CHARLOTTE, N.C. (www.BigSouthSports.com) - Liberty senior distance runner Sam Chelanga (Nairobi, Kenya) and UNC Asheville senior sprinter Natalie Pearson (Sheffield, England) have been voted the Big South Conference Male and Female Student-Athletes of the Year for the 2010-11 season by the League's Athletics Directors, Senior Woman Administrators and Sports Information Directors, it was announced today by the Conference office.
Chelanga earned 109 points and 21 first-place votes in capturing the Howard Bagwell Male Student-Athlete of the Year award for the third consecutive year, joining former Liberty standout Josh McDougal as the only three-time winners. It also marks the sixth consecutive year that Liberty had the Conference's top male athlete. Chelanga finished ahead of Coastal Carolina baseball All-American Tommy La Stella, who tallied 64 points. Liberty football All-American Mike Brown was third in the voting with 47 points, followed by Flames' golfer Robert Karlsson (24 points). VMI track star Felix Kitur received 20 points to round out the top five male vote-getters.
Pearson is the first UNC Asheville student-athlete to win the Conference's Female Student-Athlete of the Year award. She received 70 points and nine first-place votes to become the first track & field athlete to be honored since Radford's Tiffany Evans in 2005-06, and the fourth overall. Pearson finished ahead of Liberty cross country runner Jennifer Klugh, Charleston Southern women's basketball player Katie Tull and Liberty softball All-American Kelly Strickland, who all tied for second with 42 points. Radford softball player Nichole Beall finished fifth in the voting with 33 points.
For the second consecutive year, Chelanga was the NCAA Division I National Champion in two sports in 2010-11, winning the cross country title for the second time and the 5,000-meter run in outdoor track & field in June. He became the 10th runner in NCAA Division I men's cross country history to win back-to-back national championships, capping off an undefeated season. Chelanga also earned a pair of NCAA National Runner-Up finishes this season in the indoor 5,000-meters and the outdoor 10,000-meters, and collected five All-America honors in 2010-11 to end his career as a four-time National Champion and 14-time All-American - including 12 honors while at Liberty. Chelanga was one of 10 men's semifinalists for The Bowerman, college track & field's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, and also swept the Big South and NCAA Division I Southeast Regional cross country crowns for the third-straight year. He was named the USTFCCCA National Male Athlete of the Year for cross country, as well as the USTFCCCA Southeast Region Men's Athlete of the Year for cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. Chelanga, who was tabbed Big South Men's Track & Field Athlete of the Year for the third-straight time, was a nine-time Big South Men's Athlete of the Week honoree in 2010-11.
Chelanga's highlights from this past season also include his third consecutive 5K runner-up finish at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championship, while clocking the eighth-fastest indoor time (13:27.34) in collegiate history. He placed 15th in the 3K at the NCAA indoor meet, claiming Second-Team All-America honors. In addition, Chelanga broke the Liberty and Big South indoor 3K records with his time of 7:48.24 at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix. He also won his third Big South indoor mile title in a row. During the outdoor season, Chelanga claimed the 5K title and finished second in the 10K less than 24 hours apart at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships. His NCAA 5K time of 13:29.30 was the fastest winning time at the NCAA outdoor meet since 2005.
Pearson was the Big South's lone women's track & field athlete to qualify for the national meet in 2010-11, and she became Asheville's first-ever two-time national qualifier as she earned her second-straight bid to the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship in the 200-meter dash. She finished 24th overall with a time of 23.99 to earn Honorable Mention All-America honors. During the 2010-11 campaign, Pearson took home the gold in both the 100-meter and 200-meter events at the Big South Outdoor Track & Field Championship and was second in the 60-meter and 200-meter races at the Big South Indoor Track & Field Championship. Her effort in the outdoor 200 meters set the VMI facility record as she crossed the line in 23.78. She finished her career as Asheville's record holder in the 55-meter, 60-meter, 100-meter and 200-meter events and is the only Bulldog student-athlete to qualify for the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship. Pearson was selected the 2010-11 Big South Women's Track & Field Athlete of the Year for the second consecutive season.
Pearson was also voted to the Big South Women's Outdoor Track & Field All-Academic Team in 2010-11, and was named UNC Asheville Female Athlete of the Year for the third-straight year. In addition, Pearson was the school's NCAA Women of the Year nominee.
In March 2000, the Big South Conference Executive Committee voted to create an annual Male and Female Student-Athlete of the Year award, and name the male award in honor of former Charleston Southern Athletic Director Howard Bagwell, who was one of the founders of the Big South Conference. The annual nominees consist of the Players of the Year from each sport for the regular season most recently completed.
HOWARD BAGWELL MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
2010-11 - Sam Chelanga, Liberty (cross country/track & field)
2009-10 - Sam Chelanga, Liberty (cross country/track & field)
2008-09 - Sam Chelanga, Liberty (cross country/track & field)
2007-08 - Josh McDougal, Liberty (cross country/track & field)
2006-07 - Josh McDougal, Liberty (cross country/track & field)
2005-06 - Josh McDougal, Liberty (cross country/track & field)
2004-05 - Mike Costanzo, Coastal Carolina (baseball)
2003-04 - Joseph Ngwenya, Coastal Carolina (soccer)
2002-03 - Joseph Ngwenya, Coastal Carolina (soccer)
2001-02 - Justin Owens, Coastal Carolina (baseball)
2000-01 - Jason Colson, Winthrop (baseball)
1999-00 - Keith Butler, Liberty (baseball)
FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
2010-11 - Natalie Pearson, UNC Asheville (track & field)
2009-10 - Kristen Shifflett, Radford (softball)
2008-09 - Megan Frazee, Liberty (basketball)
2007-08 - Megan Frazee, Liberty (basketball)
2006-07 - Aruka Felgueroso, Coastal Carolina (golf)
2005-06 - Tiffany Evans, Radford (track & field)
2004-05 - Katie Feenstra, Liberty (basketball)
2003-04 - Katie Feenstra, Liberty (basketball)
2002-03 - Amber Campbell, Coastal Carolina (track & field)
2001-02 - Heather Sagan, Liberty (track & field)
2000-01 - Amber Campbell, Coastal Carolina (track & field)
1999-00 - Anthonia Akpama, Liberty (volleyball)