ATLANTA — South Dakota State University head coach Aaron Johnston is one of four finalists for the 2009 Naismith Women's College Coach of the Year award, officials from the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced Wednesday.

Joining Johnston on the final ballot are Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma, Sherri Coale of Oklahoma and Auburn's Nell Fortner.

The finalists were voted on by the Atlanta Tipoff Club’s Board of Selectors, comprised of leading basketball journalists, coaches and administrators from around the country. The board based its criteria on coaching performances this season. The vote was tabulated and certified by the accounting firm of Habif, Arogeti & Wynne, LLP.  HA&W is the largest independent accounting firm in Georgia and one of the top 50 firms in the United States.
 
The Naismith Award is the most prestigious national award presented annually to the women’s college basketball coach of the year.  The winner will be announced in early April.
 
“Each of these coaches has proven that success is a result of hard work, dedication and passion for the game, and that transcends throughout their programs,” said Gary Stokan, Atlanta Tipoff Club president.  “We look forward to watching them compete throughout the tournament and seeing which candidate claims the Naismith award.”

In his ninth full season as head coach of the Jackrabbits, Johnston led South Dakota State to its second consecutive regular season Summit League title, posting a 17-1 record in conference play and 31-2 overall record heading into its NCAA Tournament first-round matchup Sunday night against Texas Christian. The Jackrabbits also won the Summit League postseason tournament to earn their initial trip to the NCAA Tournament in their first year of eligibility after a five-year transition from the Division II level. South Dakota State has attained the highest-ever national ranking by a Summit League team as the Jackrabbits currently stand 16th in the Associated Press rankings. Johnston was named Summit League Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season, and currently posts a 224-64 career record — all at SDSU.

ABOUT THE OTHER FINALISTS
Geno Auriemma: In his 24th season at the helm, Auriemma has led the Lady Huskies to its fifth perfect regular season (30-0).  He was named BIG EAST Coach of the Year for the eighth time while guiding UCONN to BIG EAST regular season (17th overall) and BIG EAST Tournament (15th overall) titles, the 13th time in the program's history both have occurred in the same season. Auriemma has a career mark of 690-122 at the school.
 
Sherri Coale: Coale leads the Sooners into the NCAA Tournament with a 28-4 overall record and a Big 12 regular-season title, which helped earn the program its second-ever No. 1 seed.  Named the 2009 Big 12 Women’s Coach of the Year, her fourth such honor, she has six Big 12 regular season titles, four Big 12 tournament championships, 10 straight NCAA appearances, and five Sweet 16 appearances. In 13 seasons with Oklahoma Coale is 282-131.

Nell Fortner: The SEC Women’s Coach of the Year guided Auburn to a 20-0 start before finishing 29-3 overall and 12-2 in the Southeastern Conference to win the regular-season title and cement the school’s most successful season in 20 years.  The Tigers earned a No. 2 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional, Fortner’s second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. The former Olympic and World Championship gold medal coach has amassed a 100-56 record in her five seasons at Auburn. 

ABOUT THE ATLANTA TIPOFF CLUB
The Atlanta Tipoff Club, an Atlanta Sports Council property, is committed to promoting the game of basketball and recognizing the outstanding accomplishments of those who make the game so exciting. The Atlanta Tipoff Club, founded during the 1956-57 season, has presented the Naismith Trophy every year since UCLA’s Lew Alcindor first won the award in 1969. Old Dominion’s Anne Donovan won the inaugural Women’s Naismith Trophy in 1983.
 
The Naismith Award has become an emblem of excellence for the game, recognizing the Men’s and Women’s College Basketball Player of the Year, Men’s and Women’s College Basketball Coach of the Year, as well as awards for outstanding achievement in high school basketball, officiating, and contribution to the game.

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