South Carolina women’s basketball senior Aleighsa Welch continued to add to her award resume as the female recipient of the eighth-annual Southeastern Conference Sportsmanship Award, the league office announced Thursday.
She and the male honoree, Texas A&M’s men’s basketball team and support staff, were selected by a vote of the SEC’s 14 Directors of Athletics.
“Sportsmanship and generosity are characteristics of student-athletes all across the SEC, and these award winners are examples of the many acts of kindness that take place in college athletics,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said. “We are proud of the Aggie basketball program and Aleighsa Welch for representing the SEC in the manner in which they do.”
A three-time team captain, Welch was recognized for the compassion and comfort she provided to two injured opposing players during conference games this season.
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The first occurrence came at Alabama where a Crimson Tide player crashed head first into a cameraman near the basket and had to be placed on a stretcher. Once the medical staff put the player on the stretcher, Welch, who had to be taken to the hospital on a stretcher after a similar collision just six days earlier, went to the opposite end of the court to give encouragement.
In the next game, at home against Kentucky on Jan. 11, the Wildcats’ Janee Thompson suffered a gruesome ankle injury. With both teams visibly shaken by the injury, Welch again left the bench as soon as the medical staff had stabilized the injury to offer Thompson comfort and encouragement.
She commented after the game that, “You can be the biggest competitor in the world, but you have a soft spot when something like that happens because it’s heartbreaking. I told Makayla Epps [Thompson’s teammate] after the game to let (Thompson) know our prayers are her and the team.”
After the press conference, Welch and a teammate also sought out Kentucky Head Coach Matthew Mitchell to further express her concern for Janee.
Welch closed her Gamecock career leading South Carolina to its first NCAA Final Four and a school-record 37 wins in 2014-15. The senior was the SEC women’s basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year and a First-Team All-SEC selection by the coaches. The WBCA and the Associated Press tapped her with honorable mention All-America status, and she was the SEC Tournament MVP after powering the Gamecocks to their first championship at that event.
Texas A&M men’s basketball team and support staff were recognized for their compassion in recognizing the passing of an opposing player’s father the day of a game in College Station.