Ellis, Levy Claim Top Honors at Rock Chalk Choice Awards

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – A 2016 All-American and Summer Olympics participant and perennial Big 12 champion and NCAA Tournament participant claimed KU’s Female and Male Athlete of the Year as Daina Levy and Perry Ellis claimed the top individual honors at the Rock Chalk Choice Awards inside the Lied Center Sunday evening. The Academy Awards-like event honoring the best athletic and academic achievements of the 2015-16 school year, also crowned volleyball with the Rock Chalk Moment of the Year via audience vote.   

With an event theme of “So We Know We Can Dance” the duo with perhaps the most extensive postseason resumes, claimed the top prize. Levy was a First Team All-American before representing Jamaica in the Rio Olympics, while Ellis led the Jayhawks in scoring, continued the team’s dominance of the Big 12 Conference and yet another NCAA appearance.

 Kansas volleyball showed their dancing moves.”It’s surreal. I don’t see myself as this super elite athlete – throwers don’t get that much respect or love or attention, so I’m not used to this,” Levy laughed after the show. “It’s an unbelievable honor, an unbelievable honor. This year has been a roller coaster – a lot of ups and a lot of downs – but that’s part of sport. There’s no better way to go out – of course I would’ve liked to compete better – than being an Olympian, which is something I didn’t even think was even possible two years ago. It’s amazing to me, I can’t believe I got this far – KU has brought me to new heights.”

Kansas football’s Josh Ehambe helped open the awards show with a collective moment of silence as the audience paid tribute to the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Following an opening video montage mimicking the Dance Dance Revolution video game, accompanied by highlights and statistics from the 2015-16 academic year, former Kansas soccer player and KU Leads staffer Cassie Dickerson welcomed the audience to the fifth annual show.  

The first award given Sunday night was the Jayhawker Award, presented in honor of the pioneers who held true to their values through hardship while founding the state of Kansas. This year’s recipient was men’s basketball’s Devonte’ Graham.

A series of academic accomplishments were recognized next, including the Robert E. Frederick Senior Scholar Athletes of the Year, Big 12’s Dr. Gerald Lage Award, members of the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll and the Best Overall Team GPA, the latter which went to soccer with a 3.41 team GPA. The Jayhawk CHAMPS Award, designed to reward those teams that participate in personal development opportunities as well as building camaraderie and ignite healthy competition among all Jayhawk teams went to the swimming and diving team for their attendance at home competitions, community service, Student-Athlete Advisory Committee participation, team GPA and involvement in KU Leads. This year’s Del Shankel Teaching Excellence Award was presented to the business school’s Jana Fitchett.  

Haley Molden was named the Best Jayhawk in a Supporting Role after serving as a significant contributor in all four of her years on the swimming and diving team, including the team’s top-two finishes at the Big 12 Championship with the highest point total at the meet coming last season. The award is presented to an athlete who demonstrates extraordinary sportsmanship, support and loyalty to teammates and Kansas Athletics.

The Crimson Climb Award went to football’s Fish Smithson, who led the nation in solo tackles per game a year ago and served as an inspiration to others by overcoming challenges and exceeding academic expectations. He received the award from former football player and recipient of the award, Anthony Davis.

Another student-athlete with a significant NCAA Tournament resume claimed the True Blue Award, given to a student-athlete who demonstrates an ability to excel in academics and athletics while advancing the mission of Kansas Athletics on campus and in the community. This year’s winner was Tayler Soucie, who helped lead KU to its first ever Final Four appearance in 2015, the latest in a series of postseason berths.

The final awards included the Female and Male Athlete of the Year presentations and the audience vote on last year’s top moment, which was built towards with video vignettes sprinkled throughout the show. Levy was selected from among eight women’s nominees and Ellis was picked out of a field of five men’s nominees, while volleyball was selected from a thrilling field of four possible moments. Down 13-9 in the last set, the Jayhawks finished the match on a 6-0 run to recover and complete the upset of the No. 1 team in the nation, the USC Trojans. The win secured the Jayhawks their first trip to the NCAA Final Four.

“Let’s keep this rolling,” Kansas head coach Ray Bechard, who has led his No. 4 Jayhawks to an 9-0 start in 2016, said before a closing dance number by KU’s Rock Chalk Dancers. 

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