Editor's note: Charlie Creme, Graham Hays, Michelle Smith and Mechelle Voepel each voted to determine espnW's 2014-15 national player, freshman and coach of the year.
In-season performance trumped preseason hype.
Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd is espnW's National Player of the Year, which might be something of a surprise considering that Connecticut's Breanna Stewart is widely regarded as the best women's college player in all the land.
But while Stewart was adjusting to a new role with the Huskies, and Connecticut once again rolled through the American Conference without much resistance, Loyd has propelled Notre Dame to another stellar season.
The junior shooting guard came up big in the biggest games, and led the Irish to another ACC title in one of the most competitive conferences in the country.
Loyd started every game this season for the Irish, averaging a career-best 20.5 points and 3.1 assists to go with 5.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals. She has scored at least 20 points in 18 games this season, with four 30-point performances, the best in the ACC and a single-season Irish record.
After a stellar season, the accolades are pouring in. Loyd is a finalist for every national honor and was named the ACC Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the ACC tournament. She was the first Notre Dame player in 24 years to be named the conference player of the year two years in a row.
"She never ceases to amaze me," said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw after Loyd led her team to the ACC title Sunday.
Loyd, whose brother played college basketball at Valparaiso and then professionally overseas, played tennis as a child and soccer in middle school and high school. She did not begin to play basketball competitively until the sixth grade, and it didn't take long for her to find her place on the basketball court, which turned out to be squarely in the spotlight.
At Notre Dame, Loyd had time to settle in and learn how to lead from star guard Skylar Diggins. Turns out she was a quick study in college as well.
Two years after Diggins' departure, this is most decidedly Loyd's Irish team and her time. -- espnW's Michelle Smith
Freshman of the Year: Ohio State's Kelsey Mitchell
In addition to being one of the most entertaining finals amid the deluge of conference tournaments, the Big Ten championship game served notice that things are looking up for the at-times beleaguered league.
In Maryland, the Big Ten again has a champion, not the kind it crowned every season because convention demanded it but the kind of program that can go out and champion the league's credibility in the NCAA tournament.
But the conference also has Ohio State's Kelsey Mitchell for three more seasons.
Both facts are reason for optimism.
The nation's leading scorer in the regular season -- not just among freshmen but all players -- Mitchell is espnW's freshman of the year after leading Ohio State back to the NCAA tournament after a two-year absence that spanned the end of Jim Foster's time in Columbus and the arrival of Kevin McGuff.
Mitchell enters the NCAA tournament averaging 25.0 points and 4.1 assists per game. Without counting the passes she made that led to free throws for teammates, she was directly responsible for 41 percent of the points scored by one of the nation's most prolific offenses. A season ago, Baylor's Odyssey Sims, a veteran All-American cast in a similar role, had a hand in 45 percent of her team's points. That's the kind of company Mitchell already keeps.
There is no doubt that Ohio State's tempo helped Mitchell's statistical cause. The playing rotation severely shortened by injuries, she also had little choice but to put up a lot of shots. Peers like Notre Dame's Brianna Turner and South Carolina's A'ja Wilson weren't asked to put up those kind of numbers. Even Louisville's Mariya Moore, the leading scorer on a top-10 team, wasn't in a position to put up similar numbers.
But a system is only as successful as its players. And if other freshmen weren't asked to put teams on their backs, it doesn't diminish the fact that Mitchell was and did.
Mitchell did some freshman things. She piled up assists, but she also piled up an equal number of turnovers. She shot 41.6 percent from the field, which isn't as inefficient as it looks because of the accuracy and abundance of her 3-point shooting (38.2 percent) and free throw shooting (82.6 percent), but undeniably offers room for refinement. Still, in showing off the speed and body control to beat anyone off the dribble and the range to punish teams from the 3-point line, she also did things that few other players, let alone freshmen, ever do.
Along with Ameryst Alston, Ohio State was going to go as far as Mitchell took it this season.
The final seconds of the Big Ten title game was a good start. Now it's on to the NCAA tournament. -- espnW's Graham Hays
Coach of the Year: Sue Semrau, Florida State
Coach Sue Semrau was cautiously optimistic about Florida State's future a year ago after losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Star Natasha Howard's departure for the WNBA was a major hole to fill. But Semrau still figured the Seminoles could be good enough this season to make their 10th NCAA tournament appearance in the past 11 years.
Beyond that, she wasn't sure what might happen. Yet here we are in March 2015, and we know the answer. The Seminoles have had one of their best seasons in program history. They are 29-4, finished second in the ACC at 14-2, and made their first appearance in the league tournament championship game.
It earned Semrau our espnW national coach of the year honor in a season in which there was quite a lot of competition. Look at what Brenda Frese did in Maryland's first year in the Big Ten; the Terps won the regular-season and tournament titles. Also in the Big Ten, Northwestern's Joe McKeown led the Wildcats to their first winning record in league play since 1996-97 and a tie for fourth place.
Vic Schaefer's Mississippi State program finished third in the SEC and will be making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010, and just its seventh overall.
And how about Ivy League champ Princeton's Courtney Banghart, coach of the only undefeated Division I women's team?
Still, Semrau's guidance of a transfer-heavy roster got the nod. The Seminoles have five Division I transfers -- Maegan Conwright, Shakena Richardson, Morgan Jones, Emiah Bingley and Leticia Romero -- and junior-college transfer Adut Bulgak. All of them have been a part of Florida State's success this season. And Semrau also has gotten a key contribution from freshman Shakayla Thomas.
All the new faces in big roles at Florida State could have resulted in a team with understandably little cohesion. Instead, it has been just the opposite. The players credit Semrau, who is in her 18th season at Florida State. She was named the ACC Coach of the Year for the fourth time in her career.
Now, the Seminoles prepare for what surely will be a host role for the early rounds of the NCAA tournament. And Semrau is busy not just preparing her team, but working a sales job, too. She has been meeting with Tallahassee, Florida-area business leaders, encouraging them to buy tickets to try to give the Seminoles as big a crowd as possible. Something Semrau and her squad deserves. -- espnW's Mechelle Voepel