Nine student-athletes were announced as nominees for the Athlete of the Year award this week.
The award is the highest recognition that the athletics department gives out, assistant athletics director Tim McDiffett said. While it is primarily performance-based, other factors such as academics and leadership also play a role in choosing the athlete.
The athletics department will announce the winner Sunday, April 29, at its annual banquet at the Hilton Hotel.
This year marks the award’s 23rd anniversary. It was awarded for the first time in 1985.
The nominees this year include the following student-athletes:
Chad Anderson, a senior defenseman on the hockey team, is tied for third-highest scorer on the team with 20 points and was the top scoring blue liner. This year, he scored a career-best seven goals and earned all-tournament honors in the Nye Frontier Classic.
Luke Cooper, a junior on the basketball team, helped carry the men’s team to the NCAA tournament this year. He ranked second in assists in the NCAA Division II. Cooper has broken almost every school record in assists and was a first team Great Northwest Athletic Conference selection, averaging 7.3 points per game. Cooper was voted most inspirational player by his teammates for the 2006-2007 season.
Chelsey Jones, a senior on the volleyball team, earned honorable mention All-GNAC accolades for the second consecutive year. The middle blocker was also ranked third in the conference with 1.17 blocks per game.
Rebecca Kielpinski helped lead the UAA women’s basketball team to one of their most successful seasons in recent years. The sophomore led the GNAC conference in rebounds per game as well as double-doubles. Kielpinski was voted GNAC player of the year and was a third team All-America pick.
Cross country and track distance runner David Kiplagat, a sophomore, was the GNAC cross country champion. He earned his second straight All West Region honor and helped lead the Seawolf cross country men to qualify for nationals, where they went on to place 15th. For his 2006 track season, he was the GNAC 1,500 meter run champion and went on to qualify for nationals in the 5,000-meter run.
Stefanie Klocker became the first female skier to win an Alpine race since 2002 when she won the slalom race at the Utah Invitational this year. The sophomore qualified for nationals for the second time and also recorded three podium finishes throughout the season.
Rachael Lehmkuhl led the UAA gymnastics squad this year with her third-place finish at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships, where she placed third in the All-Around competition. The senior was also voted the squad’s MVP for the 2007 season.
Track and field sprinter Mary Pearce earned the first track-and-field All-America certificate by placing fifth in the 400-meter dash. She was voted the GNAC’s most outstanding female newcomer at the GNAC championship and also won the 200- and 400- meter dashes at the 2006 conference championship.
Nordic skier Raphael Wunderle earned his first All-America certificate this year by placing 10th in the 20k classic race at the NCAA championship. The sophomore also recorded top-10 finishes in all regula-season races during his first season at UAA, as well as four top-five performances.
To be considered for the award, each athlete’s coach must present information to a committee about the achievements of the athlete. The committee, composed of members of UAA’s athletics department, the media and the Benton Bay Lions Club, then votes on which athlete to bestow the honor.
Generally, the award takes into account the achievements of the current calendar year, but with the advent of track and field, the award now considers the previous season as well. The track-and-field season extends beyond the calendar school year, when future major competitions, including their conference championship and nationals take place.
“We felt that it put them at a disadvantage to not know how they would compete at that next level,” said McDiffett, noting that several track-and-field athletes went on to gain All-America recognition after the award was given.
Along with the Athlete of the Year recognition, the department will also award the Dresser Cup, which focuses more on academic recognition than athletics.
Generally, the previous winner would present the award to the new winner, but with 2006 winner Kemmy Burgess playing basketball outside of the U.S., McDiffett will present the award in his place.
The banquet is an invitation-only affair, extended to all UAA student-athletes, as well as select members of the community.
“It’s like the Academy Awards for UAA athletics,” McDiffett said, “except we don’t have a certified public accountant.”