ABILENE – For the second time in as many years, the Paul Goad Awards were captured by the Abilene Christian’s men’s and women’s basketball teams.
Southland Conference Player of the Year Breanna Wright received 17 of 26 votes from a pool of head coaches and athletic staff members, while First Team NABC First District honoree Payten Ricks won a tight decision over decorated classmates Jeremiah Chambers (football) and Jonathan Sheehy (tennis).
Chambers was a three-time FCS All-America in 2019, and Sheehy was ranked as high as 77th in singles by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.
Wright joins an elite group of two-time Goad Award winners (presented to the top male and female athletes of the year). The Jarrell, Texas, native is only the sixth student-athlete in the award’s 42-year history to be a consecutive-year recipient and is its 10th multi-year winner.
Fellow two-time winners include: Alex Carpenter (golf, ’11, ’13); Andrea Carpenter (soccer, ’11, ’14); Jennifer Clarkson (women’s basketball, ’95, ’96); Alexandria Hackett (cross country / track and field, ’16, ’18); Michelle King (women’s tennis, ’91, ’92); Chelsa Lancaster (women’s track and field, ’93, ’94); Bernard Manirakiza (men’s track and field, ’04, ’05); Julia Mongin (women’s tennis, ’12, ’13) and Alfred Rugema (men’s track and field, ’01, ’03).
Ricks is a first-time honoree and the third men’s basketball player in five years to receive ACU Athletics’ top prize. Eight men’s basketball players have received this honor, starting with Randall Moore in 1980.
A native of Wichita, Kan., Ricks made the Southland Conference’s First Team and all-defense squad following a senior year in which he ranked 13th nationally with 70 steals (2.26 per game) while averaging a team-best 14.3 points per game.
Ricks additionally ranked among the league’s top 3-point shooters. He connected on 83 triples (35.9 percent) to average 2.68 per game, and from the free-throw line he shot 84.6 percent to rank fourth among all Southland Conference competitors.
His steal and 3-pointer totals were program season records.
“He came to Abilene four years ago a shy kid from Kansas, and four years later he is one of the best to ever wear the purple and white,” said ACU men’s head basketball coach Joe Golding. “In my opinion he was the best two-way player in the Southland Conference this year, but his senior-year leadership with a young team might be his biggest accomplishment of all. He refused to let this program go backward and continued to push the needle forward everyday to compete for championships.”
As a key player on back-to-back 20-win teams, Ricks this year started all 31 games and scored in double figures on 23 occasions. He sank five treys in a 29-point effort early in the season at Drexel, and later scored 24 points on the road in games vs. Central Arkansas and Houston Baptist. His fifth and final 20-point game of the season (23 points) came at home vs. Sam Houston State, which the Wildcats dominated 85-69.
Ricks’ defensive season highs included five steals vs. Drexel and Nicholls and eight rebounds at Texas State.
For his career, Ricks averaged 9.29 points and 2.24 rebounds per game (119 games / 3,037 minutes) with 202 assists and 167 steals.
“Ricks is a very special young man to our program and my family,” said Golding. “He exemplifies everything we’re about as a basketball program and university. Ricks sharpened his craft daily, spent hours in the gym, and was rewarded for that. The game always pays you back with what you put into it. You love to see players rewarded for their hard work and nobody outworked him.
“Off the floor Ricks was very active on campus and with FCA. He was a role model in the community and would hold us all accountable every day to the real mission in his life. His love for the Cross and bringing people to it was his passion.
“I’m going to miss him, he believed in the vision of the program when it was a dream. That dream is now a reality and he’s a big reason why.”
Wright is head coach Julie Goodenough’s second Southland Conference Player of the Year in four years, and won the honor after leading the league in nine categories. She was the Southland’s No. 1 (and 50th in the NCAA) player with 18.1 points per game, and topped the conference lists with 5.1 assists per game (32nd), 85.9 free-throw percentage (26th) and 85 3-pointers made (18th).
Wright was a top-10 player overall in 16 different Southland categories and a top-three competitor in 14 as she additionally finished her final year with 1,059 minutes and 1.93 steals per game.
“I am beyond proud of Brea receiving this prestigious award again,” said Goodenough. “What a thrill and a privilege it has been to coach her these past four seasons!
“This program has experienced unprecedented success with Brea leading the charge as our point guard, and this year was no exception. She was calm, cool, and collected under major defensive pressure the entire season … a tough assignment considering that the ball was in her hands so much of the time. Nothing seemed to rattle Brea. Her ability to make reads, decisions, and finish plays was amazing. Our opponents knew that she was a go to player for us, but her high basketball IQ and elite skill set allowed her to break down defensive schemes game after game.”
Wright scored in double figures in 27 of 29 games and finished the year on a five-game streak with 20 or more points. She scored a career-high 31 points in a 74-64 win at Central Arkansas, and two games later she posted a 22-point / 10-assist double-double vs. Incarnate Word.
She recorded her second double-double of the year in early February vs. Lamar, pulling down 10 rebounds to go along with 19 points (8-13 shooting with three 3-pointers).
Wright would have played in 30 or more games in four consecutive seasons if not for the 2020 postseason cancelation (COVID-19). She also was roughly two games (79 minutes) shy of tying her season high in minutes played from 2018-19 (1,138) after registering 16 complete games as a senior. Two of these complete games were 45-minute performances at Nicholls (21 points) and UIW (23 points).
Wright’s career totals include 124 games, 4,306 minutes, 12.7 ppg, 3.58 rpg, 556 assists, 174 steals and 25 blocks. Her .851 (366-428) free-throw percentage is among the highest career marks (third) in Southland Conference history.
“Brea is fiercely competitive, loves workouts, road trips, laughing, winning, reading, ladybugs, her teammates, her family, and she continually deflects personal credit to bring attention to her team’s success,” added Goodenough. “She was a blast to coach and a player who totally embraced Team First Wins.”