Minnesota freshman guard Rachel Banham cleaned up in this year’s Big Ten Conference award presentation.
The 5-foot-9 bastion of consistency for the Gophers was a unanimous selection for Freshman of the Year and only the second in school history to win the award. Minnesota’s previous recipient was Janel McCarville, who would later enjoy success in the WNBA. Banham was also a unanimous pick to the All-Big Ten second team.
“Rachel has proven over and over with her play and consistency that she can flourish at this level and on the national scene,” said Minnesota head coach Pam Borton.
The Gophers would have struggled to exist this season without the flashy point guard. Banham finished the regular season seventh in the Big Ten in scoring with 16.1 points per game, eighth in field goal percentage at 41.6 and led in three-point shooting with a 43.8 percent accuracy.
Banham was the odds-on favorite for Freshman of the Year, winning five Freshman of the Week awards along with a Player of the Week honor. She did get late competition from Iowa’s Samantha Logic, who won the season’s last three Freshman of the Week awards, also earning two Player of the Week awards in a stretch that included her first career triple-double in the season finale against Michigan.
However, Banham’s influence in Minnesota’s signature victories this season, including a game-winning buzzer beater against Virginia Tech in November, likely gave her the edge.
“I have never seen such a humble player accomplish something like this and realize that she has a lot of work to do to get better,” Borton said. “That is what I am most excited about. She wants to be the best.”
Minnesota can afford nothing less from Banham in future seasons, as no other player from their roster was recognized among the All-Big Ten first, second, or third teams. Senior guard Kiara Buford did receive an honorable mention, but the lack of athletic awards are another example of why more reliable support is needed.
Sportsmanship is fluent among the maroon and gold though. Not even a concussion could knock out senior forward Jackie Voigt from receiving her second consecutive Big Ten Sportsmanship Award, given to a player distinguished in integrity and ethical conduct.
“Jackie is someone that our fans appreciate because she engages in people and makes everyone she comes in contact with feel special,” Borton said.