Second Annual Rock Chalk Choice Awards to Honor KU’s Best

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas Athletics will celebrate its best student-athlete performances of the 2012-13 school year – on and off the field of play – at the second annual Rock Chalk Choice Awards, an Academy Awards-like event, Sunday, Sept. 8, at the Lied Center of Kansas. Last year’s show saw an Olympic gold medalist and an NBA lottery pick take home Female and Male Athlete of the Year honors in addition to celebrating the best of a bevy of other athletic and academic success stories.

This year’s Rock Chalk Choice Awards looks to be equally impressive with 19 student-athletes and four teams, including an NCAA National Championship squad, nominated by their coaches and peers for five awards and more than a dozen exceptional student-athletes vying for Male and Female Athlete of the Year honors. Plans again call for a red-carpet entrance followed by a reception before the night’s featured awards ceremony in the Auditorium.

Accolades in seven different categories – Jayhawker Award, Best Jayhawk in a Supporting Role, The Crimson Climb Award, True Blue Award, Rock Chalk Moment Award, and Male and Female Athlete of the Year – will be unveiled and special student-athlete academic achievements will be recognized throughout the evening. Due to space limitations at the Lied Center the event is by invitation only and limited to athletic department staff, student-athletes, KU faculty and selected dignitaries.

Nominees for the Male and Female Athlete of the Year Awards, given to one male and female student-athlete who achieved at the highest level during the 2012-13 seasons, will be announced in the coming weeks. Nominees for the other awards are listed below.

Jayhawker Award
Maggie Hull (Softball), Andrea Geubelle (Track and Field), Toben Opurum (Football), Travis Releford (Men’s Basketball) and Brianne Riley (Volleyball) are this year’s nominees for the Jayhawker Award, presented in honor of the pioneers who held true to their values through devastation and hardship while founding the state of Kansas. The nominees of this award have exhibited a commitment to Kansas principles and demonstrate mental toughness in the face of adversity and competition while making a positive contribution to Kansas Athletics.

Maggie Hull (Lawrence, Kan.)
It’s nearly impossible to summarize Hull’s story as the Lawrence, Kan., native started all 210 games of her career and graduated as one of the most iconic players in Jayhawk softball history. A two-time Academic All-American, Hull finally grasped the one dream she had yet to accomplish at Kansas last May when she was named the 11th All-American in program history. She tops the KU record books in nearly every category, with the highlights including career batting average record as well as her astounding .456 batting average her senior season that shattered the Jayhawks’ previous record and ranks third all-time in Big 12 history.

Andrea Geubelle (University Place, Wash.)
Geubelle saw an NCAA title taken away from her after a late video review at the end of the 2012 season, but responded with a senior year for the record books. She claimed two individual NCAA Championships and helped lead the women’s track & field team to its first ever NCAA team title in June.

Toben Opurum (Richardson, Texas)
Opurum spent the last three seasons at KU on the defensive side of the ball after a stellar freshman campaign as a running back. In 2009, Opurum was the first freshman to lead Kansas in rushing in a season since Clark Green in 2002 as he carried the ball 133 times for a team-best 554 yards and nine touchdowns. He is returning to his roots with the Kansas City Chiefs as he is slated to play fullback in the NFL.

Travis Releford (Kansas City, Mo.)
Releford was a two-year starter who averaged 11.9 ppg, which ranked 17th in the Big 12 in 2012-13. The 2013 All-Big 12 Second Team selection was third in the conference in field goal percentage (57.4), 13th in assists (2.6) and eighth in steals (1.3). He was also selected to the 2013 Big 12 Defensive Team and was co-recipient of the Danny Manning “Mr. Jayhawk” Award.

Brianne Riley (Naperville, Ill.)
When she walked into the Horejsi Family Athletics Center prior to her freshman year, Brianne Riley declared that she would contend for the Jayhawks’ all-time digs record someday and wasn’t lying. The “best communicator” head coach Ray Bechard has ever coached, Riley finished the 2012 season with 1,498 digs – the most in Kansas history in only three years. Just three days before eclipsing the KU career record, Riley locked up the single-season mark as well and went on to become the first Jayhawk to break the 600-mark with 613 digs in 2012.

Best Jayhawk in a Supporting Role
Nikki Bruce (Softball), Alison Lusk (Swimming and Diving), Erin McNorton (Volleyball), Michael Stigler (Track and Field) and Cheyenne Verdoorn (Rowing) were nominated for The Best Jayhawk in a Supporting Role Award, presented to a student-athlete who demonstrates extraordinary sportsmanship, support and loyalty to teammates and Kansas Athletics.

Nikki Bruce (Overland Park, Kan.)
One of the most selfless players on the Kansas softball team, Bruce is always willing to catch an extra bullpen on an off-day or get a pitcher prepared to take the field during a game. A hard worker in the weight room as well, Bruce shows strong leadership qualities heading into her senior season.

Alison Lusk (Chattanooga, Tenn.)
Lusk was named Academic All-Big 12 Second team and set career-best times in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:02.96, sixth) and the 100-yard butterfly (56.59, 20th) at the 2013 Big 12 Championships (2/27-3/2). She holds the school record in the 200-yard breaststroke (2:14.57) which she set at the 2011 Big 12 Championships as a freshman.

Erin McNorton (Dallas, Texas)
A hard – but quiet – worker, McNorton honed her skills as a setter during her freshman and sophomore seasons on the Kansas volleyball team. When she earned her first career start on opening day during the 2012 season, McNorton simply took off. Her 1,443 assists in 2012 didn’t merely lead the Big 12 setters – she alone totaled more assists than five Big 12 teams. An unassuming leader, McNorton led the Jayhawk offense to the fourth-best attack percentage in school history and ranked seventh in the NCAA in assists per set.

Michael Stigler (Canyon, Texas)
Stigler collected a host of individual accolades in 2012-13 running to a school record and Big 12 title in the 400-meter hurdles, however it was his work on the men’s 4×400-meter relay team that made an even larger impact. As the quartet’s most consistent leg, he helped guide the group to the Big 12 Outdoor title as well as All-America second team honors at the NCAA Championships.

Cheyenne Verdoorn (Platte City, Mo.)
A senior on the Academic All-Big 12 Team, Verdoorn was a vital member of the Second Varsity Eight squad. One of the most successful boats in 2012, Verdoorn helped her 2V8 teammates to wins over Indiana, Georgetown and Kansas State. She also saw her boat to a second place finish in the Big 12 Championship and third at the Conference USA Championships.

True Blue Award
The True Blue Award is given to a student-athlete who demonstrates devotion to excellence in academics and athletics while advancing Kansas Athletics through participation in various student organizations and community service projects. This year’s nominees include Alyssa Golden (Swimming and Diving), Abbey Lozenski (Rowing), Toben Opurum (Football), Maddie Stein (Softball) and Tayler Tolefree (Volleyball).

Alyssa Golden (Portage, Mich.)
Golden has represented KU at the NCAA Zone Diving Championships for the last two years, set career-bests in the three-meter (265.28) and the platform (158.80), and was named to the Academic All-Big 12 First Team.

Abbey Lozenski (Lansing, Kan.)
A 5-foot Varsity Four coxswain, Lozenski is small in stature, but big in heart. The Academic All-Big 12 First Team member also serves as the SAAC President. During the 2012 holiday season, she was the driving force behind the Adopt an Angel program and joined her teammates in collecting more than $300 to buy gifts for less fortunate children in the area. One particular gift – a guitar on a teenage boy’s wish list – required a little extra money, so she and her teammates reached out via social networks to get even more people to donate, including an old teammate, who was able to make the wish come true.

Toben Opurum (Richardson, Texas)
Opurum spent the last three seasons at KU on the defensive side of the ball after a stellar freshman campaign as a running back. In 2009, Opurum was the first freshman to lead Kansas in rushing in a season since Clark Green in 2002 as he carried the ball 133 times for a team-best 554 yards and nine touchdowns. He is returning to his roots with the Kansas City Chiefs as he is slated to play fullback in the NFL.

Maddie Stein (El Reno, Okla.)
Voted by her teammates as a team captain in only her sophomore year, Stein has shown excellent leadership on the field. Aside from leading the team in RBIs and landing a spot on the NFCA All-Region Team this spring, Stein is also hugely instrumental as an officer with SAAC and loves to get her teammates involved with her many community service projects. An Academic All-Big 12 First Team member, Stein was also voted to become KU’s Big 12 SAAC Representative and was selected to attend the Big 12 Leadership Summit this summer.

Tayler Tolefree (Lawrence, Kan.)
Tolefree finished her career all over the Jayhawk record books, making a name for herself as a blocking machine and an accurate attacker. She became the only Jayhawk in history to hit 1.000 for a match last season, going 10-for-10 against West Virginia. Her value, however, may be even higher away from volleyball as the doctor-to-be was named the inaugural Big 12 Volleyball Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

Crimson Climb Award
The Crimson Climb Award is presented to a student-athlete who has overcome academic challenges and has made consistent scholastic progress. This year’s nominees include Thanuttra “Fhong” Boonraksasat (Women’s Golf), Paris Daniels (Track and Field), Tony Pierson (Football) and Liana Salazar (Soccer).

Thanuttra “Fhong” Boonraksasat (Nonthaburi, Thailand)
Boonraksasat was second on the KU team in 2012-13 with a 75.9 stroke average. She was KU’s top scorer in five of 12 events during the season and posted six top-10 finishes, including five of those in the top five. Her highest placing in 2012-13 was runner-up twice at the Marilynn Smith Sunflower Invitational and the Indiana Invitational.

Paris Daniels (St. Louis, Mo.)
After transferring to the KU track team prior to her junior year, Daniels quickly became one of, if not the most prized and versatile athletes for the Jayhawks. In her two years with the team she claimed six conference championships in the 200 meters, 4×100-meter and 4×400-meter relays and was named a First Team All-American an additional eight times.

Tony Pierson (East St. Louis, Mo.)
Pierson was selected All-Big 12 Honorable Mention by both the league’s coaches and the Associated Press. He finished seventh in the Big 12 with 69.1 yards per game and tallied 100-plus yards on the ground in three games, including the first 200-yard by a Jayhawk since 2006.

Liana Salazar (Bogota, Colombia)
Being forced to sit out her sophomore year after a stellar freshman campaign for KU Soccer, Liana Salazar has defined the word relentless when it comes to her work in the classroom. Almost unable to speak a word of English when she first arrived at KU, Salazar is now fluent in the language and has become one of the Jayhawks’ top students, not to mention one of the team’s top returning players in 2013.

Rock Chalk Moment of the Year
This year’s nominees for the greatest moment include the men’s basketball team clinching its ninth-straight Big 12 regular season championship, volleyball’s season sweep of K-State and NCAA postseason run, women’s basketball’s second-consecutive run to the NCAA Sweet 16 and women’s track and field’s NCAA Outdoor Championship.

Men’s Basketball
En route to winning its unprecedented ninth-consecutive Big 12 regular-season championship, Elijah Johnson scored a career-high 39 points in KU’s 108-96 overtime win at Iowa State. Johnson’s 39 points were the most scored by a Jayhawk since the 1991 season. He scored Kansas’ final eight points, including two game-tying free throws to send the game into overtime. He then kept his hot hand by scoring 12 of KU’s 18 overtime points in the victory. Included in the final 30 seconds of regulation and the overtime period were four three-pointers.

Women’s Basketball
Advancing to the regional round of the NCAA Basketball Championship is truly sweet.  But going to back-to-back NCAA Sweet 16s? Now, that’s twice as nice. That is exactly where the 2012-13 Kansas women’s basketball team found itself after posting consecutive upset victories over nationally-ranked Colorado (67-52) and South Carolina (75-69) in the first and second rounds of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, despite being seeded No. 12.

In both of its meetings with rival Kansas State last season, Kansas found itself facing a 1-0 deficit after the first set. And in both of those meetings, the Jayhawks rallied for a comeback, sweeping the Wildcats for the first time since 2009. Each team was ranked during the home-and-home season series, making it no surprise that both resulted in thrilling contests. When the teams met in Manhattan last November, the Jayhawks were without their starting libero and were handily defeated in the opening set. Rallying together, Kansas stormed back to take the next three sets – all by two points. The season sweep powered KU to a third-place finish in the Big 12, the highest in program history. Armed with a top-25 ranking for the final eight weeks of the season and a top-10 RPI mark, KU was awarded a No. 11 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and for the first time, hosted the First and Second Rounds in Lawrence. Due to a capacity requirement, the Jayhawks hosted the national tournament from Allen Fieldhouse and was supported by nearly 9,000 fans in a two-day span – the highest attendance of any NCAA regional host site.

Women’s Track and Field
The women’s track & field team made history this season when the team took home the program’s first NCAA National Championship. The title, which was the first for a women’s team at Kansas, was won by an eye-popping 26 points and  proved that this year’s team was truly the nation’s best. The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.