The best of the best to be selected at the fifth annual Rock Chalk Choice Awards
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Conference champions, national statistical leaders, All-Americans, Olympians and future pros are among the 13 Kansas student-athletes – eight women and five men – vying for recognition as this year’s Female and Male Athletes of the Year at the Rock Chalk Choice Awards inside the Lied Center of Kansas on Sept. 11. The nominating committee also released the five candidates for Rock Chalk Moment of the Year.
The Academy Awards-like event, themed “So We Know We Can Dance,” will recognize the top team and individual performances of 2015-16 and the competition for top individual honors is deep. Chaley Brickey (softball), Maggie Duncan (rowing), Yupaporn “Mook” Kawinpakorn (golf), Daina Levy (track & field), Chelsie Miller (swimming & diving), Kelsey Payne (volleyball), Anastasia Rychagova (tennis) and Liana Salazar (soccer) comprise the women’s nominees, while Mitch Cooper (track & field), Perry Ellis (basketball), Ben Krauth (baseball), Connor Peck (golf) and Fish Smithson (football) are the men’s nominees.
The crowning of the top female and male Kansas Jayhawks will cap an evening that begins with a red-carpet entrance and a reception in the Lied Center lobby, followed by an awards show during which top honors 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.
The Female Athlete of the Year will receive her award from guest presenter Diamond Dixon, an Olympic Gold Medalist and past recipient. Highlights of the Female Athlete of the Year nominees’ 2015-16 efforts include:
- A senior from Haltom City, Texas, Brickey was named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Midwest All-Region First Team and led the team in batting average (.387), total bases (103) and home runs (10) while closing her career as the leader in multiple categories.
- Duncan, a senior from Mississauga, Ontario, showed great leadership and competitiveness, helping KU get to a third-place finish at the Big 12 Rowing Championship and earning KU’s Oarswoman of the Year award.
- Kawinpakorn, a senior from Samutprakan, Thailand, won a Kansas season-record five individual titles in 2015-16 and was named WGCA All-America Honorable Mention. Including a tie for fifth at the 2016 Big 12 Championship, Kawinpakorn was named to a school-record four career All-Big 12 Tournament Teams and lowered KU’s season scoring record all four years she was at KU.
- Levy, a senior from Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, claimed All-America First Team honors in the hammer throw after posting a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Championships. She later represented Jamaica in the Rio Olympics.
- Miller, a senior from Houston, Texas, earned All-America First Team honors with an eighth-place finish at the NCAA Championships in the 400-yard individual medley, capping one of the most decorated careers in recent Kansas history.
- In her junior year, Payne, an Austin, Texas native led with Jayhawks with 496 kills, averaging 4.39 kills per set, and earned Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week on four separate occasions en route to becoming an AVCA All-America First Team member. She was a crucial piece of Kansas’ run to its first ever NCAA Final Four appearance.
- During her freshman year, Rychagova, a native of Moscow, Russia, posted the best singles mark by any Jayhawk at 11-4 and became the first Jayhawk to be selected to compete at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championship. She helped propel the team to an NCAA Tournament selection.
- As a senior, Salazar, from Bogotá, Colombia, led the Jayhawks in goals (7), assists (4) and points (18). During the Big 12 semifinals, Salazar netted two goals against Baylor to help KU advance into the Big 12 Championship Final.
The Male Athlete of the Year will receive the award from Michael Stigler, a three-time recipient and the first Jayhawk in program history to earn First Team All-America honors in a single event in four-consecutive years, including his senior year when he won an NCAA title. Last year’s top male performers include:
- Cooper, a junior from Burpengary, Queensland, Australia, earned All-America Second Team honors following his 11th-place outing in the discus at the NCAA Championships.
- During his senior year, Ellis, a Wichita, Kansas native led the team in scoring, averaging 16.9 points per game, resulting in him being a consensus All-America Second Team member, All Big-12 First Team member and a finalist for the Wooden Award as the best college basketball player in the nation.
- Krauth, a native of Concord, California, led the Jayhawks’ pitching staff in strikeouts with 103 as a senior, consistently keeping Kansas in games as the team’s staff ace and Friday night starter while earning All-Big 12 First Team honors.
- Peck, from Ankeny, Iowa, competed in all 13 events during his senior year while finishing the season leading the Jayhawks in seven different categories, including scoring average, top-20 finishes and rounds in the 60’s.
- Smithson, a Baltimore, Maryland native, led the nation in solo tackles during his junior season, averaging 7.9 stops per game. Smithson had double-digit total tackles in eight of the 11 games he played in, three of which he recorded double-digit solo tackles.
Additionally, the top moment of 2015-16 will be announced during the ceremony. Trimming down another lengthy list of thrilling contests, conference feats, record-breaking performances and national-level excellence was no small task in itself, but this year’s nominees include:
- Volleyball win over USC to advance to Final Four: 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.
- Men’s basketball triple-OT win against Oklahoma: After three overtimes, multiple chances to win in the final seconds for both teams and a two-hour-and-53-minute span, the Jayhawks edged out Oklahoma 109-106 in one of the best games of the 2015-16 college basketball season. Kansas had three players score over 20 points while Oklahoma was led by Buddy Hield’s 46 points.
- Tennis win over Texas: It took a four-and-a-half-hour match to erase 27 years of bad memories, but Kansas finally captured its first-ever win over the Longhorns. The win moved the Jayhawks to 12-2 on the season, their best mark to open a season since 1998.
- Women’s cross country regionals: Kansas finished fifth at the NCAA Midwest regional, led by then-freshman Sharon Lodeki’s third-place finish. The finish not only led her team for the fourth time on the year, but it also earned her an individual automatic bid to the NCAA National Championships, where she placed 10th, the highest finish by a KU women’s runner at the national meet.
As in years past, due to space limitations at the Lied Center the event is by invitation only and limited to athletic department staff, student-athletes, and selected KU faculty and dignitaries. Nominees for all seven major awards have been announced. A live stream of the Rock Chalk Choice Awards red carpet entrance will be available via the Kansas Jayhawks Facebook page from 6:15-6:45 p.m. Sunday evening.
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