By Mel Greenberg
Delaware redshirt-freshman Elena Delle Donne Wednesday night became the second individual to win both the Colonial Athletic Association women's player and rookie of the year award that was handed out at the annual banquet in Harrisonburg, Va., where the tournament for an NCAA berth begins Thursday.
Delle Donne beat Gabriela Marginean, from defending CAA champion Drexel, and host James Madison University's Dawn Evans, who were considered the two other leading candidates.
"Ellena Dellle Donne is the player of the year because we went from ninth to a tie for fourth," Delaware coach Tina Martin said last week in campaigning for her own star.
"That's a huge leap for our team," she said. "When you look at the superstars in this year, which one elevated their team? And understand, Marginean and Evans are superstars, but the crazy thing is Elena is just a freshman."
"There are five or six teams who can win this thing. It's going to be exciting," Martin looked ahead to the tournament. "There were a bunch of close games."
Delaware was involved in six narrow losses to the four powerhouses, including an overtime encounter at James Madison on a night Delle Donne set a slew of records, scoring 54 points.
Martin's team also lost twice to ODU in the final minute, as well as a double overtime setback at home to Drexel and an overtime loss to the Dragons on the road. Delaware also dropped a game to VCU on a last second three-pointer.
The Blue Hens will begin play Thursday afternoon against George Mason with the winner meeting Drexel in Friday's quarterfinals.
Old Dominion's Wendy Larry, whose Monarchs finished first, won coach of the year, while Virginia Commonwealth's Kita Waller won the defensive player of the year award. Delle Donne, who is second in the nation in scoring, also made the all-defensive team.
Marginean and Georgia State's Brittany Graham were co-recipients of the Dean Ehlers leadership award.
Former Old Dominion star Lucienne Berthieu was the only other CAA woman to win both awards after making her conference debut.
The CAA web site has complete information on the awards.