A competitor naturally must clear a high bar to merit the honor as UAA's Bill MacKay Athlete of the Year, and finalist Cody Thomas has accomplished that literally and figuratively.
Among Thomas' myriad skills as the 2016 NCAA Division II men's decathlon champion in his senior year was soaring over the bar in the pole vault and high jump on the way to a school- and Great Northwest Athletic Conference-record 7.590 points. He was the GNAC outdoor track and field Athlete of the Year, and was also All-West Region in the 400 meters and 4×400-meter relay.
Plus, Thomas has seized the UAA Athlete of the Year award once already, in 2015.
Thomas is one of 13 finalists UAA announced Thursday for its 33rd annual Athlete of the Year honor, which will be determined by a vote of UAA staff, local media and representatives from the Benton Bay Athletic Lions Club. The winner will be revealed Friday, April 28, at the Seawolves' all-sport banquet on campus.
For what it's worth, a men's basketball player nine times has won the Athlete of the Year award and a gymnast has been honored five times. The winner four times has come from the women's basketball program — Megan Mullings won in 2016 — and the same number of winners have come from men's cross country and track, and men's cross country and nordic skiing.
Three Seawolves have each bagged two Athlete of the Year awards — men's distance runner Micah Chelimo (2014, 2013), men's nordic skier and cross-country runner Tobias Schwoerer (2003, 2002) and gymnast Teri Frankie (1990, 1986).
Seven of the 13 athletes nominated this year — that's one from each of UAA's sports teams — racked All-America honors.
The All-Americas include volleyball setter Morgan Hooe, who led the Seawolves to a national runner-up finish in Division II. Hooe, UAA's all-time assists leader, was voted West Region and GNAC Player of the Year in helping the Seawolves to their second straight GNAC outright championship and a program-best 34-3 record.
And Hooe didn't just orchestrate the offense, but also served as the Seawolves' emotional catalyst. That was clear in the West Region championship match against Western Washington. Hooe injured her right knee early in the first set, which UAA lost, and returned from the training room, her knee strapped in a brace, in the second set to lead the Seawolves to a four-set victory before a school-record crowd of 2,710 at the Alaska Airlines Center.
Coach Michael Friess' cross-country running and track and field teams produced six of the seven All-America athletes nominated for Athlete of the Year — Thomas, sprinter Jamie Ashcroft and distance runners Joyce Chelimo, Edwin Kangogo, Caroline Kurgat and Dominik Notz.
Women's guard Kiki Robertson and men's guard Suki Wiggs are the finalists from the basketball teams. Kendra Daniels is the finalist from the gymnastics team. The other finalists are women's alpine skier Charley Field, men's alpine skier Tony Naciuk and hockey captain Matt Anholt.
Here is a rundown of the 13 finalists, in alphabetical order:
Hockey — Junior Matt Anholt: The Seawolves' captain led them in assists, points and plus-minus rating with 5-17—22 totals and a plus-4 rating in playing all 34 games.
Women's indoor track and field — Senior Jamie Ashcroft: Ashcroft earned double All-America awards at the NCAA Division II meet in the 200 meters and 4×400 meters. She was also West Region Indoor Track Athlete of the Year and GNAC women's Athlete of the Meet.
Women's outdoor track and field — Senior Joyce Chelimo: Chelimo last spring was a second-team All-America in the 5,000 meters and broke the GNAC record in the 10,000 meters (33:14.41).
Gymnastics — Junior Kendra Daniels: Daniels broke the school record on the balance beam (9.9) and became the first Seawolves gymnast to earn four beam scores of 9.825 or higher in a season.
Women's skiing — Junior Charley Field: Field earned runner-up in the giant slalom at the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association Championships and qualified for the NCAAs.
Volleyball — Senior Morgan Hooe: Hooe spearheaded UAA to a national runner-up finish in Division II and a program record in wins (34-4), was an All-America as well as Player of the Year in the West Region and GNAC, and is the program's all-time assists leader.
Men's cross-country running — Junior Edwin Kangogo: Kangogo earned his second All-America at cross country nationals and was the GNAC individual champion.
Women's cross-country running — Junior Caroline Kurgat: Kurgat racked All-America honors with her third-place finish at nationals, won the GNAC championship and finished second in the West Region.
Men's skiing — Sophomore Tony Naciuk: Naciuk was UAA's top scorer at the NCAAs with his 20th-place finishes in both the slalom and giant slalom.
Men's indoor track and field — Senior Dominik Notz: Notz bagged All-America honors for his fifth-place finish in the 5,000 meters and seventh-place finish in the 3,000 to raise his total of indoor All-America honors to four. He also set UAA and GNAC records in the 3,000.
Women's basketball — Senior Kiki Robertson: The relentless guard helped the Seawolves to their third straight GNAC regular-season and tournament championships, and was voted GNAC Defensive Player of the Year for the second time. She averaged 8.6 points per game, along with 3.6 rebounds, and team-leading marks of 5.4 assists and 3.4 steals.
Men's outdoor track and field — Senior Cody Thomas: The Kiwi, UAA's 2015 Athlete of the Year, won the NCAA Division II decathlon title with a school- and GNAC-record 7,590 points. Thomas was also the GNAC outdoor track and field Athlete of the Year and the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches' Scholar-Athlete of the Year in Division II.
Men's basketball — Senior Suki Wiggs: Wiggs, an All-West Region first-team pick, led the GNAC in scoring for the second straight season (24.4 points per game) and finished fifth in Division II in scoring. The unanimous All-GNAC selection for the second straight season also delivered 5.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.