2015-16 Outstanding Male Athlete of the Year Award boasts 10 finalists

2015-16 Outstanding Male Athlete of the Year Award boasts 10 finalists

By TTU Sports Information

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – An elite list of 10 student-athletes has been announced as finalists for Tennessee Tech University's 2015-16 Outstanding Male Athlete Award, with the winner to be announced Sunday, July 10.

The TTU Awards Committee has named three members from the football team, two each from baseball, basketball, and tennis, and one from the golf team.

The Outstanding Male Athlete Award was established in 1994, and 25 winners have been selected in the previous 22 years, including three years with co-winners. The previous winners are:

1994 - Mike Jones (Football)
1995 - Greg Bibb (Basketball)
1996 - Michael Penix (Football)
1997 - Mark Maberry (Baseball)
1998 - Andre Caballero (Football)
1999 - Branon Vaughn (Football)
2000 - Branon Vaughn (Football)
2001 - Chad Evitts (Football)
2002 - Grant Swallows (Football)
2003 - Casey Benjamin (Baseball)
2004 - Willie Jenkins (Basketball)
2005 - Willie Jenkins (Basketball)
               and Frank Omiyale (Football)
2006 - Scott Stallings (Golf)
2007 - Scott Stallings (Golf)
2008 - Larry Shipp (Football)
2009 - A.J. Kirby-Jones (Baseball)
2010 – A.J. Kirby Jones (Baseball)
               and Chad Oberacker (Baseball)           
2011 -  Zac Swansey (Basketball)
2012 – Tim Benford (Football)
2013 – Syrym Abduhkalikov (Tennis)
2014 – Daniel Miles (Baseball)
               and Brandon Thomasson (Baseball)
2015 - Alex Arovin (Tennis) 

Criteria for the award are based solely on the athletic accomplishments of each student-athlete during 2015-16. The 10 finalists, in alphabetical order, are:

<<< Tra'Darius Goff | Redshirt Senior | Columbia, Tenn. | Football
Senior Tra'Darius Goff smacked an exclamation point on the end of a stellar career on the gridiron behind a banner 2015 campaign that featured a slew of honors and a wealth of eye-popping statistics. Tabbed as a preseason all-OVC selection as well as a preseason All-America pick by College Sports Madness, the Columbia, Tenn. native lived up to the billing, showcasing why he was considered to be one of the best linebackers in the country, even after missing the majority of the 2014 season due to injury. Goff's 132 total tackles set the standard in the Ohio Valley Conference, a mark that put him in fifth in the nation while also netting the 5-foot-11, 240-pound linebacker all-OVC first-team honors. Goff, who averaged 12 tackles per game, added some historical flavor to his swan song, becoming the first Golden Eagle since 1983 to record three separate seasons with 100 or more tackles, ultimately finishing third all-time with an impressive 373 tackles throughout his career. In 11 games in 2015, Goff registered double-digit tackles in eight of them, highlighted by a season-high 18 against UT Martin on Oct. 3, yet it was his ability to do everything in a clutch-road win at Murray State on Sep. 26 that earned the explosive senior OVC Defensive Player of the Week accolades. In a hard-fought 31-29 victory over the Racers, Goff tallied 14 total tackles, a sack, a forced-fumble and had the play of the game that saw him chase down Jeremy Harness on a potential game-tying two point conversion inside two minutes that denied Murray State of deadlocking the tilt. As if his gaudy senior season wasn't noteworthy enough, Goff did it off a 2014 campaign that saw him play in just three games because of injury, leading him to the first ever Comeback Athlete of the Year honor at the Golden Wings Awards.   

Maleek Hall | Junior | Clarksville, Tenn. | Football >>>
A key member of the Golden Eagle secondary, junior Maleek Hall earned one of the highest praises you can give a cornerback as the Clarksville, Tenn. native became widely regarded as a "shut-down corner." The numbers speak for themselves after Hall led the nation in passes defended with an impressive 17, a pivotal reason why the 5-foot-10, 190-pound junior took home all-OVC second team honors, as well as Tech's Tony Stone Bumble Bee DB Award. Not only did Hall showcase his ability to defend the pass, but the speedster ranked fourth on the team and 20th in the conference with 64 total tackles, including three tackles-for-loss. Aside from being stout on the defensive side of things, Hall displayed a great deal of versatility with a knack for coming up big on special teams. Not only did he take a blocked PAT 90 yards to the house for two points in Tech's 30-24 win over Tennessee State in the regular season finale, but Hall's two blocked kicks in a narrow 31-29 victory at Murray State on Sep. 26, pushed the athletic junior to the OVC and National Special Teams Player of the Week honors. That thrilling game also saw Hall record a season-high 10 total tackles in addition to a season-high tying three pass break-ups, exhibiting his ability to do a little bit of everything on the gridiron.

<<< Ryan Martin | Senior | London, England | Basketball
Granted just one season to prove himself on the court, Ryan Martin made every minute count in 2015-16, guiding the Golden Eagles to a 19-12 record and the team's first postseason bid since 2011-12, a trip to the inaugural Vegas 16 Tournament. A year after claiming just four conference wins, Martin helped Tech to an 11-5 mark in the league and a trip back to the OVC Tournament while starting in 30 and appearing in all 31 of the team's contests. Behind his leadership on the court, the Golden Eagles notched a 14-1 mark in the Eblen Center. On his way to All-OVC Second Team and OVC All-Newcomer honors, the London, England native led Tech and ranked fourth in the league with 8.2 rebounds per game. The big man averaged 14.0 points and 28.9 minutes per contest while shooting 52 percent from the field and an impressive 78.2 percent from the charity stripe. He tallied 10 doubles throughout the season while earning OVC Newcomer of the Week honors four times. With Martin leading the frontcourt the 2015-16 squad made its mark on the record books, ranking second all-time in program history with 266 three pointers, third with 566 made free throws and a 74.3 free throw percentage, and fifth with 2,416 points and a 36.4 3-point percentage. His efforts on the year garnered him Male Newcomer of the Year honors at the first ever Golden Wings Awards.

Brock McCoin | Sophomore | Livingston, Tenn. | Football >>>
Sophomore Brock McCoin starred in two separate and completely different roles on the gridiron, displaying uncanny versatility and selflessness for the Tennessee Tech football team in 2015, ultimately taking home the Robert Hill Johnson Award, considered to be the most prestigious award presented to a Golden Eagle player each year. Having spent the first eight games as a wide receiver, the Livingston, Tenn. native proved to be one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the Ohio Valley Conference, spending most of the year leading the conference in receiving and receptions per game, before moving to quarterback for the final three contests of the season. In fact, despite not hauling in a single reception over the last three weeks of the year, McCoin's 5.5 receptions per game ranked fifth in the league, while his 61 catches and 747 receiving yards put him in seventh in the OVC. The 6-foot, 185-pound sophomore was well on pace to break school records in receptions and receiving yards, before unselfishly yielding those chances in order to play quarterback, where he wound up ranked first in the OVC in passing efficiency and ninth in passing yards per game, pacing Tech to a 2-1 record in his three starts as signal caller. Overall, McCoin accounted for nearly 1,500 total yards and eight touchdowns, pushing him to a spot on the all-OVC second team, as well as Tech's Most Valuable Offensive Player award. McCoin's impressive campaign was also draped with historical significance, becoming the only player in NCAA DI (FBS and FCS) in the past 20 years to accomplish a 100-yard rushing game, 200-yard passing game and 200-yard receiving game in the same season. His season-opening effort of 264 receiving yards at the University of Houston was the second-most by any FCS player in 2015, and were the most receiving yards ever given up by the Cougars in a single game. The incredible showing that also featured two touchdowns, both of which went for over 70 yards apiece, led McCoin to the first ever Performance of the Year honor at the Golden Wings Awards.        

<<< Eduardo Mena | Sophomore | Bultrago del Lozoya, Spain | Tennis
It would be hard pressed to find a year better than the one put together by sophomore Eduardo Mena, who basically redefined domination in the sport of tennis. Illuminating with historical significance, the sizzling numbers set forth by the Bultrago del Lozoya, Spain native somehow, someway don't even do it justice for this year's Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year and All-OVC first team representative. A Tennessee Tech record-setting 33 wins, highlighted by an almost incomprehensible 20-1 dual record this spring with the only loss coming to nationally-ranked Romain Bogaerts of Wake Forest, Mena shined brightest when the stage loomed largest. Pacing the Golden Eagles to their the first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2006 with all 20 of his victories out of the pressure-packed No. 1 spot, Mena took it to the next level in a battle with the country's top-rated player, Mikael Torpegaard of No. 5 Ohio State University. In the opening round of the NCAA Championship, Mena captured a grueling first set, 7-6 (7-5), over the nation's No. 1, a player who had rolled through an undefeated spring with wins over 16 nationally-ranked opponents, having dropped only five sets in 23 total matches. Up 1-0, Mena proved it wasn't a fluke as the TTU explosive sophomore led 3-2 in the second set, before the match was ultimately called. The triumph over the Big Ten Athlete of the Year continued a trend of sterling play on the court for Mena, who managed to seize Tech's coveted No. 1 singles spot away from senior Alex Arovin, last year's OVC Player of the Year, before dual action even began. The 6-foot Spaniard led the Golden Eagle charge to their fourth OVC regular season championship in the last five years, marching the club to an undefeated, 9-0, mark that featured Tech outscoring its opponents an impressive 54-9 throughout its perfect conference run. Mena rolled out an unblemished 9-0 singles record himself, dropping only three of his 21 sets during conference action, and even upped the ante in the OVC Tournament with back-to-back straight-set victories over two other No. 1's in both the semifinal and championship matches. Even with all of the accolades in the spring, which also included a pair of OVC Male Athlete of the Week nods, Mena exhibited his dominance in the fall, going to a place of rarified air that no other Tennessee Tech tennis player has gone before him after reserving a spot in the USTA/ITA Regional Championship match back in October. In fact, no other Golden Eagle had ever even made it to the USTA/ITA semifinals.      

Guillermo Nicolas | Freshman | Villanueva de la Canada, Spain | Tennis >>> It was a first impression like you read about for freshman Guillermo Nicolas, one that was chock full of significant postseason hardware and armed with perfection in the Villanueva de la Canada, Spain native's first year draped in the purple and gold. Named a first-teamer in the Ohio Valley Conference, Nicolas also captured the league's coveted Freshman of the Year award after rolling out an undefeated, 9-0, conference mark to help lead the TTU charge to its fourth OVC regular season championship in the last four years, and third by way of perfection over that same time span. Overall, the 5-foot-9 rookie posted an 18-4 singles record during the spring that included a pair of victories in the OVC Tournament over Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky to help pace Tech to its first conference tournament title and trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2006. Nicolas also finished second on the Golden Eagles with 10 doubles nods during the spring, going a combined 28-9 during dual action for a sterling .757 winning percentage, which played a pivotal role in him taking home the first ever Male Freshman of the Year honor at the Golden Wings Awards.

<<< Ethan Roberts | Freshman | Sparta, Tenn. | Baseball
Arguably Tech's most trustworthy option out of the bullpen all season long, freshman Ethan Roberts proved himself again and again on the hill in 2016, striking opponents out left and right on his way to OVC All-Freshman honors. The Sparta, Tenn. native made an immediate impact for the Golden Eagles, posting a team-best 2.94 ERA while tossing 49 innings over 17 appearances, including one start. He fanned an impressive 65 batters while walking just 18 on the year and ranked first on the Golden Eagle squad with a 6-1 record. The right-hander was especially impressive over his final four appearances of the regular season, racking up four or more innings in each. His best performance, however, came at Belmont, where he struck out a career-best 10 of the 12 batters he faced with no walks. Roberts tied for the team lead with two saves on the year, but proved especially effective in long relief, completing three or more innings in nine contests. Over a span of six appearances from March 8 through April 9, the youngster did not allow a single earned run, a span of 18.1 inning. He punched out 24 batters in those six contests as well. 

Torrance Rowe | Senior | Atlanta, Ga. | Basketball >>> 
In capping a brilliant two-year career on the hardwood, Torrance Rowe took his play to a completely new level in 2015-16, leading the Golden Eagles to a 19-12 record and the team's first postseason bid since 2011-12, a trip to the inaugural Vegas 16 Tournament. A year after claiming just four conference wins, Rowe helped Tech to an 11-5 mark in the league and a trip back to the OVC Tournament while starting all 31 of the team's contests while ranking third in the OVC with 35.5 minutes per game. Behind his leadership on the court, the Golden Eagles notched a 14-1 mark in the Eblen Center. One of the league's most electric scorers, the Atlanta, Ga. native took home All-OVC First Team and NABC Division I All-District 19 First Team honors while ranking second in the OVC with 18.2 points per game. He averaged a league-best 19.2 points in OVC games while playing 37.2 minutes per league contest. Rowe finished fourth in the league with 4.4 assists per game, second with an 86.6 free throw percentage, third with 2.6 made 3-pointers per game and fifth with a 1.7 assist/turnover ratio. A three-time OVC Player of the Week selection, the senior averaged 2.7 rebounds while doling out 136 assists. Rowe cemented his legacy as one of the most clutch players in recent memory, hitting five game-winning or tying shots and helping Tech overcome eight double-digit deficits. Nearly flawless at the charity stripe, he finished second all-time in school history with a career free throw percentage of 84.0. He also tallied 215 assists in just two seasons, cracking the top 25, and played 1,100 minutes, ranking fifth all-time. Tech's floor general set a program record for highest free throw percentage in a game, sinking all 15 of his attempts at the line at Murray State, and became just the second player in program history to dish out at least 12 assists with zero turnovers against Southeast Missouri. His seven 3-pointers at Belmont tied him for the second-most in a single game in school history. He dropped a career-high 35 points in a double-digit, comeback, overtime victory over Jackson State. With Rowe leading the backcourt the 2015-16 squad made its mark on the record books, ranking second all-time in program history with 266 three pointers, third with 566 made free throws and a 74.3 free throw percentage, and fifth with 2,416 points and a 36.4 3-point percentage.

<<< Kevin Strohschein | Freshman | McDonough, Ga. | Baseball
Turning in arguably the greatest rookie season by a freshman in both Tennessee Tech and Ohio Valley Conference baseball history, Kevin Strohschein capped his remarkable 2016 season by garnering Louisville Slugger All-American honors by Collegiate Baseball newspaper. A native of McDonough, Ga., he became the first freshman in the 67-year history of the OVC to earn Player of the Year honors after leading the league in RBI and total bases and ranking in the top five in batting average, slugging percentage, hits, doubles and home runs. He was also named the league's Rookie of the Year while making appearances on the All-OVC First Team and OVC All-Freshman Team. In just his first season donning the Tech purple and gold, the right fielder littered his name all over the program's record book, breaking freshman records for hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, runs, and total bases. He clubbed a team-high 15 long balls on the year while racking up the third-most RBI in school history by driving in 73 runs. The youngster's 90 hits tied for the third most by a Golden Eagle ever and his 21 doubles and 15 home runs each ranked in the top 10 in program history. Strohschein's .393 average and .707 slugging percentage ranked as the second-best showing by a freshman to only Jim Whaley, who hit .516 and slugged .730 back in 1963. His 39 extra base hits also ranked as a program first by a freshman and finished as the fourth-most ever by a Tech ball player. He scored 57 runs on the year, one of nine offensive categories he led his squad in on the year. He also made just one error all season, posting an impressive .990 fielding percentage with five assists. After batting just .242 with three home runs and 12 RBI through his first 16 games, Strohschein went on a tear over his final 37 contests, posting hit streaks of nine, 10 and 15 games. He went hitless in just three of those match-ups, exploding in an April 5 tilt at Alabama A&M to break or tie three school in the 34-6 rout that also broke or tied four team marks. Strohschein tallied a school-record nine RBI thanks to a program-best six hits while tying the Tech mark for runs scored with six. He also tied the school's single-season grand slam record with his third four-run circus clout of the season in the ninth inning. He captured his second of two OVC Player of the Week honors and first National Player of the Week accolade after flirting with the national record for consecutive hits, starting off Tech's three-game series with Southeast Missouri a staggering 9-for-9 before a diving effort on a would-be double robbed him of his 10th straight base hit.

Mitch Thomas | Senior | Knoxville, Tenn. | Golf >>>
Named a co-captain of the Golden Eagles in his fourth and final season, Mitch Thomas wrapped up a stellar career on the links by leading his team in scoring average with a mark of 73.32, which also ranked in the top 10 in the Ohio Valley Conference. Backed by steady play that saw eight top 20 finishes in 11 events, the veteran earned a spot on the All-OVC Team, his second such honor of his career. Thomas turned in his best scorecard of the season in the first event, carding a 211 at the GolfWeek Program Challenge. He also posted his best individual round at the event, firing a third-round 67, one of the top 15 lowest rounds in program history and fourth lowest of his career. Wrapping up his final season, Thomas took home the Gilbert Darcy Most Valuable Player award for the Tech squad. He also claimed the Best Putter and Low Average awards while finishing as one of the most consistent players in school history with a 73.89 career average.