SE: Winners of the 2015-16 ‘Sports Extrys’ | Part 2

K-State Sports Extra posted the first of a two-part series celebrating the 2015-16 athletic year on Monday morning. Monday’s story covered the annual ‘Sports Extrys’ top five moments and top five Wildcat victories from the past year. Today, the ‘Sports Extrys’ continue with more winners.

I’ve been fortunate to have attended and written about each of these happenings, so the following ‘Sports Extrys’ list is my personal opinion of 2015-16’s best. However, we encourage you to create your own and let us know who and what makes the cut on your “Best of 2015-16” list!

Women’s Team of the Year: Women’s Track and Field
The 2015-16 athletic year marked one of the best years in school history for the No. 5 K-State women’s track and field team, and they’re not slowing down any time soon.

The team saw two athletes win NCAA titles – Akela Jones in the high jump and Dani Winters in the shot put – at this year’s NCAA Indoor Championship, marking the first time in school history multiple athletes placed first at the national meet. Along with Winters and Jones, the women’s squad earned a total of four first team All-American finishes and ended the indoor season with a No. 6 national ranking.

The team continued success throughout the outdoor season where, most recently, five Wildcats won Big 12 titles at the conference championship meet, and 10 have qualified for the 2016 Outdoor NCAA Championship taking place June 8-11, in Eugene, Oregon. Whether it’s seniors like Winters and Jones leading the way or rookies stepping up like Shadae Lawrence, this year’s Big 12 Outstanding Freshman of the Year, the entire team has continued to impress this year.

A successful season from the start, the Wildcats entered the 2015-16 indoor season with a No. 4 national ranking – the highest ranking in school history – and are now ready to conclude the year on a high note.  

Men’s Team of the Year: Men’s Track and Field
Entering the indoor season with a No. 20 overall ranking, the 2015-16 season has been among the best in school history for the K-State men’s track and field team.

After boasting three individual conference champions at the 2016 Indoor Big 12 Championship in Christoff Bryan (high jump), Ifeanyichukwu Otuonye (long jump) and Brady Grunder (weight throw), the team finished in third place overall at the Big 12 competition.

Bryan was named First Team All-American, while Otuonye nabbed Second Team All-American honors, after solid finishes in their respective events at the Indoor NCAA National Championships, helping the Wildcats to a 40th place finish at the national meet.

During the outdoor season, the men claimed 27 top-10 finishes at the Big 12 Championship meet and finished in fifth place, up three spots from last season’s eighth place finish, with 94 points.

The men’s track and field team continues eyeing success as it is set to send six athletes to compete for NCAA titles at the 2016 Outdoor NCAA Championship meet.

Coach of the Year: Jeff Mittie
Following a three-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament, second-year head coach Jeff Mittie guided the Wildcat women’s basketball team back to the Big Dance this season after an exciting year on the court. The youthful Wildcat women’s basketball team finished the year with a 19-13 overall record (8-10 Big 12) and earned the most wins in league play since the 2011-12 season.

The NCAA appearance, coupled with a WNIT showing in 2014-15, made Mittie just the second coach in school history (Lynn Hickey) to guide the program to consecutive postseason appearances in their first two seasons with the program, while K-State’s league win total has improved in each of his first two years in Manhattan.

Whether it’s his success in recruiting or working with his players in the gym, Mittie has continued to grow the K-State women’s basketball program. That growth and success was evident during the 2015-16 season.

Thanks to his solid leadership, the future is bright for K-State women’s basketball.  

Male Athlete of the Year: Cody Whitehair
One of the best offensive linemen in K-State football history, Cody Whitehair was selected with the 25th pick of the second round, No. 56 overall, in the 2016 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears on April 29. His selection extended K-State’s Big 12-leading streak with at least one player selected in the NFL Draft to 23 straight years. Whitehair became the first Wildcat offensive lineman selected by the NFL since Lynn Larson in 1970.

A key leader on the 2015 K-State football squad, the team captain earned 2015 All-Big 12 First Team honors, while he picked up votes for Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year. Overall, Whitehair was a four-time All-Big 12 performer and started 51 of his 52 career games, including a streak of 41-straight starts to end his career.

Following his time playing with the Wildcats, Whitehair played in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 29, and took part in the 2016 NFL Combine where he impressed scouts across the nation with his hard work ethic and versatility.

Whitehair is currently spending the summer training with the Bears before taking on his first season in the NFL this fall.

Female Athlete of the Year: Akela Jones
Since being named last year’s Sports Extra ‘Female Athlete of the Year,’ senior track and field phenom Akela Jones has continued to excel in her competition. In the past year, Jones has won two NCAA titles, was named Co-National Women’s Athlete of the Year, broken numerous K-State records and continues to work toward her Olympic dream.

She crushed the competition at the 2015 Outdoor National Championship meet last summer with her heptathlon score of 6,371. During the first day of the heptathlon in 2015, Jones broke a 30-year old NCAA record tallying 4,023 points in the first four events. She went on to win it all with flying colors.

During the indoor season, Jones captured three Big 12 titles – high jump, long jump and 60m hurdles – and also claimed her second NCAA title with a mark of 1.87m/6-01.50 in the women’s high jump at the 2016 Indoor National Championship meet in Birmingham, Alabama.

Most recently, Jones earned her fifth career Big 12 title with a 6.75m/22-01.75 leap in the long jump at the 2016 Outdoor Big 12 Championship and is eying this year’s NCAA Championship where she will compete in the heptathlon later this month.