Golf’s Aaron Terrazas and cross country/track & field’s Lilian Koech were named the UTEP Male and Female Athlete of the Year, and women’s cross country was appointed the UTEP Team of the Year at the inaugural Golden Pick Axe Awards in the Don Haskins Center Thursday evening.
Men’s Basketball’s Efe Odigie and softball’s Kasey Flores were named the Male and Female Underclassmen of the Year. Terrazas and Koech were chosen the Male and Female Upperclassmen of the Year.
Other awards presented included Best Comeback (track & field’s Sean Bailey), Unsung Hero (softball’s Ariel Blair) and the Thomas Howard Academics & Athletics Achievement Awards (volleyball’s Briana Bustillos & men’s basketball’s Ountae Campbell).
The Moment of the Year was the buzzer beater by men’s basketball’s Jordan Lathon to beat Rice, and the Community Service Award went to the softball program.
Team MVP Awards were presented to Boaz Ronoh (men’s cross country), Linda Cheruiyot (women’s cross country), Lathon (men’s basketball), Jordan Alexander (women’s basketball), Steffen Gregory and Jasmine Romo (cheerleading), A.J. Hotchkins (football), Terrazas (men’s golf), Lily Downs and Valeria Mendizabal (women’s golf), Jessica Boyce (rifle), Carleigh Simmons (soccer), Kacey Duffield (softball), Blair and Justin Garrett (strength & conditioning), Kirsten Prelle (tennis), Bailey (men’s indoor track & field), Koech (women’s indoor & outdoor track and field), Michael Saruni (men’s outdoor track & field) and Macey Austin (volleyball).
The Golden Pick Awards are organized and presented by the UTEP Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).
Male Athlete of the Year & Male Upperclassman of the Year – Aaron Terrazas (Men’s Golf)
Terrazas was the Miners’ top finisher at seven tournaments, and also led the team with six top-10 placements. His scoring average of 71.5 rated first on the squad. He earned his first collegiate victory at the Herb Wimberly Intercollegiate in October, where he tied for first place. He followed that up with his second collegiate victory, winning the Pepsi-Cola Classic outright. His 15-under par score of 201 led the Miners to the tournament title. He was named the Conference USA co-Golfer of the Week after firing a career-low score in Las Cruces. Terrazas tied for fourth place at the John Burns Intercollegiate in Hawai’i, firing a seven-under par 209 to garner C-USA Golfer of the Week honors. He began his final season at UTEP by tying for fifth place at the Golfweek Conference Challenge with a four-under-par 140.
Female Athlete of the Year & Female Upperclassman of the Year – Lilian Koech (Women’s Cross Country and Track & Field)
Koech is closing out her collegiate career in stellar fashion, having been a member of two conference championship teams during the 2018-19 athletic year. She garnered first-team All-Conference honors as the women’s cross country team captured its first league title. She was named C-USA Outstanding Senior after crossing the finish line in fifth place overall. Koech went on to lead the UTEP women’s track and field team to the title at the 2019 Conference USA Indoor Championship. Koech secured a gold and silver medal in the mile and 800 meters, respectively. Earlier in the year, she posted a personal-best time of 2:06.29 in the 800 meters, which rates fourth in program history. During the 2018 outdoor season, Koech notched a gold and silver medal at the C-USA Championships in the 1,500 meters and 800 meters, respectively. She’s putting the finishing touches on an illustrious UTEP career during the 2019 outdoor season, as she ranks in the top-25 nationally in the 800 meters and 1,500 meters.
Team of the Year – Women’s Cross Country
The Miners enjoyed a storybook 2018 season, winning their first conference championship. They took four of the top-six spots at the Conference USA Meet as Linda Cheruiyot and Winny Koech finished first and second, respectively. Carolyn Chepkosgei and Lilian Koech also merited first-team All-Conference USA honors as they took fifth and sixth place in the individual standings. Lilian Koech was appointed the Senior of the Meet and Paul Ereng was named the league’s Coach of the Year. UTEP sent Cheruiyot and Koech to the NCAA Championships. Cheruiyot was chosen the C-USA Cross Country Athlete of the Year. She finished in the top three at five meets, with a pair of first-place showings. Overall the Miners won four meets over the course of their record-breaking campaign.
Male Underclassman of the Year – Efe Odigie (Men’s Basketball)
Odigie was a member of the C-USA All-Freshman team after becoming the first Miner to average a double-double (12.7 ppg, 10.1 rpg) since the 1982 season. The 10.1 rebounds per game was a UTEP freshman record while also pacing C-USA and rating 16th in the nation. He also led the league in defensive boards per game (7.4). He produced a UTEP freshman record 11 double-doubles (second in C-USA), which was fifth among DI freshmen. He started 21 of 25 games played before missing the final four contests of the year with an injury.
Female Underclassman of the Year – Kasey Flores (Softball)
Flores burst onto the scene with two homers and a UTEP-debut record seven RBIs in the season-opening win against Creighton. She was named the C-USA Player of the Week and was an NFCA top performer for her efforts that weekend. The freshman has continued to thrive, pacing the team in RBIs (36-tied fourth in C-USA), doubles (nine) and runs scored (29). She also checks in second on the team in batting average (.358-ninth C-USA), total bases (77-10th C-USA) and slugging percentage (.626-seventh C-USA), and third in home runs (eight-tied 10th C-USA).
Best Comeback – Sean Bailey (Track & Field)
Bailey’s performance in the 400 meters at the 2019 Conference USA Indoor Championships earned him the Best Comeback Award. The transfer from Western Texas College was back in the pack during the first lap of the finals before finding his second gear and surging to victory in his heat. He claimed third place overall on the way to securing All-Conference honors after the photo finish.
Unsung Hero – Ariel Blair (Softball)
Blair has been an inspirational leader for UTEP softball the past four years. She has fulfilled her dream of playing for her hometown Miners, one she refused to give up on even after being paralyzed and in a wheelchair as a result of contracting a rare disease at the age of 14. She frequently makes highlight-reel catches in the outfield and throws out runners at the plate. She is on track to become the first Miner in program history to lead the team in steals for four consecutive seasons.
Thomas Howard Academics & Athletics Achievement Awards – Briana Bustillos (Volleyball) & Ountae Campbell (Men’s Basketball)
The Thomas Howard Academic & Athletics Achievement Awards are presented to UTEP walk-on student athletes who have excelled academically and athletically. They are presented by the Thomas Howard Foundation in honor of former UTEP football player Thomas Howard, who passed away in a car accident at the age of 30 in 2013. Bustillos played in all 99 sets and started every match for the Miners at the libero position. She ranked seventh in C-USA in digs with a team-leading 388. Campbell played in 24 games for the men’s basketball team with 10 starts. He was a recipient of a C-USA Commissioner’s Academic Medal (minimum 3.75 GPA).
Moment of the Year – Jordan Lathon (Men’s Basketball) Buzzer-Beater vs. Rice
There were many exciting moments during the 2018-19 UTEP Athletics year, but Lathon’s buzzer beater in a 65-64 win vs. Rice (Jan. 12) surpassed them all. The Owls led 64-63 after Trey Murphy III grabbed an offensive board and connected on a three-pointer with 1.6 seconds left. Ountae Campbell’s first pass attempt was deflected out of bounds in the corner, taking time off the clock. Campbell, from the bottom corner and with 0.5 seconds remaining, threw the ball to an open Lathon. The ball took one bounce, Lathon grabbed it and nailed the jumper from the baseline just inside the three-point line. Lathon was mobbed by his teammates, coaches and fans while the referees looked at the play on the monitor. The refs declared the shot good, electrifying the Haskins Center and giving Rodney Terry his first league win as UTEP’s head coach.
Community Service Award – Softball
The UTEP softball team has gone above and beyond to achieve its goal of engaging the community. From helping with Special Olympics sporting events to volunteering at the children’s hospital, the squad has racked up 658 community service hours since the beginning of the school year. The efforts have set the standard for service for all UTEP sports.