WEST HARTFORD, Conn.—UMBC head coach Phil Stern was named America East Women's Basketball Coach of the Year, and three Retriever juniors garnered all-conference honors, the league announced Thursday at the annual awards reception on the University of Hartford Campus. Guard Michelle Kurowski(Hicksville, N.Y./Hicksville) and forward Erin Brown (Bethesda,Md./Walt Whitman) were selected to the first team, while centerTopé Obajolu (Randallstown, Md./Archbishop Carroll) was selected to the third team and all-defensive squad. Kurowski also earned all-academic honors.
Stern guided the Retrievers, who were picked to finish fifth in the America East preseason poll, to their first-ever America East regular-season title with a 19-10 overall record and a 13-3 mark in league play, and the 19 wins are a school Division I record. Stern oversaw a +6 turnaround from 2009-10, when UMBC posted a 13-17 overall record and a 7-9 league mark. In addition, after starting the season 1-5, Stern's squad finished the season strong, going 18-5 over the final 23 games, and is riding a six-game winning streak into the America East Championship.
Stern is the first UMBC women's basketball coach to be named Coach of the Year since Kathy Solano in 1994 in the Big South. In addition, whit it is his first Coach of the Year honor at the Division I level Stern garnered the accolade twice in the Division II Peach Belt Conference while at USC Aiken (2000, 2002).
Kurowski ranks second in the America East in scoring with 14.6 points per game, and she ranks 13th in the NCAA with an .888 free throw percentage. She also leads UMBC with 1.8 steals per game while also averaging 5.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per contest and shooting 39.7 percent from the floor with a career-high 41 three-pointers. Kurowski currently ranks ninth all-time at UMBC with 1,220 career points, and she has ranked in the top 10 in the America East in scoring in each of her three seasons.
Kurowski excels in the classroom, as well, maintaining a 3.82 grade-point average as a psychology major with a social welfare minor, and last month she was named to the prestigious Capital One Academic All-District First Team. The junior plans to earn her bachelor's degree in May after just three years and complete her eligibility next season as a graduate student pursuing a teaching certificate and a master's degree in early childhood education.
Brown has rebounded from an injury-marred sophomore campaign to post a career year in 2010-11. She ranks fifth in the league with 14.2 points per game, and she is averaging 20.0 ppg and 8.2 rpg during UMBC's six-game win streak. In addition, Brown leads the Retrievers with 6.1 rebounds per game and 58 three-pointers while shooting 39.0 percent from the floor and 86.1 percent from the foul line, the third-best mark in the conference.
Obajolu leads the America East with 1.8 blocks per game, and her 52 rejections in 2010-11 are a school record. Earlier this season, Obajolu, who currently ranks fourth all-time at UMBC with 116 career blocks, set a UMBC record for blocks in a game with seven against Coppin State. In addition, Obajolu ranks 12th in the conference in scoring with 10.4 ppg.
Kurowski and Brown give UMBC two players on the America East first team for the first time ever; Carlee Cassidy in 2008 is the only other Retriever ever to earn first-team honors in the America East. In addition, with Obajolu's inclusion on the third team, UMBC places three players on all-conference squads for the first time in its eight seasons in the America East. Obajolu is also the first Retriever to earn All-Defensive honors since Sharri Rohde in 2007 and just the second UMBC player ever.
The Retrievers enter this weekend's America East Championship as the No. 1 seed and will face the winner of Thursday's first-round game between No. 8 Stony Brook and No. 9 Maine. With a win, UMBC would take on the winner of Fridays' quarterfinal matchup between No. 4 Hartford and No. 5 Albany on Sunday at 1:34 p.m. Should the Retrievers emerge victorious, they would host the America East title game on Saturday, March 12.