BOULDER — Over a dozen major awards were presented here Tuesday night as the University of Colorado honored its best at the 14th annual CUSPY Awards (CU Sports Performers of the Year).
Over 400 student-athletes, coaches, staff and C-Club members attended the year-end banquet at the Coors Events Center, organized by CU’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) to honor athletic accomplishments for the 2013-14 athletic year.
All who attend are usually given a special gift for the evening, either an item of apparel or some sort of keepsake; however, the athletes involved in organizing the event decided to take sweatshirts numbering 500 in all and donate them to Special Olympics Colorado for assorted uses among their sport programs.
The Female Athlete of the Year Award had a strong field of candidates, but in the end, volleyball’s Taylor Simpson emerged as the choice of the selection committee.
Simpson, both an honorable mention All-Pac 12 and AVCA All-Pacific South Region performer, led CU to an 18-14 record and the school’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2006. The Buffs’ offensive most valuable player, she recorded 14 double-doubles, led CU in kills (390), was second in dogs (288) and third in blocks (68). She played key roles in two of CU’s biggest wins in recent memory, over No. 1 Washington and No. 11 UCLA, as well as in the Buffs’ defeating Iowa State to advance to the second round in NCAA play.
The other three finalists were Jessica Honkonen (skiing), Shalaya Kipp (cross country and track) and Anne Stuller (soccer).
Rune Oedegaard (skiing) and Josh Scott (basketball) were the co-recipients of the Male Athlete of the Year Award, the second straight year the award was split between Oedegaard and a men’s hoopster; he shared it last year with Andre Roberson.
Oedegaard repeated as the 10-kilometer classical titlist at the NCAA Championships, the first skier to ever do so in the 32-year history of the event. He earned first-team All-America honors in the process, bringing the number to four in his career. He was the RMISA (regional) champion in both the classic and freestyle races, and won five races in all this winter.
Scott became the team’s most consistent performer after junior Spencer Dinwiddie was lost for the season with a knee injury. Named a first-team All-Pac 12 performer, he averaged 14.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, blocking 40 shots in leading the Buffaloes to a 23-12 record and a tie for third in the conference.
The other finalists were Paul Richardson (football) and Ben Saarel (cross country and track).
The Female Career Athletic Achievement Award, while there were many exceptional candidates, was the easiest choice for the committee: Kipp. The nine-time All-American in cross country, indoor and outdoor track and 2012 U.S. Olympian in the steeplechase, she was the steeple champ in both the Pac-12 and the NCAA’s in 2012. She finished eighth in the NCAA cross country meet last fall to become CU’s first four-time, first-team All-American in the sport, and was seventh in the 5,000-meter run in the NCAA Indoor Championships last month among her many accomplishments.
The other finalists were Jennifer Coleman (golf), Kerra Schroeder (volleyball) and Brittany Wilson (basketball).
The Male Career Athletic Achievement Award went to Andreas Haug (skiing). A big contributor toward two Colorado NCAA championship runs as a freshman in 2011 and a junior in 2013, he earned first-team All-Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association honors on two occasions, the first time as a freshman when he was the alpine MVP. He finished 52 of 56 collegiate races, 19 of those top 10 efforts (nine in the top 5 with two wins). He also owns a 3.89 grade point average in Business.
The other two finalists were Joe Bosshard (cross country and track) and Chidera Uzo-Diribe (football). Eligibility for career awards were decided to be limited to seniors only long ago, thus juniors like Richardson or Dinwiddie are not considered.
The Male Freshman Athlete of the Year Award was the first in the 14 years of the CUSPY’s that any honor was shared among three athletes – and each recipient in any other year could have easily stood on his own. Ben Saarel (cross country), Addison Gillam (football) and Mads Stroem (skiing) were the tri-recipients.
Saarel led the Buffaloes to NCAA cross country title with an eighth place finish, was CU’s third scorer in helping the Buffs to a third straight Pac-12 crown, was Colorado’s first true freshman to earn All-American honors since 2002 and also earned first-team All-Pac 12 and All-Mountain Region honors.
Gillam set several freshman records on the football team, including 119 total tackles, a number that led the entire team, the first time a freshman has ever done so. His 78 solo tackles were also a frosh record, as were his 18 tackles against Oregon for a single-game. He played 838 snaps from scrimmage, the most ever on defense by a Buff freshman. He also led the team in third down stops (15) and in tackles for zero (11). He earned first-team Freshman All-American and honorable mention All-Pac 12 honors.
Stroem was the NCAA individual champion in the 20-kilometer freestyle race in Soldier Hollow, Utah, and also finished fourth in the 10-kilometer classical to earn first-team All-America honors in both disciplines. He earned first-team All-RMISA honors as he had six top three finishes in eight races, including two wins in his rookie season.
The other finalist was Jeremy Paul (golf).
Soccer player Brie Hooks captured the Female Freshman Athlete of the Year Award. An All-Pac-12 Freshman Team selection and U-20 National Team training camp invitee, she had one of the strongest debuts in CU soccer history. Hooks became the first Buff to record multiple goals in her debut, scoring two in CU's 3-0 win over Northern Colorado, and in her next game, had her first game-winner, CU’s only score in a 1-0 triumph over Colorado College. She had both game winners in back to-back wins over St. Mary's and Alabama and had four game-winning goals overall, fourth-best in CU history. Despite missing CU's first four conference games due to an injury, Hooks ended the season with 18 points, scoring eight goals with two assists, the point and goal totals the top marks by a CU freshman.
Hook bested Marie Moore (lacrosse), Nuria Ormeno Ruiz (tennis) and Cierra Simpson (volleyball).
The selection committee does leave open the possibility that the Athlete-of-the-Year and Freshmen awards could be augmented once the spring sport seasons are complete in fairness to those sports (golf, lacrosse, outdoor track, tennis) that still have important portions of their seasons ahead of them. At present, the committee will keep a watchful eye on what golfers like Jennifer Coleman and Jeremy Paul do in the NCAA championships, and monitor several athletes in outdoor track, including Kipp, Saarel and Emily Hunsucker, who has enjoyed a fine spring in the hammer throw.
SAAC members selected several award winners, including the CU Sports "Moment of the Year." The winning moment came when the men’s cross country team won the school’s fourth national championship in the sport last November 23, three weeks after claiming it third straight Pac-12 title. Runner-up moments were Askia Booker’s 3-point shot that defeated No. 6 Kansas at the buzzer, 75-72, in men’s basketball, and women’s soccer defeating Denver, 1-0, in the first round of the NCAA tournament on the Pioneers’ home field.
Athletic director Rick George was recognized as the staff member of the year; though spending much of his time fundraising for CU’s Athletic Complex Expansion project and managing the department in general, he has still found time to be present at most home athletic events, serve as the administrator for the women’s lacrosse program, regularly meet with recruits, hold meetings with team captains of all programs to interact with them and receive their feedback, and has made it known that his door is always open to meet with any student-athlete.
The Student Athlete Support Award was given to the Facilities & Grounds staff for the department’s incredible hard work dealing with the record rainfall and subsequent flooding last September, repairing and readying all of CU’s fields or practice and play among all of their regular responsibilities. In addition, they were tasked with helping to repair portions of Coal Creek Golf Course that were to serve as the course for the Pac-12 Cross Country Championships that CU hosted six weeks after the floods that decimated the property, which has yet to reopen. The Herbst Academic Center and the Sports Medicine staffs were also finalists.
The prestigious Buffalo Award of Distinction, given to student-athletes of each gender for outstanding contributions to his or her team, their peers and the athletic department overall, were presented to Jessica Aschenbrenner (volleyball) and Andreas Haug (skiing). Both participated in several CU community outreach projects, including Buffalo Hugs, Read With The Buffs and the Holiday Angel Tree, as well as other community activities.
The SAAC Distinguished Service Award, presented to senior members who contributed significantly to the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, was given to nine seniors: Aschenbrenner, Hunsucker, Kipp, Beau Gamble (basketball), Lindsay Hubbard (cross country and track), Hayley Hughes (soccer), Winde Janssens (tennis), Fletcher McDonald (skiing) and Juda Parker (football).
The Spencer Nelson Buffalo Spirit Award, formerly the Athlete’s Choice Award and renamed for the CU skier who died in a tragic hiking accident in August 2010, was presented to sprinter Kyle MacIntosh. This honor is presented to the student or students who demonstrated outstanding spirit, enthusiasm and leadership while overcoming adversity. MacIntosh is fighting to overcome some personal health issues and has taken time out from competing at present.
The Sports Performance Awards were presented to Elysse Richardson (volleyball) and Cameron Smith (skiing).
Originally created in 2001, the annual event is one of the most popular among the athletes, as they have tailored the function to be the final social gathering solely amongst themselves for the last time before finals and summer vacation, if not for a longer period of time for those graduating. It is believed to be one of the only events in the country almost entirely organized by the student-athletes, and certainly was among, if not, the first.