June 19, 2006
Cullowhee, N.C. - Sophomore sprinter Zeb Johnson (men's track & field) and freshman pitcher Mendy McKenzie (softball) were today named Western Carolina's Student-Athletes of the Year for the 2005-06 athletic season, as announced by the WCU Athletic Department. The two will be officially recognized and honored in August during a brief ceremony at the annual student-athlete meeting. Johnson edged out his classmate, men's golfer Matt Cook, for the yearly award, while junior Asia Davis was the runner-up on the women's side.
Both Johnson and McKenzie helped lead their respective squads to Southern Conference championships this season. Johnson guided men's track to team titles during both the indoor and outdoor seasons, while McKenzie, a 22-game winner, helped the first-year Catamount softball team capture the SoCon regular season championship. Part of the inaugural softball team's success helped the Catamount women post its best-ever finish in the race for the SoCon's Germann Cup, posting a third-place showing just half a point out of second.
In an effort to include all of the accomplishments of the 2005-06 athletic teams in the decision of athlete of the year, Western abstained from voting on the awards until the conclusion of the Catamount baseball and track & field seasons. All team MVPs, as voted on by each individual sport's coaching staff and players, were considered in naming the overall student-athletes of the year. A full-listing of WCU 2005-06 MVPs is included below.
Johnson (Charlotte, N.C.) garnered both the men's indoor and outdoor track & field team Most Valuable Player awards, sharing the indoor award with junior Dan Fassinger, as handed out by the WCU coaching staff after a pair of tremendous seasons. During indoor, Johnson garnered first-place finishes in the 55-meter dash (6.39) at the Mountaineer Winter Open in Boone, and in the 400-meter dash (49.32) at the Clemson Invitational. He led the WCU seasonal performance charts in the 55-meter, 60-meter, and 200-meter dash events, while also running on the 4x400-meter relay team. The second-year sprinter earned the Catamount men's lone indoor weekly honor on February 8 as he was tabbed the SoCon's Male Indoor Track & Field Athlete of the Week. Winning both the 60- and 200-meter dashes, while also finishing second in the 400 meters at the SoCon Championship meet to earn all-conference accolades, Johnson was named the SoCon's Most Outstanding Track Performer as the Catamounts claimed their third indoor title all-time and second in the past three years.
As the reigning SoCon Men's Freshman of the Year from the outdoor season, Johnson continued to excel once the squad began competing outside. During the season, he set a both a Catamount Athletic Complex and WCU school-record in the men's 200-meter, crossing the line in 20.88 to take first-place and qualify for the NCAA East Regional at the Western Invitational. Johnson would taste individual victory two additional times during the outdoor season - winning the 100- and 200-meter dash events at the SoCon Outdoor Championships in Statesboro, Ga.
As a part of both the men's 4x100 and 4x400-meter relay teams, Johnson stood atop the podium on a combined four occasions, qualifying for the regional meet an equal number of times. Western's men won both of the relay events at the SoCon Championship en route to their second-ever outdoor team title, sweeping both seasons. Two weeks later, at the Georgia Tech Invitational in mid-May, Johnson and three teammates clocked a pair of school records in both the 400-meter and 1,600-meter relays. Joined by sophomore Mike Malone, senior Milton Bolton, and freshman Kevin Johnson, the four Catamounts turned a quick lap of 40.23 in the 4x100-meter, while freshman Manteo Mitchell replaced his freshman counterpart, Kevin Johnson, in the 1,600-meter event as the four passed the baton in 3:08.34 to win the event and set a school benchmark.
Including his one weekly award during the indoor season, Johnson was honored twice as the SoCon Track & Field Athlete of the Week, also earning one recognition in early-April of the outdoor season. He was a two-time SoCon Men's Track & Field Athlete of the Month, tallying the indoor honor for February and the outdoor award for April, while also being named the WCU Student-Athlete of the Month for February.
McKenzie (Clemmons, N.C.), the team MVP for Catamount softball, was the lead-edge of a two-pronged pitching attack with SoCon Freshman of the Year Jenny Jackson, that helped lead Western Carolina to the Southern Conference softball regular season crown in its inaugural season. The lone Catamount to earn preseason all-conference accolades, McKenzie was a virtual lock for the SoCon's Pitcher of the Year honor after leading the league in wins (22) and strikeouts (207) during the regular season, while also ranking second in overall earned run average (2.17), and third in conference-only ERA (1.88) with 10 SoCon victories. Also during the season, the rookie right-hander earned a conference-record five pitcher of the week accolades and stands just four awards shy of tying the all-time career record of nine. She also garnered the league's pitcher of the month honor twice, doing so in both February and March.
McKenzie concluded Western's inaugural season with a 2.28 earned run average (ERA), third in the SoCon, in 196.2 innings pitched. Fanning three in the conference championship, McKenzie finished with 210 strikeouts in her rookie season, which ranks seventh on the SoCon's all-time single-season charts, while also posting a 22-7 overall record to land in the conference's all-time top 10.
The Clemmons, N.C., native holds the distinction of throwing the first-ever pitch (a strike versus Tennessee Tech, 2/11/06), recording the first strikeout (vs. TTU, 2/11/06), and tallying the first-ever win (vs. TTU, 2/11/06) and save (vs. UNC Wilmington, 3/11/06). She also holds the school record for strikeouts in a game, fanning 11 on two separate occasions (vs. Pittsburgh, 3/7/06; vs. North Carolina A&T, 4/13/06). In mid-May, McKenzie joined SoCon homerun record holder, junior teammate Ashley Adams, as Western's first-ever selections to the 2006 Louisville Slugger / National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Division I Southeastern All-Region team, as chosen by NFCA member coaches from each region.
The following were named their respective sports Most Valuable Players during the 2005-06 season:
Baseball: Jonathan Greene (sophomore from Boone, N.C.) came on strong the second half of the season to earn first team All-Southern Conference accolades. A mere two weeks before the end of the regular season, Greene did not rank among the league leaders in any offensive category. However, after closing the regular season with a nine-game hit streak and hitting a home run in the final five regular-season contests, Greene ended the year ranked second in home runs (14), sixth in total bases (136), ninth in RBI (54) and ninth in hits (81) while raising his batting average nearly 90 points. Over the final month, Greene led Western with a .476 batting average (30-for-63) with 12 of those hits going for extra bases, including a team-best seven home runs, adding 14 runs scored in 15 games with a team-best 20 RBI. This season, he was named was named Southern Conference Player of the Week and was named one of Collegiate Baseball / Louisville Slugger's" National Players of the Week after batting .722 with five home runs in earning the honor.
Men's Basketball: Corey Muirhead (senior from York, Ontario) became Western's "go-to" guy down the stretch. With him averaging 19.5 points over his final eight games, including for 20-point outings, he scored eclipsed the 1,000-point plateau for his career, finishing with 1,025 career points. This past season, he had three double-doubles and established a career high in scoring twice. First, he scored 23 points to hand Davidson a 77-70 loss, snapping the Wildcats 19-game winning streak in Belk Arena. Then, he scored a career-high 28 points, making 12-of-20 shots from the field at Appalachian State. Muirhead ended the season 18th in the SoCon and second on the team in scoring (12.0 ppg) and 13th in steals (1.5 avg.).
Women's Basketball: Monique Dawson (sophomore from Charlotte N.C.) was named to the Southern Conference Women's Basketball Championship All-Tournament second team. She averaged 14.5 points in leading the Lady Catamounts to a win over Appalachian State and a near upset of top-seed and eventual champion Chattanooga. Dawson, who was the team's high scorer 10 times in 2005-06, finished second on the team in scoring (11.0 points per game), while leading the Catamounts in free throws made (98) and steals (43). During the second half of the season, Dawson recorded double-digit scoring outputs in 15 of the 19 games to lead the team in scoring over the span. She recorded her career-high with 23 point in the road win over Appalachian State, including eight of WCU's first 10 points. Another big game for the sophomore was scoring 20 at home versus Wofford and adding 11 rebounds for her first career double-double.
Cheerleading: Co-winners Alyson Clayton (Raleigh, N.C.) and Callie Utz (Greensboro, N.C.). Clayton, a senior and four-year member, was captain on this past year's squad. Utz is also a senior and four-year member, who received All-American status from the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) last August in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Men's Cross Country: Adam Puett (senior from Huntsville, Ala.) was tabbed All-SoCon after finishing fifth in the Championship race, leading Western with a time of 25:14.07 and placing 15th on WCU's all-time men's 8K individual bests list. Puett finished second at the South Carolina Invitational helping his team to a first place finish. He ran the 12th-best WCU men's 8K race (25:11) at the Great American Cross Country Festival, finishing 13th overall. Puett had a strong showing at the NCAA Southeast Regionals, placing 46th and earning the sixth-best 10K time in WCU history (31:38).
Women's Cross Country: Kerrie Savery (sophomore from Palm Harbor, Fla.) lead the Catamounts in four of six races, beginning with the Great American Cross Country Festival where she finished 37th with a time of 19:24, 26th quickest in WCU women's history. Placed 31st at the Blue Ridge Open Meet (19:58) and 22nd at the SoCon Championship race. Her time of 19:13 became 23rd in all-time bests for WCU. At the NCAA Southeast Regionals, she ran the 4th quickest 6K time in WCU history (23:26) and finishing in 31st place.
Football: Lamar Barnes (senior from Clayton, N.C.) was named to both the 2005 All-SoCon teams, as voted by the coaches as well as the media. He ranked no lower than third on the team in tackles in each of his last three years, including a tie for second this pat season with 58 stops. Of his 58 tackles, which tied for 15th in the SoCon, eight went for losses, while adding a forced fumble. Barnes had three career games as a senior. First, he tallied 10 stops, including two for losses, in a near upset at Cincinnati. At Georgia Southern, he led the Cats with 11 tackles, including one for a loss. Barnes concluded his stellar career by recording a career-high 12 tackles at Appalachian State, including one for a loss. Barnes played a key role in Western ranking first in the nation in pass defense and first in the SoCon in total defense, while ranking 20th in the nation in total defense and 24th in scoring defense.
Men's Golf: Matt Cook (sophomore from Murphy, N.C.) was only the second ever Catamount to win the SoCon Individual Championship as well as being named SoCon Men's Golfer of the Year, adding first team All-SoCon honors. He was named SoCon Player of the Month for March, and held two consecutive titles of men's SoCon Player of the Week. Cook placed among the top 10 in eight of the 10 season competitions and placed among the top five in all five spring events. Along with his SoCon tournament win, Cook won the Francis Marion tournament and the Elon/Sea Trail Intercollegiate. He finished the regular season with a stroke average of 71.52, which led the SoCon and is a WCU school record. Cook was one of six golfers to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA regional marking the first-time for a WCU men's golfer.
Women's Golf: Ashley Hovda (senior from Springfield, Ohio) was a two-time SoCon Golfer of the Month, as well as a Catamount Student-Athlete of the Month. She was first team All-SoCon and became the first-ever Catamount to qualify for the 2005 United States Golf Association Women's Amateur Tournament. Hovda recorded nine top 10 finishes this year, including winning two tournaments at the Elon/Sea Trail Intercollegiate and the Wachovia-Great Smokies Intercollegiate. She finished the season with a school-record stroke average of 74.81.
Soccer: Alesha Row (junior from Fargo, N.D.) led Western Carolina to the 2005 Southern Conference Championship and the program's first ever NCAA Tournament berth. She was tabbed second team All-SoCon for the 2005 season, SoCon All-Tournament team and SoCon tournament MVP. In addition, she was named as the SoCon's TIAA-CREF student-athlete of the week, TIAFF-CREF SoCon All-Academic team, SoCon Soccer Player of the Month for November, and Catamount Student-Athlete of the Month for November. She compiled an 18-6 overall season record, with her SoCon-leading 13 shutouts shattering the previous WCU record of six. Row's 0.74 goals against average, which ranked 30th in the NCAA, ranks as the best single-season mark in school history and second in the Southern Conference, with her .856 save percentage, which ranked 15th in the NCAA, ranking as the second-best, single-season mark all-time.
Softball: Mendy McKenzie (freshman from Clemmons, N.C.) led Western to the 2006 Southern Conference softball regular season championship in the first-year of the program. She led the SoCon in victories (22) as a rookie while ranking second in strikeouts (210) and third in ERA (2.28) at season's end. She earned a league-record five SoCon Pitcher of the Week honors and was twice dubbed the conference hurler of the month.
Women's Tennis: Trish Hanson (sophomore from Alpharetta, Ga.) was named the recipient of the SoCon's Sportsmanship Award as voted by the league's head coaches. Hanson became the second WCU women's tennis player on record to garner post-season accolades from the Southern Conference. She finished the season with six wins in singles matches as the top seed, scoring WCU's lone win in SoCon action. Hanson led the Cats with three wins at number one in doubles action.
Women's Indoor Track & Field: Raquel Ramseur (sophomore from Charlotte, N.C.) earned All-SoCon honors during the indoor conference championships and led the SoCon's 400-meter dash performance charts (00:55.10), while also ranking second in the 200-meter dash (00:24.75) and fourth in the 60-meter dash (00:07.83). She holds the WCU record in the 200-meter dash (00:24.51) and second in the 55-meter dash (7:24). Ramseur was named Catamount Student Student-Athlete of the Month for February after tallying six podium appearances, including five, first-place finishes.
Women's Outdoor Track & Field: Asia Davis (a junior from Charlotte, N.C.) eclipsed the 60-second barrier five times this season and also qualified for the NCAA East Regional meet a combined five times, which includes the automatic berth that comes with winning the SoCon championship in 400-meter hurdles. At the regional, Davis became just one of eight Catamounts all-time to earn a berth to the NCAA's National Outdoor Championship, accomplishing the feat for the first-time since 2002, finishing 25th in the nation. Amidst her five, under-60 times, Davis broke her own WCU school record in the 400-meter hurdle event at the East Regional with a time of 58.05. She also helped set school benchmarks in the 4x100- and 4x400-meter relays. Davis also led the WCU outdoor performance charts in the 100-meter hurdles (14.18) and was second on the 100-meter dash list and was named an Arthur Ashe Sport Scholar and All-SoCon.
Men's Indoor Track & Field: Co-Winners Dan Fassinger (junior from Snellville, GA) and Zeb Johnson (sophomore from Charlotte, N.C.). Fassinger finished the season strong when winning the one mile run with a time of 4:18.07, placing second in the 800-meter run and third in the 3,000-meter run at the SoCon Indoors. In addition, he was the anchor in the championship distance medley team which posted a WCU men's indoor record time of 10:05.02, and set the stage for WCU's championship run the following day. He holds WCU's season best mile run time (4:09.80) and WCU's second best season time in the 3,000-meter run (8:30.86). Johnson, who was named the SoCon's Indoor Most Outstanding Track Performer, won the 60-meter and 200-meter dashes at the meet, while finishing second in the 400 meters. During the season, Johnson also garnered first-place finishes in the 55-meter dash (6.39) at the Mountaineer Winter Open in Boone, and in the 400-meter dash (49.32) at the Clemson Invitational. He led the WCU seasonal performance charts in the 55-meter, 60-meter, and 200-meter dash events, while also running on the 4x400-meter relay team.
Men's Outdoor Track & Field: Zeb Johnson (sophomore from Charlotte, N.C.) set a both a Catamount Athletic Complex and WCU school-record in the men's 200-meter, crossing the line in 20.88 to take first-place and qualify for the NCAA East Regional at the Western Invitational. Johnson would taste individual victory two additional times during the outdoor season - winning the 100- and 200-meter dash events at the SoCon Outdoor Championships. As a part of both the men's 4x100 and 4x400-meter relay teams, Johnson stood atop the podium on a combined four occasions, qualifying for the regional meet an equal number of times. Western's men won both of the relay events at the SoCon Championship en route to their second-ever outdoor team title, sweeping both seasons. Two weeks later, at the Georgia Tech Invitational in mid-May, Johnson and three teammates clocked a pair of school records in both the 400-meter(40.23) and 1,600-meter relays (3:08.34).
Volleyball: Ellie Talbot (senior from Evanston, Ill.) played in all 126 games of Western's 34 matches last season. She led the Catamounts with 329 kills and total attempts with 1163, creating personal career bests in both categories. Talbot also ranked second on the team in digs with 465, which is the fourth-best, single-season in WCU history, while also recording a career-best with 43 total blocks. Talbot concluded her career ranked second on WCU's all-time digs chart (1,668), 15th in service aces (93) and 22nd in kills (591).