Seniors Shine On Senior Day

Championship Sunday was a memorable event for a quartet of Auburn seniors.

Auburn, Ala.--For DeWanna Bonner, Whitney Boddie, Sherell Hobbs and Trevesha Jackson, Sunday's Senior Day was a memorable finish to a memorable regular season.

Those four seniors, as they have all season, led the Tigers to victory. This time the win, a 94-57 decision vs. Arkansas, had special meaning. In addition to it being their final home game at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum, it gave Jackson, Hobbs, Boddie and Bonner their first SEC title, something Coach Nell Fortner told them she expected them to do when she signed them.

"The most emotional thing to me today was the last timeout under the four-minute mark at the end of the game because I was sitting there looking at all of them," Fortner said. "It was very emotional and they are just so funny.

"I think that is when it really became overwhelming to me with exactly what was going on," the coach adds. "We were going to win this game and these seniors are going out having done that. It was just really neat to know that they accomplished what we set out to accomplish in one arena and now it is onto the next."

With the victory, the Tigers finished the regular season 27-2 overall and 12-2 in the SEC. They are seeded No. 1 for the SEC Tournament that starts on Thursday in North Little Rock, Ark. The Tigers have earned a bye in the first round and will play at noon CST on Friday against the winner of Thursday's matchup of Arkansas and Ole Miss.

In a game in which the reserves were able to see plenty of action, Fortner put her four seniors and the other starter, sophomore Alli Smalley, back on the court as a group and began taking them off the floor one-by-one so they could receive standing ovations from the crowd.

"They mean a heck of a lot to me," Fortner says of the four seniors, noting they deserve their moments in the spotlight. "They came in here with a brand new staff and got to know us and came to Auburn. They believed in what we were telling them. That was the biggest thing and I will always be grateful to them for that and getting this program back where it needs to be."

Following the game, a ceremony for the seniors included pre-recorded messages played on the video board from each of the seniors thanking family, teammates, their coaches and Auburn fans for their support. Then each was introduced along with their families for one final bow to the home crowd before the players joined Fortner in cutting the nets, something that hasn't been done at the coliseum since the men's team won the SEC Championship 10 years ago.

A crowd of 5,616 showed up at the coliseum despite a rare East Alabama snowstorm that kept some fans at home off the road. The Auburn fans who were in the coliseum were in a mood to celebrate the Tigers' first SEC women's regular season title since 1989 and the way the Tigers played early it was clear that was going to happen.

Auburn took command in the opening moments and was never seriously challenged as the Tigers built a 54-32 halftime advantage without committing a single turnover in the first half.

Junior center KeKe Carrier picks up Coach Nell Fortner after the victory on Sunday.

"The fans were great and they really stayed in it," Fortner said. "I appreciate that always."

Jackson, who grew up watching games at the coliseum and later was a star player at Auburn High School, emphasized thanking the fans, too. She noted that winning her final home game and winning the league championship "means a lot." She added, "We got to go out with a big bang. I'm ready for a ring my last year."

Jackson scored seven points and led the Tigers in rebounds with 11.

Bonner, the favorite to win SEC Player of the Year honors, said, "I'm so happy right now. I'm so proud of our team and our coaches. We worked so hard for it and I'm just so glad with the way we came out tonight and played."

During the game Bonner pulled down seven rebounds, moving her to 1,006 for her career, tying All-American Vickie Orr for the second most rebounds in Auburn history.

With a layup midway through the first half Bonner moved into second place in Auburn history in scoring passing Orr, who was an All-American on Auburn's last SEC regular season championship team in 1989. Bonner finished the game with 25 points and has 2,052 for her career, 17 points away from breaking All-American Becky Jackson's school record that has stood since 1984.

Hobbs, a preseason All-SEC pick with Bonner who scored 18 points on Sunday, said finishing her career as an SEC champion is memorable. "It feels great because I feel like I accomplished something here at Auburn," she said. "That is what I came to do and that is what I did on this day. It feels absolutely great."

Boddie scored 10 points, dished out eight assists and had just one turnover as she continues to play impressive basketball.

Boddie got a big hug on the court from her father, former University of North Alabama star Otis Boddie. The Auburn senior said winning the SEC title as a senior is "the best thing ever." However, she said and her teammates have ever bigger ambitions. "We want to win the national championship."

However, before the Tigers began their quest for a national title, they will head to Arkansas this week to see if they can win the league tournament title. Auburn heads to North Little Rock with 27 wins, the fifth most in a single season for the Tigers and the most since the 1990-91 season.

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