Senior soccer player Alex Combs could only think of one word to describe the first Centre Athletics Awards Show.
“Incredible,” she said after the show.
It was all that and more for Centre College student-athletes and their coaches Monday as athletes from 23 different teams gathered to celebrate the many special moments from the 2015-16 school year.
Director of Athletics and Recreation Brad Fields could not have been happier with the way the show turned out from the start with Assistant Women’s Soccer Coach Jessica Chisley singing the national anthem and then offering a 15-minute comedy monologue honoring so many deserving athletes.
“When I returned to Centre in May of 2013 as AD, I wanted to find a way to bring our collective ‘Centre Athletics family’ together at the end of the year, to celebrate and console, in the memories and emotions that made the year what it was,” said Fields. “Other places I have been in my career, the year-end banquet was always one of my favorite nights.
“In just a couple hours, you got a chance to relive the emotion of the academic year—and there are few things in life that generate that raw emotion like competition and sport,” he continued. “We didn’t have that at Centre, yet our culture was already set up as a close-knit community.”
Fields admits he didn’t have the answer to what to do since most Centre teams had their own banquets with “longstanding traditions and the intimacy that a team-only banquet can provide.” Field knows a department-wide banquet was not the answer. That’s where the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) worked with coaches and administrators to find the right answer.
“It was indeed not another banquet, and it enhanced—not detracted—from the already established team banquet traditions. Thus, the Centre Athletics Award Show was born,” Fields said. “To those pioneering folks on the SAAC, as well as Andrew Gavin, Ashley Taylor, Jenelle Anthony and Liam Halferty, they have my gratitude.”
While numerous student-athletes and teams were honored, the night belonged to the Centre women’s soccer team. Centre finished the season 21-2-1 and advanced to its first Final Four—and the school’s first in any sport since the women’s basketball team reached the Final Four in 1990.
The soccer team received the award for best moment or accomplishment for reaching the Final Four, best game or upset for its 1-0 win over Thomas More that put Centre into the Elite Eight, and team of the year for its record and Final Four berth. The female athlete of the year was Destine Graves, who set a Centre record with 27 goals, including one in the Final Four, and Jay Hoffman was named coach of the year.
Combs won the award for play of the year for an incredible goal as well as student-athlete of the year.
She thought the awards for the soccer team were “well deserved” and not that unexpected.
“We worked very hard for that and going to the Final Four is such a huge accomplishment and had not happened in such a long time. I think having Brad as our athletic director, and everything they did with this awards show, just demonstrates that our athletics are really taking a huge step in the direction of building our teams and programs. We were just a reflection of that success with our season,” Combs explained.
She also said getting to celebrate all those memories at the awards show was special for the soccer team as well as the other athletes. She knew the University of Kentucky had the CATSPY awards show and University of Louisville the Louie Awards and that both are a “big deal” to athletes.
“Being the first one here, it was really a neat experience to see all the athletes come together and get to celebrate our accomplishments. I am glad we did this,” said Combs, who will head to Auburn to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry.
Combs added she was flattered by both the individual and team awards.
“The team of the year definitely is amazing. Again, just having that Final Four experience is what really stand outs. Getting to go to Kansas City (for the Final Four) and the NCAA banquet and being there with my whole team to play on that field and experience that atmosphere, that will be the most standout moment when I look back on my career. Everything else is just icing on the cake,” she said.
It seemed every category had two or more outstanding nominees, which did not surprise Fields because he gets out often to watch the school’s nearly 600 athletes compete in various sports.
“These young men and women are talented in the classroom, they are talented on the fields and courts, they are engaged on campus and in their communities, and they desire to make the world a better place,” Fields said. “Our student-athletes inspire many—and that’s certainly true for me, personally.
“Another reason this awards show has such meaning is it allows us to collectively tell our story,” he continued. “Each of the individual stories is impactful, but for us to gather and hear all the stories as a group is exponentially powerful and inspires a real sense of pride in others that they, too, are a part of Centre Athletics—regardless of the outcome of their individual season.”
One of the show’s more inspirational moments came when the softball team paid tribute to Dr. Eva Cadavid, associate professor of philosophy. She is the faculty liaison for the softball team and did not let her battle with breast cancer stop her support of the team. The players had a surprise video message that [had] Cadavid crying as she sat in the audience watching the video with the student-athletes.
“She knew nothing about what we were going to do,” Head Softball Coach Ashley Taylor said. “It’s something we really wanted to do because of all she has meant to our team and the support she showed us.”
Each Centre coach also presented a member of his or her team with the Flame Award—given to the student-athlete who best exemplifies the qualities of both the program and the College in general.
“The driving force (for the show) has been for the student-athletes to have a night to celebrate and honor one another,” Fields said. “With 23 teams competing over the time span of August until May, you can imagine there are varying levels of success, challenges, struggles and triumphs. To gather as a family, and tell the collective story is powerful.”
However, it also has a strong recruiting message for future Centre student-athletes and their parents.
“It’s a genuine message to prospective student-athletes and their families that we are more than just 23 different teams at the same institution. We are a family.” Fields added. “We care about one another’s successes and failures. The student-athlete experience is an important part of the journey for their sons and daughters.”
Combs said she could not think of a better way to end her standout athletic career that started at Boyle County High School in Danville, continued with her being named conference newcomer of the year as a freshman at Centre and then playing on four straight conference championship teams.
“Just being a college student-athlete is a privilege that many high school athletes don’t get, and to be a student-athlete that is part of a program that is this successful is even more special,” Combs said. “To get to celebrate that … I think a lot of my closure came with that final game and having to deal with that. This was more of a positive end to that and more positive way for me to reflect back and not be sad that we lost that game (in the Final Four) but to celebrate everything we accomplished.
“I am appreciative of this, because I would rather look back and not be sad but look back and be like, ‘Wow. Look at all the awesome things I did and all the exciting experiences I had being a student-athlete at Centre College,'” she concluded. “This awards show was just the perfect way to end my athletic career.”
by Larry Vaught, Centre Athletics News
May 12, 2016