Each year, UAA athletes commemorate the end of the school year by holding an athlete department all-sport banquet. This year, the banquet took place on April 26. Traditionally, the winner of the Bill McKay Athlete of the Year is announced during the dinner.
There were 12 nominees this year. Wesley Kirui and Emmah Chelimo were the cross country nominees. Tyler Brimhall and Hannah Wandersee were selected for basketball. Liam Wallace and Casey Wright were nominated for skiing. Chrisalyn Johnson was chosen for volleyball. Nils Rygaard was nominated for hockey. Sophia Hyderally was named for gymnastics. For men’s outdoor track and field, Christopher Brake, and for indoor track and field, Drew Johnson. Caroline Kurgat was nominated for both women’s indoor and outdoor track and field.
All the athletes were appreciative of their nominations, and many felt like the work they had put in was finally paying off.
Chelimo explained that this year was a lot different than last year.
“I have personally made a big improvement from previous years. Everyone is working hard and very optimistic about the rest of this season,” Chelimo said.
Despite some hardships, Wallace overcame his obstacles and had a successful season.
“[The season] had ups and downs. Fighting sickness for part of the competitive season made it hard to be consistent with my runs. But, I had some great races here and some of my best results ever,” Wallace said.
In gymnastics, Hyderally explained that she had her most successful season ever, after having qualified for nationals.
Despite the hard work and best efforts of all 12 athletes, however, only one could receive the award.
At the banquet, it was announced that Caroline Kurgat will be the recipient of the Bill McKay Athlete of the Year award, for the second year in a row.
The decision was made by UAA athletics staff members, local media and Benton Bay Athletic Lions Club representatives.
Kurgat has had a record-breaking season that has attracted national attention, including receiving numerous other awards. She earned the Collegiate Women’s Sports Honda Award, Google Cloud Academic All-American, USTFCCCA Scholar-Athlete of the Year and the Pride of Alaska Award for outstanding athletic achievement from the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.
In addition, her nomination for outdoor track and field was due to her 2018-19 season, where she won the 10,000-meter and 5,000-meter races at the NCAA Div. II National Championships.
She now also currently holds the 5,000-meter and 3,000-meter NCAA Div. II Indoor records due to her results during the 2019 indoor track and field season.
“To be where I am today has been a contribution of so many people. I have received tremendous support from the UAA School of Nursing. All my instructors have been so supportive and understanding. They have always accommodated me through my complex schedule,” Kurgat said.
She continued on to recognize her other supporters.
“My coach has been so patient and understanding. He has made me the athlete I am today. He is so experienced as a coach and has helped me through all the transformations. He has made my four years experience the best. I also have the most amazing teammates. Helping each other through tough workouts makes it even feel better.”
Kurgat finished her last indoor season of eligibility and is currently finishing her final outdoor season.