Tennessee Tech student-athletes, coaches honored at third annual Golden Wings Awards

Tennessee Tech student-athletes, coaches honored at third annual Golden Wings Awards

By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Tech student-athletes, coaches, administrators and supporters gathered to celebrate their achievements at the third annual Golden Wings Awards at the Hooper Eblen Center on Thursday evening.

Designed to recognize excellence by Tennessee Tech student-athletes and coaches, the ESPYs-style, end-of-year event is a video-based production featuring over 20 awards and honors that reach each of Tech's 14 teams. The show was broadcast live on the OVC Digital Network, allowing fans across the nation and world to view the accomplishments of Tech student-athletes, and can be viewed in its entirety here.

The timeframe of the awards period was the current season (2017-18 in this instance) except for baseball, softball and outdoor track & field. With those sports still competing with a large portion of their seasons left, the previous spring campaigns (2017 in this instance) were recognized. The Man and Woman of the Year awards encompassed the 2017-18 period for all sports.

Doors opened at 7 p.m. CT, affording the student-athletes time to mingle, utilize the multiple photo booths available, conduct stand-up video interviews and enjoy a buffet of food options all in a gala "Purple Carpet" reception. The show followed at 8 p.m.

Three programs shared Team of the Year honors after claiming Ohio Valley Conference championships, including baseball, indoor track & field and tennis. The baseball team captured both the league's regular season and tournament crowns, advancing to the NCAA Regionals where the squad earned a victory over No. 15 ranked Florida State. The indoor track & field team claimed the program's first-ever OVC championship after posting a program-record 137 points and eight event titles at the OVC Championships. Tennis won a thrilling, down-to-the-wire match against Belmont, 4-3, in the OVC Tournament Championship match to earn the program's third consecutive tournament title. 

Lauren Brewer took home Woman of the Year accolades, the third soccer player in four years to earn the highest honor a female Tennessee Tech student-athlete can receive. A two-time All-OVC first-team defender, Brewer helped lead Tech soccer to its longest unbeaten streak in program history and set program records in goals allowed average and save percentage. Brewer helped found the Love Your Melon Club at Tech, helping to support children with cancer around the world. She was also a member of SAAC, and also helped with efforts for Relay For Life and Race After Dark.

Man of the Year was presented to Trevor Putzig, Tech's senior third baseman. Putzig has put together tremendous numbers for the Tech baseball team, hitting .327 with 12 home runs and 52 RBI. Last season, he ranked seventh nationally in batting average and sixth in hits. Off the field, he was named to CoSIDA's Academic All-America second team roster. An FAA licensed pilot, Putzig has proven himself as a multi-faceted scholar. He has been involved with the TVA Investments Challenge Program, been a member of the Beta Gamma Sigma Business Honor Society, as well as a member of the Associated Scholars Guild. Putzig has also worked with Tech baseball camps, Fall Fun Fest, tutoring at Cane Creek Elementary and has worked with the HPEO Honors Program's Service Committee.

Na'Asha Robinson made Tennessee Tech history to earn Female Athlete of the Year honors, capturing USTFCCCA Outdoor All-American honors after becoming the first female athlete in program history to reach the NCAA Championships, finishing 15thoverall in the 400-meter dash semifinal in Eugene, Ore. The sophomore took home OVC titles in the 200-meter dash, 400-meter dash and 4X100-meter relay. She set school and league records in the 200-meter dash and the program mark in the 400-meter dash. Robinson finished the year with the 29th-best time nationally in the 400-meter dash and also posted the OVC's best time in the 200-meter dash. 

Ryan Flick dominated on the diamond to claim Male Athlete of the Year honors, earning five All-American nods, All-OVC Second Team honors and National Player of the Week honors as a junior. He finished with the second-most RBI in program history, the third-most doubles, the fifth-most home runs and the sixth- best slugging percentage. He tied single-game program records and broke OVC Tournament single-game marks with three home runs and nine RBI, clinching OVC Tournament MVP honors. He was also named a finalist for the Gregg Olson Award while batting .377 with 61 runs, 24 doubles, 19 home runs, 74 RBI, a .727 slugging percentage and .461 on base percentage.

Football's Josh Poplar was honored as the recipient of the Inspiration Award. His story was told through a video interview piece that highlighted his incredible tale. All in attendance at the Golden Wings Awards stood in ovation for the linebacker, honoring him as she accepted the award on stage. Inspirational in her own right, Akia Harris was named the recipient of the Comeback Athlete of the Year award. After undergoing off-season surgery to remove a blood clot, Harris returned to the court in time for the 2017-18 season, leading the Golden Eagles in minutes (34.0 per game) and ranking ninth in the OVC with 3.6 assists per game. 

Indoor track & field head coach Wayne Angel, baseball head coach Matt Bragga and tennis coach Kenny Doyle were all recognized as Coach of the Year. Angel and his staff put together a team that captured the program's first-ever OVC title, scoring a whopping 137 points just three years after the team did not record a single point. Bragga's club set a new program standard for wins with 41 while dominating the league's competition on its way to regular season and tournament championships, as well as an NCAA Regional victory. Doyle and his staff inspired a remarkable, bounce-back performance in the OVC Championship match to earn its third straight tournament title, upending Belmont 4-3 after falling to the Bruins in the regular season finale one week before.

Game of the Year was awarded to the baseball team after posting a come-from-behind, 3-1 victory over No. 15 Florida State in the first game of the NCAA Tallahassee Regional. Tech tied the contest at 1-1 in the eighth inning before plating two more in the ninth for the lead over the Regional host and No. 1 seed. Micayla Rennick captured the Performance of the Year after wreaking havoc at the OVC Indoor Track & Field Championships. The senior earned Athlete of the Championship -- the first Golden Eagle ever to do so -- on the heels of winning event titles in the mile, 800-meter run and 3,000-meter run. She broke the OVC Championship record in the mile and ran the anchor leg of the distance medley relay to clinch a runner-up finish in the event.

The Play of the Year went to baseball's Alex Junior, who stunned Austin Peay with an incredible diving catch to end the sixth inning of the two teams' Mar. 24 contest last season. On a fly ball to deep right center, Junior took off with an excellent route and made a leaping snag at the warning track to end the frame. The catch would go on to rank No. 2 on Sports Center's Top-10 Plays of the Day and can be view here.

Female and Male Freshman of the Year honors were claimed by Purity Sanga of women's cross country and Devin Lancaster of baseball. Sanga beame the program's first OVC Women's Freshman of the Year and earned just the eighth at-large bid to the NCAA Championships in OVC history (and first in Tech history) after placing eighth at the NCAA South Regional with a school-record showing in the 6K. Lancaster was named to the OVC All-Freshman Team after compiling a 4-1 record, a save and 4.72 ERA while making seven starts and 15 total appearances for the OVC championship baseball team.

Khemani Roberts took home Female Newcomer of the Year honors after making an instant impact on the indoor track & field roster following her transfer from Coppin State. The junior captured two OVC Championship titles in the pentathlon and the 4X400-meter relay and also medaled in the high jump with a third-place finish. She sent school records in the pentathlon, high jump and 4x400-meter relay throughout the year. Male Newcomer of the Year was presented to Shaq Calhoun, a graduate transfer from South Alabama. After beginning the year as the team's sixth man and contributing effectivley, the guard turned it up a notch after an injury forced him into the starting lineup for the majority of the conference season. He averaged 10.8 points per game and shot 38.3 percent from 3-point range to help Tech to 19 wins on the year. 

Molly Kafader was the winner of Breakthrough Female Athlete of the Year. After playing just 182 minutes as a sophomore, Kafader started all 17 matches and played 1,488 minutes as a junior. The midfielder scored a goal and tallied an assist while helping the Tech defense set multiple program records and claim a second-place finish in the league. Aderick Moore earned Breakthrough Male Athlete of the Year honors after establishing himself as one of the league's top linebackers. Following a freshman season that saw him tally just 13 tackles, the sophomore led the Golden Eagle defense in tackles (95), tackles for loss (9.5), sacks (3.5), and unassisted tackles (38).

Academic success was once again recognized, with winners announced for the Large and Small Academic Team of the Year. The large team included the squads with rosters of 15 or more student-athletes, while the definition of small teams was squads with rosters of less than 15 student-athletes. The winners were determined by the highest percentage of the roster to be included on the Athletic Director's Honor Roll in each of the past two semesters (Spring '17 and Fall '17). In the large team's category, the soccer team took first place for the third consecutive year with 91.7 percent of the roster earning a spot on the A.D. Honor Roll, followed by softball and volleyball. Among the small teams, the winner was tennis behind a perfect 100.0 percent representation on the A.D. Honor Roll, with women's cross country second and women's golf third. The women's golf team earned the Community Service Award, raising the most money per team member to donate to the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) Backpack Buddies initiative, which goes to support local Putnam County children in need.

Fifteen Golden Eagle Awards, an honor created by members of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee in 2016, were presented throughout the night. Each of Tech's 13 team's (indoor and outdoor track & field were combined), as well as the Golden Eagle cheer and dance teams, voted to select one member of the roster whom they would hold up with pride to represent the team, who is always positive and giving 110 percent, supporting their teammates, win or lose, and serving as the "heart" of the team, no matter whether they were a star or a seldom-used backup. Each winner was announced by a teammate, who explained via video why the winner was selected. Winners included Brannon Cheplak (men's cross country), Tim Collins (football), Mary Francis Hoots (soccer), Shealene Little (volleyball), Micayla Rennick (women's cross country), Kelly Bolton (cheer), Yaktavia "Shug" Hickson (women's basketball), D'Airrien Jackson (track & field), Haley Kramer (dance), Kajon Mack (men's basketball), Bayli Cruse (softball), David Garza (baseball), Eduardo Mena (tennis), Alexander Riddle (men's golf) and Hollee Sadler (women's golf).

The Golden Eagle Cheer and Dance teams were provided special recognition with a highlight video from their award-winning seasons of competition as well as their performances and appearances at the countless events, games and matches from throughout the past year. 

Photos by Thomas Corhern

Large Academic Team
of the Year

Soccer

Small Academic Team
of the Year

Tennis

Large Academic Team
of the Year

Women's Golf

Play
of the Year

Alex Junior
Baseball

Female Freshman
of the Year

Purity Sanga
Women's Cross Country

Male Freshman
of the Year

Devin Lancaster
Baseball

Game
of the Year

NCAA Win at Florida State
Baseball

Female Newcomer
of the Year

Khemani Roberts
Indoor Track & Field

Male Newcomer
of the Year

Shaq Calhoun
Men's Basketball

Comeback Athlete
of the Year

Akia Harris
Women's Basketball

Breakthrough Female
Athlete of the Year

Molly Kafader
Soccer

Breakthrough Male
Athlete of the Year

Aderick Moore
Football

Performance
of the Year

Micayla Rennick at OVC Championships
Indoor Track & Field

Female Athlete
of the Year

Na'Asha Robinson
Outdoor Track & Field

Male Athlete
of the Year

Ryan Flick
Baseball

Inspiration
Award

Josh Poplar
Football

Woman
of the Year

Lauren Brewer
Soccer

Man
of the Year

Trevory Putzig
Baseball

Coach
of the Year

Wayne Angel
Indoor Track & Field

Coach
of the Year

Matt Bragga
Baseball

Coach
of the Year

Kenny Doyle
Tennis

Team
of the Year

Baseball

Team
of the Year

Indoor Track & Field

Team
of the Year

Tennis

Golden Eagle Awards
(Fall)

Brannon Cheplak – Men's Cross Country
Tim Collins – Football
Mary Francis Hoots – Soccer
Shealene Little – Volleyball
Micayla Rennick – Women's Cross Country

Golden Eagle Awards
(Winter)

Kelly Bolton – Cheer
Yaktavia "Shug" Hickson – Women's Basketball
D'Airrien Jackson – Track & Field
Haley Kramer – Dance
Kajon Mack – Men's Basketball

Golden Eagle Awards
(Spring)

Bayli Cruse – Softball
David Garza – Baseball
Eduardo Mena – Tennis
Alexander Riddle – Men's Golf
Hollee Sadler – Women's Golf