MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Basketball’s Courtney Whitson and tennis’s Francisco Rocha were the big winners at the 11th Annual Raiders’ Choice Awards on Thursday night which was broadcast on Facebook.com, the Blue Raiders’ YouTube channel and TrueBlue TV. The year-end “Academy Awards” style show highlighted all the academic and athletic accomplishments of the Blue Raider student-athletes for the 2021-22 academic year and the event returned to Tucker Theatre after a two-year absence due to COVID.
Whitson and Rocha were honored with the True Blue President’s Award, which is the highest honor bestowed upon a current MT student-athlete who epitomizes all that is good in intercollegiate athletics. Presented annually to one male and one female student-athlete, the President’s Award recognizes outstanding academic and athletic accomplishments, university/community service and leadership.
Both excelled in the classroom, community and on the court. Whitson carries an impressive 3.7 GPA in English and is fresh off leading MTSU to one of the best seasons in program history. An all-conference performer, Whitson averaged nearly a double-double with 12.4 points and 7.3 rebounds. Rocha, who also won the award last year, owns a perfect 4.0 GPA while majoring in business administration. He carries a mark of 22-8 in singles and 18-11 in doubles, and was instrumental in the Blue Raiders winning their third straight C-USA Championship last week.
“This is a tremendous evening where we celebrate the accomplishments of our student-athletes but this year is a little more special because we were back in person,” said Director of Athletics Chris Massaro. “I am proud of our student-athletes, coaches, and staff for putting themselves in position to succeed all year long both in the classroom and on the field/court. I applaud all their efforts and it’s just a great night for Blue Raider Athletics.”
Academically, the Student-Athlete Enhancement Center awarded the highest Team GPA honors for the spring 2021 semester and the fall 2021 semester. The spring 2021 honor went to women’s golf (3.78) and men’s tennis (3.91), while the fall 2021 awards went to women’s golf (3.52) and men’s tennis (3.90).
In the individual categories, tennis standout Chris Edge was voted Male Athlete of the Year, while women’s track star Eusila Chepkemei and soccer’s Peyton DePriest shared the Female Athlete of the Year honor. Edge owns a mark of 25-10 in singles and 26-7 in doubles which leads the team in both categories. Chepkemei led the cross country team to a conference championship then at the C-USA Indoor Track and Field Championships she went on to become the first athlete in conference history to sweep the 800-meter, one mile, and 3000 meter. DePriest led Conference USA in goals scored (12), goals per game (0.63), points (28), points per game (1.47), shots (79), shots per game (4.16), and shots on goal (40) during the 2021 season.
The Male and Female Newcomer of the Year awards went to Alaba Akintola from track and Dor Saar from women’s basketball. Akintola earned second team all-american honors in the 60 meters, while Saar earned all-conference honors and proved to be one of the top three-point shooters in the country.
The Breakout Performer of the Year awards went to Marley Banton (volleyball) and Jaylin Lane (football) and Eli Lawrence (men’s basketball). Banton was voted C-USA’s Libero of the Year, making her the first Blue Raider to win a superlative award since 2010. Lane led the nation in punt return average (15.5) while catching 42 passes on his way to earning FWAA First Team Freshman All-American honors. Lawrence keyed the Blue Raiders’ magical turn around in 2021-22 by doubling his previous scoring average to 10.8 a game and leading the team with 47 steals.
Fans determined the winners of the Play of the Year, Performance of the Year, and the Game/Event of the Year by voting on GoBlueRaiders.com. The Play of the Year was Nick Wolf’s hole-in-one on the 11th hole at the JT Poston Invitational. The Performance of the Year award went to women’s basketball standout Anastasiia Boldyreva who scored a career-high 28 points in the win over Toledo on the road in the WNIT. The Game/Event of the Year was shared between soccer’s 2-1 win over defending SEC champion Vanderbilt and football’s Bahamas Bowl win over Toledo.
The Make-A-Difference Award went to football’s Jordan Ferguson.
Numerous athletes were also recognized for their academic honors, All-American accolades and individual championships.
2022 RAIDERS CHOICE AWARDS WINNERS
PRESIDENTS AWARD (MALE): Francisco Rocha, tennis
PRESIDENTS AWARD (FEMALE): Courtney Whitson, basketball
MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Chris Edge, tennis
FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Eusila Chepkemei, track; Peyton DePriest, soccer
MALE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: Alaba Akintola, track
FEMALE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: Dor Saar, basketball
FEMALE BREAKOUT PERFORMER OF THE YEAR: Marley Banton, volleyball
MALE BREAKOUT PERFORMER OF THE YEAR: Jaylin Lane, football; Eli Lawrence, basketball
ALL-AMERICANS: Peyton DePriest (2021 WSOC) – CoSIDA Academic All-American, Eusila Chepkemei (2022 Indoor T&F) – (First Team/One Mile), Omamuyovwi Erhire (2022 Indoor T&F) – (First Team/High Jump), Alaba Akintola (2022 Indoor T&F) – (Second Team/200m), Esther Isa (2022 Indoor T&F) – (Second Team/Triple Jump), Jaylin Lane (2021 Football) – FWAA First Team Freshman All-American, Kigen Chemadi (First Team/3000M Steeplechase)
TEAM GPA AWARD/SPRING 2021: Women’s Golf (3.79); Men’s Tennis (3.91)
TEAM GPA AWARD/FALL 2021: Women’s Golf (3.52); Men’s Tennis (3.90)
GAME/EVENT OF THE YEAR: Soccer’s 2-1 win over reigning SEC Tournament Champion Vanderbilt and the football team’s Bahamas Bowl win over Toledo
PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR: Anastasiia Boldyreva’s career-high 28-point effort in road win over Toledo during the WNIT quarterfinals. Boldyreva had 26 points in the second half, including the go-ahead basket in overtime with 59 seconds to play
PLAY OF THE YEAR: Nick Wolf recorded a hole-in-one on the 11th hole at the Country Club of Sapphire Valley in the first round of the JT Poston Invitational.
MAKE A DIFFERENCE AWARD: Nelson Mandela once spoke of a lesson he imparted to young people, that “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” This year’s Making A Difference Award winner embodies that selfless service to others in their actions in the athletic arena, and outside of it. A two-time captain for Middle Tennessee’s football team, this year’s honoree has shown tremendous growth across his career on the gridiron, continuing to not only better himself, but his teammates through his actions and mentorship. In 2021, he started a non-profit, Hands Worldwide, which has helped feed those in need in his hometown of Atlanta over the winter holidays and also launched a blanket drive during the winter months in the Mid-state, with the help of many of his Blue Raider teammates, that helped keep the homeless warm in both Murfreesboro and Nashville. That selfless devotion to not only his teammates, but also the community at large, continues to make the difference in the lives of so many people.