2011-12 ISU Athlete of the Year Nominees Announced
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Aug. 14, 2012
NORMAL, Ill. - The 11 nominees for the annual Jill Hutchison Female Athlete of the Year and the Milt Weisbecker Male Athlete of the Year awards have been announced. Four male and seven female student-athletes are in the running for the awards that honor the best athletic performances of the 2011-12 academic year and will be presented at the annual Walk of Champions Sunday, Aug. 19.
The seven female nominees are Jordan Birch (softball), Katie Jean (women's golf), Jamie Russell (women's basketball), Brittany Smith (women's track & field), Rachel Tejada (soccer), Robin Weissman (gymnastics) and Wenting Zhang (Diving). The four male nominees are Eric Brunner (football), Jon Ekey (men's basketball), Tim Glover (men's track & field) and Zac Johnson (baseball).
The female athlete of the year award is named in honor of Hutchison, who retired from coaching women's basketball in 1999 after racking up 461 wins in 28 seasons at Illinois State. Now a radio analyst for Redbird broadcasts, Hutchison was a pioneer and advocate for women in athletics throughout her coaching career. A banner in her honor hangs from the Redbird Arena rafters and she was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.
Birch ended her Redbird career as an All-MVC First-Team selection, was named to the Valley Softball Championships All-Tournament Team and was the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the tournament, as well as the Illinois State's MVP. Birch started 37 games as a senior, which set a single-season record at ISU. The Monroe, Wash., native finished her senior season with a record of 25-14 and 233 strikeouts in 238.1 innings pitched. Birch's wins, strikeouts and innings pitched led the Valley during the 2012 season. In the NCAA Tournament, Birch threw 16-straight scoreless innings and led the softball team to the NCAA Regional Finals for only the second time in program history.
As a junior, Jean made a big impact on the women's golf team, as she won the individual title at the 2012 Missouri Valley Conference Championship, after firing a career-best score of 220 (74-74-72). With the win, she was also named to the All-Valley Team and was the recipient of the MVC Elite-18 Award for the second-straight season. Jean finished the season with three top-5 finishes and three top-10 finishes and was named the Valley Golfer of the Week (Oct. 26, 2011). The Rantoul, Ill., native led the Redbirds to a second-place finish in the Valley Championship with a team score of 913.
Russell had to sit out the 2010-11 season due to NCAA transfer rules, but in her first season with the Redbirds, Russell had an immediate impact on the women's team. The six-time MVC Newcomer of the Week honoree led ISU in assists, steals, free throw percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio. Russell led the Valley in steals and finished on the top-10 list in assists, free throw percentage, assist/turnover ratio and minutes played. The Rock Falls, Ill., native scored in double figures in 20 games as a junior, including 10-consecutive double-digit performances. Between her individual performance and leading ISU to a second-place finish in the Valley, after the team was predicted to finish sixth, Russell was named the Valley Newcomer of the Year and earned All-Valley First Team honors and All-Defensive Team honors.
From three All-American honors at the NCAA Track and Field Championships to a gold medal at the North American Central American and Caribbean Under 23-Championships in the shot put, Smith continued her stellar Redbird career. Smith claimed two runner-up performances at the 2012 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, scoring 16 points for the Redbirds en route to the team's highest finish at the championships in school history. The Oak Park, Ill., native also qualified for the Olympic Trials, finishing 11th in the hammer and 10th in the shot put. The six-time All-American claimed three runner-up performances at the Valley Championships, after earning the Tony Wilson Award at the Sea Ray Relays for the Most Outstanding Female Field Athlete of the meet. She holds every Illinois State throwing record, except for the discus throw, where she ranks No. 2.
As a freshman, Tejada led the Redbird offense for the soccer team. Tejada broke the Valley and ISU single-season goal record with 21 and also set single-season program highs in points and shots on goal. Tejada was the nation's third-leading goal scorer and was fourth in the country in goals per game, points per game and total points. The Troy, Ill., native led the Valley in shots, goals, points and game-winning goals. For her efforts, she was named the Valley Player of the Year, only the second freshman in history of the league to earn the prestigious honor. She was also named the MVC Freshman of the Year, while earning All-MVC First-Team honors, All-Tournament Team honors and was a seven-time MVC Player of the Week. Tejada led the Redbirds to Valley regular-season and tournament titles, as ISU appeared in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in program history. She became the first player in program history to earn All-America honors when she was named to the Soccer America All-Freshman First-Team.
After suffering injuries during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, Weissman competed in three of the four events for the Redbirds during the 2011-12 season. She competed in every meet on the uneven bars and floor exercise except one. Weissman set three career-best scores during the season, including a 9.800 on the floor exercise, a 9.825 on the uneven bars and a 9.725 on the vault. The Norman, Okla., native was the Midwest Independent Conference (MIC) Champion on the uneven bars and led the Redbirds to the MIC Championship.
Sophomore Zhang, in her first year with the Redbirds, was named the Valley Diver of the Year, after a solid season on the 1-meter and 3-meter boards. At the Valley Championships, Zhang broke the MVC Championship record on the 3-meter board with a score of 313.15, earning the conference championship. On the 1-meter board, Zhang won the title with a score of 266.20. Zhang's impressive dives broke the ISU record in both the 1-meter and 3-meter categories.
The male athlete of the year award ¬is named for Weisbecker, the former athletics director who led Illinois State through times of change from 1966 to 1974. As athletics director, he successfully led the university's athletic program from the NCAA College Division into Division I status. Additionally, Weisbecker had an outstanding record in seven seasons as the Redbird's head golf coach, including a fourth-place NCAA College Division finish in 1969.
Brunner was named an All-Missouri Valley Football Conference First-Team selection, a MVFC All-Academic First Team honoree and a Football Championship Subdivision Athletics Directors Association (FCS ADA) Academic All-Star Team member for the second-straight season. The Greendale, Wis., native recorded four sacks and 9.5 tackles-for-loss, which were both career-highs. Brunner recorded seven tackles in five different games. He started all 11 games at defensive tackle and ranked fifth on the team with a career-high 53 tackles, including 23 solo stops.
Ekey played in all 35 games for the Redbirds, with 32 starting assignments during the 2011-12 season. He was named to the 2011 Cancun Challenge All-Tournament Team and made at least one three-pointer in 28 games and two or more treys in 19 contests. Ekey earned the Valley Male Scholar-Athlete of the Week honor four times during his junior season. The Independence, Mo., native was fourth on the team in scoring with 314 points, averaging 9.0 points per game. Ekey was second on the team in rebounds, bringing down 170 boards. At the end of his junior season, Ekey was named to the All-Valley Scholar-Athlete First Team, as well as the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Honors Court.
Glover won a gold medal at the 2012 North American Central American and Caribbean Under 23-Championships, after claiming his second-straight NCAA Division I National Title in the javelin, throwing a career-best 268-00, which set school and Valley records. Glover also qualified for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials, throwing 250-00 and finishing sixth. The Normal, Ill., native was named the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association - 2012 NCAA Division I National Men's Field Athlete of the Year for outdoor track & field. Glover also received the organization's award for Regional Male Field Athlete of the Year. Those accolades add to his third-straight Missouri Valley Conference title, as well as his second-straight Valley Most Outstanding Field Athlete award. He ended the season with the No. 1 ranked collegiate throw and the No. 4 best throw in the country.
Johnson transferred to Illinois State his junior year, after playing baseball at Heartland Community College as a sophomore. In his first year as a Redbird, Johnson was a key offensive player for the Redbirds. The infielder started 50 games for ISU and had a batting average of .323 with a .396 on-base percentage and a .516 slugging percentage. Johnson led the team in doubles with 15 to go along with his six homers, two triples and 43 RBI. For his success on the field, the Bloomington, Ill., native was named an All-Valley First-Team Selection.
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