Ryan Alves

By Ryan Alves

With all the fall sports seasons wrapping up and Eastern leading the race in the 2011-12 Ohio Valley Conference Commissioner Cup standings, it’s time to give out midseason awards – some holiday cheer if you will.

P.S. Don’t forget my milk and cookies.

Breakout team of the year:

Women’s soccer – Head Coach Lindsay Basalyga, in her seventh season, started the year with only two seniors on the roster. With an influx of freshman talent and a boatload of sophomores, Basalyga and Co. finished with a 5-3-1 conference record, the best all-time at Eastern, which was good enough for second place in the regular season. They made their fourth straight trip to postseason play.

Under Basalyga Eastern is now one of only three teams to finish in the top six in the regular season OVC standings each of the last four years. Her team showed maturity and toughness beyond its age, stifling teams on the defensive end: Eastern didn’t allow multiple goals in any of its last 12 regular season games.

Though her team didn’t finish the way they hoped to, Basalyga has established Eastern as a conference mainstay.

Breakout athlete of the season:

Matt Denham, football – Nobody broke out like Denham this fall. The junior running back was a powerhouse in the backfield for the Colonels. Denham finished with 1,570 yards rushing, good enough for tops in the conference and third in the entire nation.  

Denham rushed for at least 100 yards in eight straight games, and his season total was good enough for sixth best all-time at Eastern. He averaged 130.5 yards a game, and scored nine touchdowns.

Coaches and teammates say his vision and patience through the hole is what makes Denham like no one else. I say it’s the fact that for every 100 yards rushing game, he took his linemen to a buffet. Major cool points right there.

Male athlete of the season:

Soufiane Bouchikhi, men’s cross-country – Nobody does it like Bouchikhi. This kid is scary good. The defending OVC champ, repeated again this year, defeating a field of 74 runners, covering the 8K course in a time of 24:53.83, two seconds faster than his winning time a season ago. He was also voted the OVC Male Athlete of the Year by the league’s head coaches, again for the second year in a row.

The Belgian was named the adidas OVC Male Cross Country Runner of the Week three times this season, and after qualifying for the NCAA Championships, finished 47th out of 252 runners with a 10K time of 30:20.7 in the national meet.

Want to know the more impressive part? He’s only a sophomore…

Female athlete of the season:

Lydia Kosgei, women’s cross-country – After an injury-riddled season in 2010, Kosgei came back stronger than ever. She began her season with a win in the Greater Louisville Classic, defeating a field of 262 runners with a time of 16:51.12.

A native of Eldoret, Kenya, was named the adidas OVC Female Cross Country Runner of the Week three times this season, and added her first-ever OVC cross-country championship.

But the icing on the cake was Kosgei placing second in Southeast Regional Championship to become the first woman in Eastern history to qualify for the NCAA Championships. She finished 37th out of 254 runners and was given All-American honors.

Not a bad way to end a career.

Performance of the season:

Women’s golf, September, 20 – After shooting a team score of 292, the lowest one-round score in school history, on the first day of the Great Smokies Intercollegiate Eastern one-upped itself with a day-two score of 282 Tuesday, shattering its previous record by 10 strokes.

Eastern also tied the Great Smokies Intercollegiate record for a single-round score of 284 and two-round total of 576. Eastern’s 36-hole total of 576 was 33 shots better than the previous school record of 609, set at the 2009 Pinehurst Challenge. Whew.

Game of the season:

Football vs. Jacksonville State – This one was a no-brainer. I still can’t believe what I saw this game. Eastern trailed by 24 points, but with less than eight minutes to go, scored 28 straight unanswered points to take a four-point lead with 1:24 to go.

But what happened next was even more impressive as Eastern’s ironclad defense stuffed the gamecocks at the half-yard line to seal the victory. This game had it all – 1,140 yards of offense, 16 scoring plays, six lead changes and two ties.

Quarterback T.J. Pryor set a program single-game record with five touchdown passes, and Matt Denham eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark in this game, while rushing for 200 yards – his fourth 200 yard-game in the last five games.

Unbelievable.

Newcomers of the year:

Hannah Burkle and Abbey Cvelbar, volleyball – Burkle, a freshman, finished second on the team with 335 kills and led the Colonels with 103 blocks.  She finished the season ranked eighth in the OVC with an average of 0.87 blocks and 10th with 3.50 points per set.

Cvelbar concluded her first season ranked ninth in the conference with an average of 8.71 assists per set.  She also recorded enough attacks at the setter position to lead the OVC with a .315 attack percentage. Cvelbar led the Colonels with 36 service aces while averaging 1.29 kills and 2.15 digs per set.

And both were chosen to the OVC All-Newcomer team at season’s end.

Team of the year:

Foo
tball – Little else can be said about the year the football team. The team won six of its last seven games en route to the program’s 21st OVC Championship, secured an at-large bid in the FCS playoffs and hosted their first round game at Roy Kidd Stadium, the first time since 1994.

And the Colonels were a field goal away from the second round, but fell to James Madison. They were also about two minutes away from knocking off a top 15 FBS team in Kansas State earlier in the year.

The group of seniors on this team is a special group – two OVC championships and two runner-ups. Eastern is losing some key components, but you can bet your last meal swipe on Eastern being near the top again next season.