And the winner is ...

Editor's note: Official ballots for the WNBA's regular-season awards were due Monday. Mechelle Voepel, one of 45 local and national media voters, shares her picks with ESPN.com.

Sue Bird


Most Valuable Player: Sue Bird, Seattle

This year, it was extremely difficult to decide the MVP, and I wouldn't disagree for a split second with Los Angeles' Candace Parker getting the award. CP3 was fantastic. But after debating it for quite some time, I ended up going with Bird because so much of the weight of Seattle making the playoffs rested on her shoulders. Not that Parker's plate wasn't full, too. And those who give the nod to Connecticut's Lindsay Whalen aren't wrong, either. In fact, a compelling case could be made for a few other players, too. In the end, Bird's performance as the point guard for a team without its most exceptional player (Lauren Jackson) down the stretch made me choose her.

Mike Thibault


Coach of the Year: Mike Thibault, Connecticut

Thibault juggled a team that lost some key parts, like Katie Douglas, with his responsibilities to the U.S. Olympic squad as an assistant. Tamika Whitmore, acquired in the trade that Douglas forced, said Thibault made her transition very easy. Thibault, whose Sun won eight of their final 11 games and finished second in the East with a 21-13 record, also has helped bring out the best in Asjha Jones. And, obviously, he's in perfect sync with point guard Lindsay Whalen.

Candace Parker


Rookie of the Year: Candace Parker, Los Angeles

Continuing their college success, there were several first-year pros who really lit up their inaugural season in the WNBA. But Parker -- who is averaging 18.5 points, a league-leading 9.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.3 blocks and 1.3 steals per game -- stood out from all of them with a season in which she could very well win the MVP, too. In April, she helped Tennessee win its second consecutive NCAA title. In August, Parker won her first gold medal. What does September have in store?

Ebony Hoffman


Most Improved Player of the Year: Ebony Hoffman, Indiana Fever

The former USC player started every game this season. She more than doubled her 2007 scoring average (4.2) to 10.4 points per game and increased her rebounding to 7.8, both career bests (Hoffman's rebounding average also ranks fifth in the league). Hoffman, who is in her fifth pro season, stepped forward as a more dependable player, especially while the Fever waited for Tamika Catchings to get back to full strength.

Lisa Leslie


Defensive Player of the Year: Lisa Leslie, Los Angeles

Leslie might not be quite the offensive force she once was -- but with Candace Parker as a teammate, she doesn't really need to be. When it comes to being the enforcer inside and understanding all the nuances of playing game-changing defense, Leslie is still in top form. Her 8.9 rebounds per game (including 6.3 on the defensive end) rank second in the league. The 11-year pro also averaged 1.5 steals and a WNBA-best 2.9 blocks.

Plenette Pierson


Sixth Woman of the Year: Plenette Pierson, Detroit Shock

Of course, Pierson damaged her reputation with her loss of control in escalating a touchy situation against Los Angeles into a full-fledged fight on July 22. But when Pierson keeps her cool and focuses on helping her team, she's still the most versatile and talented player in the league coming off the bench. In 23.2 minutes per game this season, Pierson is averaging 4.9 rebounds and a career-best 11.9 points.

Playoff predictions

Eastern Conference semifinals

(1) Detroit vs. (4) Indiana: The Shock beat the Fever in all three meetings this season, including by 22 points on Sept. 5. Detroit has come together quite well since the Olympic break. And with Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Katie Smith, the team has especially strong players in regard to postseason leadership. Winner: Detroit

(2) Connecticut vs. (3) New York: The Sun have a 2-1 regular-season series edge but lost the last meeting on July 15. The Liberty have progressed a lot, but New York is still a pretty young team. Ultimately, the Sun seem likely to have an edge inside with the experience of Tamika Whitmore and Asjha Jones. Winner: Connecticut

Western Conference semifinals

(1) San Antonio vs. (4) Sacramento: The Silver Stars took the regular-season series 2-1, and they are carrying some weight from last season's playoff disappointment. They can use that in their favor. This is a stronger and more confident San Antonio team inside, and it's likely enough to make the difference against Sacramento. Winner: San Antonio

(2) Seattle vs. (3) Los Angeles The Storm have gotten an MVP-caliber effort from Sue Bird, but it's difficult to see Seattle beating the Sparks without Lauren Jackson. The Sparks' 2-1 regular-season edge included a blowout on Sunday. With so many players resting in a meaningless game, that result doesn't say much. Still, without LJ, Seattle really needs big performances from players who are either near the end of their careers, dealing with injuries, or both. Winner: Los Angeles

Eastern Conference finals: When the Shock's offense is as good as it can be, it creates some really tough matchups for Connecticut. Detroit's McWilliams-Franklin would be in the position of trying to knock out the franchise she spent eight years with, first in Orlando and then in Connecticut. Winner: Detroit

Western Conference finals: As great as Los Angeles' frontcourt is, a series matchup with San Antonio might be where the Sparks' backcourt inexperience is too much to overcome. Especially against Becky Hammon and Vickie Johnson. Winner: San Antonio

WNBA Finals: It's so tempting to pick Detroit … the Shock won the title in 2006 and nearly repeated last year. Detroit has once again put itself in position to play very well in the postseason. But there's just something irresistible about this San Antonio team's spirit, team chemistry and competitiveness. Winner: San Antonio

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.