Athletes of the Year to be Crowned at Rock Chalk Choice Awards

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas’ list of history makers and record breakers includes all-league performers, NCAA champions and future professional stars and this year’s collection of Rock Chalk Choice Awards nominees for Female and Male Athlete of the Year is one of the brightest yet. Fourteen Kansas Jayhawks – nine females and five males – have been nominated as KU’s top student-athlete with the winner being announced at the fourth annual Rock Chalk Choice Awards, an Academy Awards-like celebration at the Lied Center Sunday evening.
Chelsea Albers (volleyball), Daniella Chavez (softball), Sydney Conley (track & field), Chelsea Gardner (basketball), Yupaporn “Mook” Kawinpakorn (golf), Claudijah Lever (rowing), Maria Belen Luduena (tennis), Chelsie Miller (swimming & diving), Caroline Van Slambrock (soccer) were all nominated for Kansas Female Athlete of the Year, to be presented by Kansas soccer great Holly Gault. Perry Ellis (basketball), Chase Hanna (golf), Ben Heeney (football), Ben Krauth (baseball), Michael Stigler (track & field) were nominated for the Male Athlete of the Year, which will be presented by former KU basketball guard and newly hired staff member Aaron Miles.

Additionally, the nominating committee revealed the candidates for Moment of the Year, which will be presented by recently graduated Kansas track and field star Andrea Geubelle. Those moments include the softball team’s walk-off win to secure an NCAA Tournament bid, a rally by the rowing team to top Kansas State in the Sunflower Showdown, Stigler’s NCAA Championship final race and men’s basketball’s clinching of its 11th-straight Big 12 Conference title.  

Albers helped Kansas volleyball to its third-straight NCAA Tournament appearance while becoming just the seventh player in team history to record more than 900 kills and 800 digs during her career. The Papillon, Nebraska native closed her Jayhawk career by collecting All-Big 12 First Team honors, as well as AVCA All-Midwest Region First Team recognition.

Chavez blasted her way onto the scene with 16 home runs, a Kansas freshman record, and 67 runs batted in, an all-class program mark, while being named the Co-Big 12 Freshman of the Year in addition to All-Big 12 First Team honors. The Crowley, Texas native was a finalist for the NFCA’s Freshman of the Year and helped the Jayhawks make it back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances.

Conley leaped to All-America honors with a fifth-place finish in the long jump at the NCAA Championships in the long jump. The accolade was the third of the Fayetteville, Arkansas native’s career and capped a season that saw her claim the Big 12 Championship in long jump before closing the outdoor season with a 14th-place finish at the USA Championships.

Gardner, a Desoto, Texas native, finished 12th on Kansas’ all-time scoring list with 1,516 points and earned her second All-America honorable mention honor before being selected in the second round of the 2015 WNBA Draft. She averaged 16.8 points and 8.6 blocks per game as a senior while earning All-Big 12 First Team recognition.

Kawinpakorn continued to lower the Kansas single-season scoring average record, a mark she replaced as a freshman and sophomore before dropping it further during her junior campaign. The Samuthprakan, Thailand native earned WGCA All-Region honors after finishing tied for 10th at the NCAA Regional, one of eight total top-10 finishes last season.

Lever, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was named Kansas rowing’s Oarswoman of the 
Year after helping the Jayhawks to a win over Kansas State in the Sunflower Showdown, in addition to a career of significant contributions in the Jayhawks’ top boats. Lever earned KU’s Marlene Mawson Award and was a nominee for NCAA Woman of the Year.

Luduena, a Curico, Chile native, earned Academic All-Big 12 First Team honors in 2015, her third academic accolade from the league office and was one of Kansas tennis’ most consistent contributors in her final season with the Jayhawks.

Miller lowered three of her own school records at the Big 12 Championship meet and finished as conference runner-up in three different events before representing Kansas at the NCAA Championships. The Houston, Texas native earned All-America recognition in the 400-IM for the second time at the national meet and placed in the top three a total of 36 times during races last season.

A native of Kingwood, Texas, Van Slambrouck played in 78 of 80 games as a Jayhawk, including 20 of 21 matches during the 2014 season as one of the Jayhawks’ central defenders. With her help, the KU defense allowed the fewest regular-season goals (12) in the Big 12 and tallied the third-lowest goals-against average in school history at 0.80 opponent goals per game. She was named Academic All-American by the NSCAA last season.

Ellis averaged 13.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game while surpassing 1,000 points for his career, all while helping lead Kansas to its 11th-straight Big 12 Conference title. The senior-to-be from Wichita, Kansas, was named the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

A 2015 Academic All-Big 12 First Team selection, Hanna led KU as a sophomore last season with an average 72.30 strokes per round, besting his average from his freshman year at 73.24. Hanna finished 2014-15 with two top-five finishes and six top-20 placings, including eight rounds in the 60’s. He also led KU in scoring in five of its 12 events.

Heeney, from Hutchinson, Kansas, concluded his senior season ranking second in the Big 12 and 12th nationally with 127 tackles, including 88 solo stops—which ranked first in the conference and second in the NCAA. Heeney recorded a 2014 Big 12 high 21 tackles against Texas Tech. The 2014 First Team All-Big 12 selection was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

Krauth finished his first Big 12 season with a 3-3 record and 2.45 ERA in eight conference starts and was tabbed as the league’s Newcomer of the Year. In 55 innings pitched, the southpaw from Concord, California, struck out 54 batters and held opponents to a .236 batting average. His 54 strikeouts in conference play ranked first, while his 2.45 ERA ranked seventh.

Stigler, a Canyon, Texas native, became Kansas’ 36th individual NCAA outdoor champion when he ran to the 400-meter hurdle title, after two seasons as the NCAA runner-up. Stigler also became the first Jayhawk in program history to earn First Team All-America honors in a single event in four-consecutive years.

Following a red-carpet entrance and a reception in the Lied Center of Kansas lobby, 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 during an Academy Awards-like ceremony.

Other KU history makers and record breakers presenting awards include Bryan Sperry (football) for the Jayhawker Award; Ernie Shelby (track & field) for academics; Steve Renko (football, baseball and basketball) for Best Jayhawk in a Supporting Role; David Jaynes (football) for the Crimson Climb Award; Billy Thomas (basketball) for athletic All-America recognition; and Tammy Thomas-Ammons for the True Blue Award.

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. This year’s invitees also include Hall of Fame level donors to Kansas’ Williams Education Fund. A tape-delayed presentation of the Rock Chalk Choice Awards will be aired at a later date on Time Warner Cable SportsChannel. The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.