National Athletes of the Week Include First NJCAA Honorees
NEW ORLEANS— After a month off for finals and the holidays, the National Athlete of the Week award is here to stay for the 2015 season. The weekly honors were announced Tuesday by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA). This week, for the first time, there are eight winners. With the National Junior College Athletic Association coaches joining the fold, their athletes will be receiving weekly awards.
The eight winners–alternating genders and going DI-DII-DIII-NJCAA–are Shawn Barber of Akron; Tori Bliss of LSU; Zac Ball of Ashland; Ada Udaya of New Haven; Andrew Bartnett of Johns Hopkins; Addison Carvajal of Bowdoin; Kirk Lewis of Essex; and Allanah McCorkle of Iowa Western.
Lewis and McCorkle are the very first NJCAA recipients of the award, as part of the recently announced partnership between the USTFCCCA and the NJCAA’s track & field and cross country coaches associations.
It was a particularly auspicious weekend for field eventers, as Barber and Bartnett are vaulters, Bliss and Ball are throwers, McCorkle is a jumper, and Carvajal is a pentathlete. Only Udaya (sprints) and Lewis (hurdles) are tracksters.
Click each of the student-athletes’ names above or keep scrolling below to read about the exploits that made all six worthy.
National Athlete of the Week is an award selected and presented by the USTFCCCA Communications Staff at the beginning of each week to eight (male and female for each of the three NCAA divisions, plus the NJCAA) collegiate track & field athletes.
Nominations are open to the public. Coaches and sports information directors are encouraged to nominate their student-athletes; as are student-athletes, their families and friends, and fans of their programs.
The award seeks to highlight not only the very best times, marks and scores on a week-to-week basis, but also performances that were significant on the national landscape and/or the latest in a series of strong outings. Quality of competition, suspenseful finishes and other factors will also play a role in the decision.
Junior | Canada/Kingwood, Texas
Competing on his home runway, Barber skied over 19-¼ (5.80m) on his first attempt. That vault was good enough to win the Akron Pole Vault Convention (which, despite its name, was a complete meet) and knock off 2014 outdoor college champ Sam Kendricks of Nike. That mark ties the Zip for the #4 performer in college history and puts him within five centimeters of the fifteen-year-old college record.
Barber—a Canadian junior who went to high school in Texas—is poised to have one of the greatest seasons in NCAA history.
Two weeks ago, at the Texas Vault Expo, he cleared 19-3 (5.87m) and beat 2014 college outdoor champ Sam Kendricks of Nike. As he was competing unattached, vault didn’t count for collegiate record purposes, though it’s higher than the collegiate and Canadian records. It’s unclear if it will be ratified as a national record. But it’s clear that the NCAA mark is in grave danger.
Honorable mention: Jalen Miller, Mississippi
Senior | Portage, Indiana
At her home meet in Baton Rouge, Bliss uncorked a massive bomb on her sixth and final throw of the day. Already leading by two and a half meters going into her final throw, Bliss threw caution to the (non-existent indoors) winds and tossed the shot 57-2¾ (17.44m) for the No. 1 mark in the collegiate ranks this winter.
That mark exceeds Bliss’s previous indoor best by 42 centimeters, and is just 4 cm shy of her outdoor career best – a career best that earned her runner-up honors at the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Championships. It’s a new LSU school record, breaking a 21-year-old mark.
Honorable mention: Sandi Morris, Arkansas
Senior | Amherst, Ohio
Ashland knows the weight throw. They have the top two men and the top three women on the current Division II descending order list. (In the WT’s outdoor cousin, the hammer, Eagles had three of the top six men’s marks and three of the top five women’s marks in 2014.) So it’s appropriate that this honoree’s last name is Ball, as he’s really good at launching a weighted ball on a chain or handle.
Zac Ball slung the weight 21.89m (71-10) at Ohio State, finishing second only to Ashland strength coach and hammer Olympian A.G. Kruger. (Kruger is one of two hammer Olympians on staff at Ashland, along with head coach Jud Logan) That mark is No. 1 in Division II this young season, and would be No. 3 in Division I; with that throw, Ball has automatically qualified for his third straight NCAA indoor meet. He was the DII runner-up in 2014.
Honorable mention: Michael Sandle, Minnesota State
Senior | West Haven, Connecticut
Competing on a different track (Yale) in the same town as her school, and just five miles from her home town, Udaya sent an early message that she’s one of the sprinters to beat in DII. Her times in the 60 and 200 meters both rank No. 1 in the nation, and they negate the “yeah, but it’s early” caveat.
Her 7.33 in the 60 is an auto qualifier, and would have been the fastest regular season time of 2013-14; the 24.04 200 only makes it in provisionally, but would have been No. 5 in the nation a year ago. Udaya already held both University of New Haven school records. She broke her own standard in the 60, and fell just shy in the 200.
Honorable mention: Jessica Bridenthal, Ashland
Sophomore | St. Louis, Missouri
A year ago, Bartnett was one of a trio of freshmen that cleared five meters and were clearly destined to take over DIII in the pole vault. While his mark of 4.90m (16-0.75) at George Mason’s Father Diamond Invitational is only the third best of the season, it’s the highest since DIII’s athletes returned from winter break in 2015.
It was also Bartnett’s season debut; he easily won over mostly Division I competition. A year ago, he was tenth at indoor nationals and third outdoors. Fifteen out of the sixteen All-Americans those two meets created are back a year later. The year of the vault is trickling down to every level.
Honorable mention: Andrew Carey, Johns Hopkins
Junior | Seattle, Washington
Working hard and solo at the Bowdoin Tri Meet–Carvajal was the only athlete at the entire meet to compete in the multis–the junior put up a mark that is usually reserved for February or March. She set career bests in the long jump, shot put, and hurdles, and was a centimeter shy of her indoor career best in the high jump. Her 3517 points are No. 1 in the nation by a healthy margin.
Maybe Carvajal is just used to competing in unfriendly conditions. She’s a nationally elite rugby player.
Honorable mention: Gladys Njoku, Stevens Institute
Freshman | Nassau, Bahamas
Kirk Lewis of Essex County sprinted and hurdled his way to the No. 1 mark in the NJCAA and becoming the first-ever honoree. His time of 8.13 seconds in the 60 meter hurdles is the junior college nation’s fastest by over a tenth of a second, and won the Knights Indoor Classic at Fairleigh Dickinson.
Honorable mention: Quartez Clark, Arkansas Baptist
Sophomore | Davenport, Iowa
Competing at Doane’s Ward Haylett Invitational, McCorkle won the 60 meters and the long jump. Her winning leap in the LJ was particularly noteworthy, as the mark of 5.97m (19-0) leads the NJCAA right now.
It’s a huge indoor personal best for the sophomore, as she failed to make it out of regionals a year ago. McCorkle finished fifth at outdoor nationals in 2014; her jump from this weekend would have been good enough to win that meet.
Honorable mention: Danielle Riggins, Iowa Central