NEW ORLEANS - Two student-athletes that are no strangers to postseason honors added more hardware to their trophy cases as Arkansas State’s Aundrea Gamble and South Alabama’s Kevin Hill were respectively named the Sun Belt Female and Male student-athletes of the year as announced by the conference Wednesday.
Gamble and Hill’s award is the highest honor that is given in the Sun Belt Conference. The awards also highlight the Sun Belt’s complete End of Year Awards that includes the Postgraduate Scholar-Athletes of the Year, one male and one female, five additional Postgraduate Scholar Recipients, and the Sun Belt Leadership Team that is comprised of one student-athlete from each of the conference’s 11 fulltime members.
This year’s winners of the Postgraduate Scholar-Athlete Award are Appalachian State’s Cody McKinney and Samantha Childress. Both McKinney and Hill will receive $6,500 towards their future education. Additionally, five student-athletes earned postgraduate scholarships and will receive $3,000 each for their future education. Those student-athletes are: Georgia State’s Alex Hegner, UL Lafayette’s Eric Carter, Georgia Southern’s Ashleigh Rasheed, Troy’s Leah Brundidge, and South Alabama’s Alyssa Mayer. Funding for all of the scholarship awards came from the Sun Belt Conference’s bowl partners from this past season - the R+L Carriers New Orleans, the GoDaddy.com Bowl, the Raycom Camellia Bowl, and the AutoNation Cure Bowl.
Sun Belt Conference Men's Student-Athlete of the Year
Kevin Hill · South Alabama · Baseball
Hill became the first individual in Sun Belt Conference history to be named the league’s Pitcher of the Year in back-to-back seasons after posting an 8-1 mark, 2.38 earned-run average and conference-best 117 strikeouts in 109.2 innings prior to the start of postseason action, as he helped lead the Jaguars to a top-25 national ranking throughout most of the year and a share of the 2016 Sun Belt regular-season championship.
The redshirt senior was named the Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week in February after fanning 12 while allowing just three hits in a complete-game victory at Georgia, earning SBC Pitcher-of-the-Week honors twice on the season as well, while making both the Golden Spikes Award and National Pitcher of the Year Award Watch Lists. He ended the regular season first in the conference in strikeouts and innings pitched, second in wins, tied for third in earned-run average and third in opposing batting average (.214). The performance came after the right-hander received All-America recognition from three different organizations in 2015 after finishing with a 10-0 record, a 1.73 ERA and 107 strikeouts — pacing the Sun Belt in all three categories — in just 93.2 innings while leading South to the regular-season title.
In addition to be named the conference’s Pitcher of the Year as a junior, Hill was a first-team all-league selection and voted to the SBC all-tournament team after helping the Jags advance to the championship game. He ended the 2015 campaign ranked among the top 20 nationally in both victories (13th) and earned-run average (19th). Hill received his bachelor’s degree from South Alabama in May 2015 and was a member of the Sun Belt Academic Honor Roll during the 2013-14 academic year.
Sun Belt Conference Women's Student-Athlete of the Year
Aundrea Gamble · Arkansas State · Women's Basketball
Aundrea Gamble finished her three-year career at Arkansas State as the only three-time Sun Belt Women’s basketball Student-Athlete of the Year in league history and became the first player in school to earn All-America honors in back-to-back seasons after earning Second-Team Senior CLASS All-America and WBCA Honorable All-America status over the past two seasons. Gamble is al the only player in school history to earn all-conference first-team honors three times.
This past season she helped led the Red Wolves on one of the most historic runs through the Sun Belt Conference season in the league’s history. A-State won 18-consecutive games and finished with mark of 19-1 mark to claim its second regular season championship in the last three seasons. At the time, the 18-game winning streak ranked as the fourth longest in the nation.
On the court, the McKinney, Texas native ranked in the top-50 in the NCAA in points per game, free-throw percentage, final points, minutes played per game, assists, field goals made and minutes played. Gamble’s 18.8 points per game ranked second best in the conference, while she led the league with 164 assists on the year. She also held elite company with UCONN’s Breanna Stewart as the only two players in the nation to average over 18 points, four assists and shot over 50 percent per game this past season.
For her career she ranks fourth in program history with 1,932 points and is tied for second with 479 assists in her collegiate career. She was one of six active players in the NCAA this past season with over 1,600 points, 400 rebounds and 400 assists in her career. Her arrival in Jonesboro also marked one of the most successful eras in school history, including three consecutive WNIT appearances and 73 wins in a three-year period.
Throughout her career, Gamble has been no stranger to excellence in the four areas recognized by the award. She has accounted for one of the highest GPAs on the team, including being named the Sun Belt Conference Commissioner’s List for achieving as GPA of 3.5 or higher during the last school year. The redshirt senior also volunteered her time to the United Way through several service projects in conjunction with the women’s basketball team. She also worked several community events including handing out water at local 5K races and volunteered her time during the holiday season at the “Winter Wonderland” Christmas exhibit.
Gamble, who attained her undergraduate degree in Exercise Science at the end of the 2014-15 season, continues to pursue a Master of Arts in Teaching and has accepted a job to become a high school basketball assistant coach in Arkansas.
Sun Belt Conference Men's Postgraduate-Scholar Athlete
Cody McKinney · Appalachian State · Football
A four-year football student-athlete, Cody McKinney arrived at Appalachian State as a walk-on in 2012 and worked his way into a key role as a special-teams contributor for the Mountaineers.
On the field, McKinney served primarily on Appalachian State’s kickoff-return unit but also made two career tackles as a linebacker. Off the field, he served as one of the emotional and spiritual leaders for a team that won a Sun Belt Conference-record 11 games in 2015.
The epitome of the term “student-athlete,” McKinney graduated from Appalachian State in May with a 3.96 cumulative grade point average in accounting. He earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average six times in his final seven collegiate semesters.
He will continue his education at Appalachian State this fall when he begins work towards a master’s degree.
Sun Belt Conference Women's Postgraduate-Scholar Athlete
Samantha Childress · Appalachian State · Women's Soccer
Sam Childress has been a key component of the Appalachian State women's soccer program for the last four years. Childress scored 25 goals during four years as a Mountaineer, including 11 game winners. Childress appeared in 73 matches with 64 starts and started all 20 games her senior season.
The senior forward score one of the most important goals of the 2015 season when she netted the equalizing goal in the closing minutes of the Sun Belt Championship semifinal match versus South Alabama.
Childress left her mark on the App State women's soccer record book. Childress ends her career in the top ten of several offensive statistical categories including career goals (25, t-2nd), career points (54, 6th), and career shots (156, 6th).
Childress was awarded a postgraduate scholarship from Duke to attend the University and pursue her master's degree in Environmental Management. Childress maintained a 3.95 GPA and received Chancellor's List honors.
Along with being a standout on the field and in the classroom, Childress took part in many community service projects including installing solar projects in Nicaragua and Costa Rica in 2014.
Sun Belt Conference Postgraduate Scholarship Recipients
Alex Hegner · Georgia State · Baseball
Two-year letterwinner as a right-handed relief pitcher ... Made 40 appearances in two seasons with a 4.84 ERA ... Pitched in two combined shutouts ... Posted a 2-0 record with two saves in 2016 ... Among the team leaders with 22 appearances, all in relief, covering 33.2 innings ... As a junior, he compiled a 1.88 ERA in 24 appearances ... One of the team’s top scholar-athletes with a GPA over 4.0 in his two years ... Dean's List or President's List every semester ... During his final season, he served as a legislative intern at the State Capitol in the Georgia House of Representatives ... Earned his degree political science and will begin law school at Georgia State in the fall of 2016.
Ashleigh Rasheed · Georgia Southern · Women's Track and Field
After receiving her degree in political science from Georgia Southern in May, track and field student-athlete Ashleigh Rasheed plans to pursue a Master of Arts degree in Social Science at GS before attending law school. This year, the Decatur, Georgia native was recognized as the Female Student-Athlete of the Year at Georgia Southern thanks to her perfect 4.0 cumulative GPA and strong performances most notably in the triple jump and long jump.
This spring, she notched a season-best 5.25 meter long jump and an 11.76 meter triple jump at the Sun Belt Track and Field Outdoor Championships. As a sophomore, she recorded a personal best in both the long jump and triple jump and has competed in multiple events throughout her career to exhibit her versatility as an athlete. During her time as an Eagle, Rasheed has dabbled in her fair share of events including sprints, relays, the 500 and 800 meter, hurdles, jumps, throws and the heptathlon.
Eric Carter · UL Lafayette · Baseball
Eric Carter was named the Outstanding Graduate for University College. A senior right-hander for the Cajuns, Carter is a General Studies major with a concentration in behavioral sciences. Carter posted a 3.83 GPA while being tabbed to both the President's and Dean's lists. Carter was a member of the Phi Kappa Phi academic honor society and the University's Pre-Professional Society as well as an Eagle Scout.
Carter has been instrumental in various community service efforts including the Helping Hands natural disaster volunteer efforts where he helped clean up following Hurricane Isaac in 2012. Other community service projects that Carter has been involved in include reading to elementary school children, helping to clean and paint a day care center, participating in the Greater Acadiana Heart Walk, and the Walk to Defeat ALS.
Carter was also a Young Men's Duty to God Award coordinator and Sunday school teacher for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. On the field, Carter is 5-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 44.0 innings pitched. Carter has four saves this season and has struck out 59 while only allowing six free passes. Following the 2016 season, Carter plans apply to medical school, with a goal of becoming a physician's assistant.
Leah Brundidge · Troy · Softball
Troy University’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee President, Leah Brundidge will graduate with honors from Troy this summer with her bachelor’s degree in sport and fitness management. A four-year letterwinner for the Troy softball team, Brundidge will begin graduate school at Troy in pursuit of her Master’s in Business Administration this upcoming fall with aspirations of working in collegiate athletics.
Brundidge appeared in over 100 games during his Trojan career and made an even bigger impact off the field as she volunteered countless number of hours to the Troy community. The native of Brewton, Ala., worked with Relay for Life, Christian Love Center, Special Olympics, Habitat for Humanity and was a member of the Sun Belt Conference Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Additionally, Brundidge was recently selected to be among a group of 200 student-athletes to attend the NCAA Career in Sports Forum this summer at the NCAA national office.
Brundidge was twice named a National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-America Scholar Athlete and was named captain of the Troy softball team.
Alyssa Mayer · South Alabama · Women's Soccer
A four-year member of the South Alabama soccer program, Mayer has helped the Jaguars to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances, the Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship each of the last three years and back-to-back regular-season league titles. In the fall, she recorded career highs with 19 starts and 22 appearances, and as a key member of the Jag defense helped the program to its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory with a 4-0 win over LSU in the opening round of the event, with the team going on to finish the year 18-3-2 overall and in the top-25 of the final national rankings for the first time in school history.
Mayer graduated from South with a degree in exercise science in May after posting a 3.80 cumulative grade-point average, and she became a member of the Alpha Chi honor society in 2015. She was named to the Sun Belt Commissioner’s List each of the last two years and was on the conference’s Academic Honor Roll following her freshman season, and has completed nearly 900 health care hours in preparation for entering a physician assistant master’s program in the fall.
Mayer was an active member of South Alabama’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee — including serving as the group’s secretary the last year — as well the Fellowship of Christian Athletes during her time at South, and has contributed to the community both volunteering with Habitat For Humanity and as an Upward Sports basketball coach at the Cottage Hill Baptist Church.
Sun Belt Conference Leadership Team
Tristin Van Ord · Appalachian State · Women's Track and Field
In just three years, Tristin Van Ord has already established herself as one of the most academically and athletically accomplished student-athletes in Appalachian State history.
A member of Appalachian State’s women’s cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field teams, Van Ord is a seven-time Sun Belt Conference individual champion. She won four Sun Belt titles in 2015-16 alone, with victories in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters at the indoor conference championships and the 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the league’s outdoor championships. She is also a two-time runner-up at the Sun Belt cross country championships (2014 and 2015).
Thanks to her wins in the 3,000- and 5,000-meter races, she contributed 20 of the 101.5 points that Appalachian State needed to win the 2016 Sun Belt Indoor Track and Field title by just two points. The championship was the first Sun Belt title ever claimed by the Mountaineers.
In the classroom, Van Ord carries a 3.87 cumulative grade point average in one of Appalachian State’s most demanding majors – sustainability development. She also minors in Spanish.
Fali Garuba · Little Rock · Women's Soccer
Garuba ended her sophomore year in very strong academic standing, holding a 3.64 cumulative GPA through four semesters with the Trojans as a nursing major. She is also minoring in management. The forward made the Dean’s List and Chancellor’s List in her first three semesters at Little Rock.
Garuba does plenty of community service with soccer, nursing and with her church. She spent time as a volunteer referee with Upward Soccer and was a volunteer coach at the Little Rock soccer clinic this year. She assisted nurses and other people at CHI St. Vincent hospital in Little Rock and was a volunteer in the emergency room there as well. She volunteered with the UALR HIV Drive as well. With the Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, Garuba was a nursery teacher and a youth group volunteer. She also volunteered her time at the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) Convention, a convention for the Nigerian-based church.
Garuba is also a Chi Alpha Campus Ministry student leader, a Baptist Hospital Patient Care Technician and a RCCG Emerging Leaders Youth Training student leader two years in a row. On the field, Garuba has accumulated 13 goals and eight assists in just two seasons with the Trojans. Those numbers are good for 12th all-time in program history. As a freshman, Garuba led Little Rock with nine goals and also tallied four assists. In 2015, Garuba had four goals and three assists to finish fourth on the team with 11 points.
Alexis Philippe · Arkansas State · Women's Soccer
Alexis Philippe completed her sophomore season in 2015 as one of the Red Wolves’ primary goalkeepers where she appeared in five games, including three starts and made 26 saves in 315 minutes in goal. Philippe has also played in the field and has one goal to her credit that game during her freshman season.
In addition to her success on the field, Philippe has exceled in the classroom and community. She has 4.0 GPA and is pursuing a degree in Pre Professional Biology and Chemistry. She was named to the Arkansas State Chancellor’s List and Academic Athletic Director’s Honor roll for the 2014-15 academic and was also named to the SBC Commissioner’s List.
Outside of athletics and the classroom, Philippe is involved in several community service projects and serves on the Executive Board for the Up ‘Til Dawn project that helps fund research at St. Jude Children’s Hospital. She has also assisted in raising awareness for Special Olympics and works local youth soccer clinics in the Jonesboro area.
Mary Phillips Smith · Georgia Southern · Women's Tenni
Since joining the tennis team in the spring of 2013 after graduating high school early, Mary Phillips Smith has played an integral role in Georgia Southern athletics. Serving as the president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) at GS this past year, Smith has proven her leadership and dedication to community service both inside and outside of the athletic department.
Academically, Smith has maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA throughout her time as an Eagle and graduated with a degree in marketing in May, where she plans to intern with Athletes in Action to continue her service to Georgia Southern athletics. During her senior season, Smith held a 12-4 record at the No.6 singles position, where she went 2-1 in Sun Belt play. In the beginning of the spring season, Smith sported a team-high eight-match winning streak.
While in the Southern Conference, Smith received recognition for her doubles play, being named to the second All-SoCon Doubles Team as a freshman while also competing in 22 singles matches at the No.4 and 5 positions. Her junior year and the first year in the Sun Belt, she won almost half of her matches at the No.2 singles spot and the top spot in doubles.
Ravin Gilbert · Georgia State · Women's Track and Field
Five-time Sun Belt Conference track champion: 2015 indoor 60 meters, 2015 outdoor 100 meters, 2015 outdoor 200 meters, 2015 outdoor 4x100 meter relay, 2016 indoor 60 meters ... 2015 Sun Belt Conference Most Outstanding Outdoor Track Student-Athlete, when she was the meet's top scorer by sweeping the 100, 200 and 4x100 ... Added runner-up finishes in the 100, 200 and 4x100 at the 2016 Outdoor Track Championships ... Has won a total of 10 medals at Sun Belt Championships with five golds, four silvers and one bronze ... Qualified for the NCAA East Preliminaries the last three years...Part of school record in the 4x100 meter relay...Two-time Sun Belt Track Student-Athlete of the Week ... Two-year member of the GSU SAAC ... Founder and leader of the Panther Fit program, which dedicated over 1,000 hours teaching elementary school students about fitness and nutrition during the spring 2016 semester ... Sociology major with 3.5 GPA.
Sylvana Okde · UL Lafayette · Women's Basketball
Sylvana Okde, a junior from Houston, Texas, helped the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns women’s basketball team to a 25-10 record and its second consecutive title in the Women’s Basketball Invitational.
Returning to the lineup after missing the entire 2014-15 season to an injury, Okde averaged 1.8 points per game for the Ragin’ Cajuns while ranking among the team leaders in 3-pointers attempted and 3-pointers made. Okde, currently pursuing her MBA from UL Lafayette, was named a recipient of the UL Dean of Community Service Excellence in Service Award. She has served as a representative to the UL Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) for three years and served as Vice President in 2014-15 and most recently as President in 2015-16.
She has also served on the Community Service Committee to the Sun Belt Conference SAAC. As a part of UL SAAC, Okde has coordinated numerous project including Reading in Red, local hospital visits, shoe drives, canned food drives, and donation drives for the Faith House and the American Heart Association.
As President of SAAC, she has helped lead her fellow student-athletes in volunteering over 3,000 hours and donating over $9,000 to charitable causes during the 2015-16 academic year.
Mi'Ca Lowe · UL Monroe · Women's Track and Field
Junior Mi’ca Lowe of the ULM women’s track & field program is the 2015 Sun Belt Conference javelin champion. She was named to the All-Conference First-Team in 2015 and All-Conference Third-Team in 2014. The Walker, La., native is a two-time NCAA East Regionals qualifier and has notched four first-place titles at regular-season meets in two seasons. Her personal-record in the javelin is 46.38m set at the prestigious Texas Relays in 2015. Her winning toss at conference landed at a mark of 45.50m.
Academically, Lowe is a two-time USTFCCCA All-Academic selection as well as a two-time SBC Commissioner’s List and two-time ULM President’s List honoree. She is a ULM Peer Leader and teaches freshmen in the University 1001 course and in convocation.
Outside of ULM, Lowe is a volunteer tutor and mentor at both the Louisiana Baptist Children’s Home and Walker Freshman High where she assists with special education records. She’s also heavily involved in church events at Remnant Church of God in Christ.
Cole Billingsley · South Alabama · Baseball
Billingsley has been named first-team all-Sun Belt Conference in the outfield each of the last two years, earning honors in 2016 after batting .305 with 33 runs, 15 extra-base hits, 36 RBI and a league-leading 30 stolen bases in the regular season; his efforts helped South Alabama to a share of the conference championship, and a top-25 national ranking throughout the year. As a redshirt sophomore the previous season, Billingsley paced the Jaguars with a .345 batting average, 80 base hits and 30 stolen bases — topping the league and ranking among the top 20 in the country in the latter category — to be voted second-team all-South Central Region and first-team all-Sun Belt.
He also was an ABCA/Rawlings Division I Gold Glove Award winner and named to the SBC all-tournament team last season after helping USA to both the regular-season championship and a berth in the conference tournament title game. Other honors Billingsley has received during his collegiate career include being selected a Cape Cod League All-Star in the summer of 2015 as well as the winner of USA’s Auralia Crowell Freshman Scholar-Athlete Award in ’13.
A member of the Sun Belt Conference Academic Honor Roll his first three seasons with the program, Billingsley has served on the school’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, and in the community he has taken part in both the Mobile and Loxley Bike Build while also contributing to a Christmas giveaway that helped send holiday gifts overseas to children in need.
Emoni Taylor · UT Arlington · Women's Track and Field
Emoni Taylor is a sophomore on the UT Arlington women’s track and field team. She has competed in both the 100-meter hurdles and 400-meter hurdles during the outdoor season and the 60-meter hurdles indoor. In addition, she has also participated in the 4x400-meter relay. Taylor is a member of the UT Arlington Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC), and will serve as the organization’s chair in 2016-17.
Her involvement helped UTA’s Student-Athlete Advisory Council earn the Sun Belt Conference’s 2015-16 Community Service Award. A biology major, she will be taking a mission trip to Uganda as part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes this summer. Taylor has worked with the Meals on Wheels program, served as a volunteer for the Arlington School District, has spoken to students in the Upward Bound and Trio programs and has supported events and activities that empower young women through leadership development. She is also a two-time member of the UT Arlington Honor Roll.
Shelby Vas Matt · Texas State · Women's Volleyball
Texas State’s Shelby Vas Matt is a three-year letter winnner on the Bobcat volleyball team and, without a doubt, one of the team’s most respected leaders. A member of Texas State’s student-athlete advisory committee, Vas Matt majors in manufacturing engineering with a concentration in mechanical systems in hopes to be a factor in the world’s fight against pollution and overuse of resources, a fight that is very important to her.
In fact, she never misses an opportunity to hold her teammates or coaches accountable for it. The native of Happy Valley, Ore., is very active in the community, always looking for an opportunity to help out and serve. In the classroom, Vas Matt has stood out at Texas State with recognition on the Sun Belt Conference Commissioner’s All-Academic List the past two seasons.
On the court, the incoming senior is the team’s best combination of offense and defense. She was second on the team in kills with 242 while also second in digs with 254 this year. Vas Matt was dangerous in service, notching 28 service aces for second on the team while also getting to the net for 35 blocks, seven of which were solo.
Ashley Beverly Kelley · Troy · Women's Basketball
Ashley Beverly Kelley, the Sun Belt's leading scorer at 19.9 points per game, has been named to the All-Sun Belt team in three straight seasons, making her the first player in Troy's 23-year Division I history to earn all-conference honors in three straight seasons. The Adamsville, Ala., native is just the fourth player in Troy's all-time history with three all-conference selections, and just the second with multiple first team selections.
In addition to leading the Sun Belt in scoring in all games, she also led the way in Sun Belt games at 21.5 points per game. Beverly Kelley also led the league in free throw percentage with an 86.5 percent mark. During her senior season, Beverly Kelley was twice named the Sun Belt Student-Athlete of the Week, she was an Allstate WBCA Good Works Nominee and a Senior CLASS Award candidate.
She scored in double figures 29 times, including 18 games with 20-plus points. Beverly Kelley finished her career with 1,973 points, the most in Troy's Division I history, second most in its all-time history and the ninth most in Sun Belt history. A Mid-Major All-American, Beverly Kelley is also an outstanding student-athlete off the court. If she's not honing her own skills, Beverly Kelley can usually be found at the Troy Recreational Center tutoring kids. She mentors local high school student-athletes on weekends. At the Troy Rec. Center she works with people ages six to 17.
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