eastern Washington
Rachel Semansky, Montana State
Amy Patton, Northern Arizona
Eryn Jones, Portland State
Kylie Kuhns, Sacramento State
Most Valuable Player: Brianne Ryan, Sr., Eastern Washington
Defensive Player of the Year: D'shara Strange, So., Northern Colorado
Top Newcomer: Kate Lanz, So., Portland State
Outstanding Freshman: Fantasia Hilliard, Sacramento State