Team MVP honors handed out by Washburn Athletic Department

Christopher A. Smith / Campus Editor

Team Most Valuable Player awards

Jessica Mainz(soccer)Brandon Walker(offensive football)Cary Williams(defensive football)Tessa Jones (volleyball)Kyle Snyder(men’s basketball)Corkey Stiger(women’s basketball)Diana Goldsmith(women’s tennis)Ryan Ward(men’s tennis)Tyler Blankenship(baseball)Mandy Tarbutton(softball)

While wrapping up his final weeks on campus, Cary Williams picked up one more award that will have to be stuffed in his carry-on for the trip to Tennessee. Being named team MVP, along with nine other athletes of various sports at the Washburn Athletic Department award banquet, is the latest of many honors given to the Titans’ recent seventh-round draft pick.

Not all of Washburn’s top athletes had their names called on ESPN like Williams did, but each got the recognition they deserved at last Monday’s annual banquet.

Although Williams is best known for being a multi-talented cornerback at Washburn, it was Jessica Mainz who had the best Deion Sanders impression in 2007-08. Mainz was named MVP for her performance on the soccer field in the fall but also played a key role in a second sport, averaging more minutes than any other player on the Lady Blues’ Elite 8 basketball team in the spring.

“It reflects the incredible drive and passion she has for both sports,” said soccer coach Tim Collins. “She’s a student athlete with no downtime. She goes straight from one to the other, so sometimes we give her a few days off so she can be a human being.”

Mainz topped the lists for all-District and all-MIAA teams, and was also named conference MVP for the second-straight year. The Lady Blues reached the MIAA semifinals and lost to Truman State to finish the season with a record of 10-6-5 (8-2-4 in the MIAA).

Mainz had an impressive season, leading the soccer team in points, goals and assists, but after the season-ending loss Nov. 3 to TSU, it was immediately time to turn attention to the basketball season, which began Nov. 1.

“She’ll always be in good shape,” said women’s basketball coach Ron McHenry. “It’s just a matter of getting her not to kick the ball.”

Guard and team MVP Corkey Stiger put up the loftiest numbers with a team-high 18.3 points per game, including 31 in both the Sweet 16 and Elite 8. Stiger set school records for 3-pointers made and attempted and ranked fifth in school history with 605 single-season points.

An 85-80 loss to No. 3-ranked University of South Dakota ended the Blues’ national championship hopes, but with 10 new players on the roster to open the season, reaching the quarterfinals was far more than many expected.

“I want to thank this team and the way they played and our two seniors for how they committed to Washburn basketball and led us to the Elite Eight,” said McHenry of Stiger and fellow senior Amanda Holmes. “I’ll always be proud of this basketball team for where they got and how they did it, because it wasn’t an easy run.”

The men’s side of the round ball was not quite as successful, but senior Kyle Snyder’s season was just as noteworthy. The fifth-year senior, known mostly for his frequent season-ending injuries through his first few seasons at Washburn, showed persistence and determination in his final season, pulling together a team that struggled in recent years and lifting it into the MIAA tournament semifinals.

“Kyle’s been through three shoulder surgeries, and you think about Drew [Meile],” said coach Bob Chipman. “I’m just thinking about those guys. We really felt like we were one of the best teams around.”

The Bods (18-11, 9-9) started the season 8-0 against Division II competition, then went up and down throughout their MIAA schedule before finishing the season 6-3 and getting within one point of the conference championship game.

“I can’t speak highly enough of our coaches and our players,” said Meile. “We really battled all year and it felt good to get back. We weren’t quite as successful as we would’ve liked to be, but overall I can hold my head high with my team and the direction this program is going.”

In football, the Bods had yet another team that unexpectedly snuck into the postseason. A 2-2 start put Washburn in a hole that required near perfection to get out of. However, a 6-1 finish to the regular season provided just that, and the Bods made the playoffs for the second time in three years.

A 40-39 loss at No.4-ranked West Texas A&M left the Bods on the short end of a battle between two of hottest, highest-scoring teams in the nation. Running back Brandon Walker was named offensive MVP for his 832 rushing yards, 394 receiving yards and 13 total touchdowns, while Williams hopes his football career is just beginning on the defensive side of the field.

Williams may have been the most successful athlete at Washburn this past year, snagging seven interceptions and scoring four touchdowns, but the most successful team at Washburn was volleyball. The Lady Blues made it to the Elite 8, earned home court advantage throughout the tournament with a 38-4 record (12-1 MIAA), and made it all the way to the national semifinals where they finished third in the nation. Aside from making it further than any team in school history, the highlight of the season was a 27-match winning streak, which included 21- and 24-game win streaks.

“This team just played their hearts out,” said coach Chris Herron. “Let me tell you, it took a lot of hard work to get here, especially for this group of seniors who have been through it all.”

The graduating class of Tessa Jones, Erica Cowhick and Mandi Cox was one of the best WU has seen, and of the three, Jones was chosen to be the team’s MVP.

The postseason success continues on the tennis courts as the school year winds down. Men’s tennis is currently in the Sweet 16 after sweeping Northwest Missouri State in the regional finals. The Bods are scheduled to begin their run through the National tournament against No.5-ranked Barry on May 15 in Houston. Team MVP Ryan Ward will try to lead WU (14-6) to three wins in three days to be named national champions.

Women’s tennis (12-7) named senior Diana Goldsmith MVP after making its sixth-straight appearance in the NCAA tournament, which ended last week with a 6-3 loss to Emporia State.

The softball team (29-28) experienced similar success, earning a spot in the NCAA regionals before also losing to ESU and Minnesota State University Mankato in the tournament’s regionals. Senior outfielder Mandy Tarbutton wrapped up her Lady Blue career with a .300 batting average as a senior, earning team MVP honors.

Although baseball was the only WU team not to reach the postseason this past year, senior Tyler Blankenship continued to play well, batting .288 to be named MVP of the 17-29 Bods.

The golf team has yet to name an MVP, and will determine one based on who has the lowest stroke average at the end of the season. The No. 14-ranked Bods will join the tennis team in Houston as they play in the NCAA Tournament May 14-17.

Student athletes were also recognized at the banquet for their work in the classroom. Wes Joy (baseball), Dani White (softball), Kate Hampson (volleyball) and Zach Watkins (football) were all named True Blue Scholars by Capitol Federal Savings, and senior student athlete awards were given to Erica Cowhick (volleyball) and Jake Lebahn (football).