news-category: Athletics

Gardner-Webb Women Celebrate Big South Honors and Team Store Offers Merch

Jhessyka Williams cuts down the net in celebration of winning the Big South Conference Season Championship.
Jhessyka Williams cuts down the net in celebration of winning the conference championship. Photo by Samantha Holt / GWU Photo Staff

Gwubulldogstore.com Honors Season and Women’s Basketball Earn Awards

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Gardner-Webb University students, alumni and friends have an opportunity to own a part of history that celebrates the Women’s Basketball Big South Conference Season Championship. For a limited time, top-ranked championship apparel is available in the official GW Big South Women’s Basketball Championship team store. Promotions run through March 15, 2023, and the store offers select championship gear. Check out the details at gwubulldogstore.com.

Gardner-Webb Women’s Basketball earned four spots on the All-Big South Conference team Tuesday afternoon and secured three of the league’s major awards.

Forward Jhessyka Williams (Augusta, Ga.) was unanimously named Big South Player of the Year, forward Alasia Smith (Johnson City, Tenn.) was named Big South Defensive Player of the Year and head coach Alex Simmons was named Big South Coach of the Year.

Guards Lauren Bevis (High Point, N.C.) and Ki’Ari Cain (Sumter, S.C.) joined Williams and Smith on the All-Big South Conference team, with Bevis earning first-team honors and Cain earning an honorable mention selection.

Bevis was runner up for Big South Player of the Year.

L’Mia Littlejohn (Shelby, N.C.) earned a spot on the Big South Conference All-Academic Team.

Williams is the first Gardner-Webb standout to be named Player of the Year since Margaret Roundtree in 2010 and was the frontrunner for the award for much of the season after a hot start turned into a terrific overall campaign.

She enters the postseason leading the league in both scoring (18.8) and rebounding (9.5) and garnered all nine first-place votes to finish 11 points ahead of Bevis. It marks only the third time in league history that teammates have finished 1-2 in Player of the Year voting and the second time it has involved a Gardner-Webb duo.

Roundtree and Hall of Fame Dominique Hudson finished 1-2 in the voting following the 2009-2010 season.

Williams has 1,940 career points entering the postseason and is within striking distance of becoming just the third Gardner-Webb woman to reach the 2,000-point mark. Hall of Famers Fredia Lawrence and Dina Smith are the only two currently in that club.

She was named Big South Player of the week a league-high six times this season and set new career-highs in points, rebounds and assists to lead Gardner-Webb to its first undefeated season in Big South action.

Williams recorded the first triple-double in Gardner-Webb women’s basketball history against Presbyterian in January – going for 28 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. She led the Big South with 15 double-doubles this season, and has 25 over the last two seasons combined.

She has now earned All-Big South Conference honors for the third season in a row.

Smith ranked first nationally in steals this regular season and is the first Gardner-Webb woman to earn the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award. She also led the nation in steals per game and complimented that stat with 1.1 blocked shots and 8.9 rebounds per game.

Smith, another double-double machine, also poured in 13.7 points per game during her junior season. She earned her third consecutive first-team All-Big South Conference spot.

Smith also nearly posted a triple-double, going for 20 points, nine rebounds and eight steals in the January 11 win over Presbyterian. She finished the season with 10 double-doubles, which ranked second in the league to Williams.

Simmons is the second Gardner-Webb women’s basketball head coach to win Coach of the Year in the Big South and first since 2010.

Her team lived up to well-deserved preseason expectations and finished with the first 18-0 conference season in Big South history – women or men – to claim the outright Big South regular-season title for the first time since 2009-10.

At 26-4 overall, GWU’s win total was the most in 12 years, while its current 18-game winning streak marks the longest in program history. In addition, the team’s .867 winning percentage ranks 10th nationally. The Runnin’ Bulldogs finished the regular season ranked first in the conference in scoring offense (76.5), scoring margin (+10.8) and steals per game (9.7), while the team ranked seventh in Division I in turnovers forced per game (21.8) and turnover margin (+6.5).

Simmons is now 64-27 in five seasons of Big South Conference play and has won 87 games overall during that same stretch as head coach of the Runnin’ Bulldogs.

Bevis built on her preseason All-Big South projection and enjoyed a career year, surpassing 1,000 career points early in the season and becoming the all-time leader in made three-pointers in the Division I era.

She finished the regular season averaging 15.7 points per game and made 89-of-215 shots from deep. Bevis led the Big South in three-pointers made and three-point percentage and is among the league’s best at 85.9 percent from the free throw line. She was the only player in the Big South to score at least 30 points in two games this season and reached double figures scoring 25 times.

Bevis enters the Big South Conference tournament with 1,335 career points under her belt.

Cain was the consummate point guard this season, showing leadership and toughness to power the Big South’s most potent offense. She averaged a career-high 10.0 points per game and led the Big South with 4.7 assists per contest.

The lead guard started all 30 games for the Runnin’ Bulldogs and ranked second on the team with 41 made threes. Cain also shot a strong 76.5 percent at the free throw line.

Littlejohn is an exercise science major who carries a 3.75 cumulative GPA. She plans to pursue a career in physical therapy upon graduation. A top reserve, Littlejohn played in 28 games during the regular season and knocked down 40.5 percent from beyond the three-point arc.

She netted a season-high 11 points against SMU in early December.

Gardner-Webb opens its quest for an NCAA Tournament berth on Thursday morning, playing in the quarterfinals of the 2023 Hercules Tires Big South Conference Championships at 11:30 a.m. Tickets available here.

The game will air live on ESPN+ (WatchESPN.com). The radio call will stream on ESPNCLT.com.

The women’s basketball team celebrates their winning season. Photo by Samantha Holt / GWU Photo Staff

2023 Big South Conference Postseason Awards

First-Team All-Conference

Second-Team All-Conference

  • Jenson Edwards, High Point
  • Bryanna Brady, Presbyterian
  • Ashlyn Traylor, Radford
  • Adriana Shipp-Davis, Longwood
  • Anne-Hamilton LeRoy, Longwood

Honorable Mention All-Conference

  • Ki’Ari Cain, Gardner-Webb
  • McKinley Brooks-Sumpter, UNC Asheville
  • Paige Powell, Winthrop
  • Brittany Staves, Campbell
  • Jordan Edwards, High Point

All-Freshman Team

  • Ashlyn Traylor, Radford
  • Tilda Sjökvist, Presbyterian
  • Gianni Boone, Campbell
  • Aubrie Kierscht, Presbyterian
  • Catherine Alben, Charleston Southern

All-Academic Team

  • Brittany Staves, Campbell
  • Zaire Hicks, Charleston Southern
  • L’Mia Littlejohn, Gardner-Webb
  • Callie Scheier, High Point
  • Brooke Anya, Longwood
  • Paige Kindseth, Presbyterian
  • Vanessa Blake, Radford
  • McKinley Brooks-Sumpter
  • AC Markham, USC Upstate
  • Leonor Paisana, Winthrop

Player of the Year

Freshman of the Year

  • Ashlyn Traylor, Radford

Defensive Player of the Year

Coach of the Year

Scholar-Athlete of the Year

  • Brittany Staves, Campbell

*Awards details and story content provided by Gwusports.com.

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at Gardner-Webb.edu.

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