WISE, Va. – Senior men's cross country runner Shaquon Wilkins and late senior men's golfer Nick England were honored as Co-Cavaliers of the Year Thursday night at the 2017 UVa-Wise Athletics Awards Banquet. Six other awards were handed out at the annual banquet held in the David J. Prior Convocation Center.
Football senior linebacker Zachary Blair and women's basketball redshirt senior guard Makenzie Cluesman were named as Male and Female Athlete of the Year, while men's golfer Alex Arnold claimed the inaugural Freshman of the Year accolade. After claiming the 2016 Mountain East Conference Championship, the men's golf team earned Team of the Year honors as women's basketball head coach Kristin Kunzman was tabbed Coach of the Year. Longtime Greear Gymnasium housekeeper and avid UVa-Wise athletics supporter, Paul Kilgore Jr., collected the Outstanding Service Award.
Shaquon Wilkins, Co-Cavalier of the Year
A three-time All-MEC First Team selection and four-time all-conference honoree, Wilkins had one of the best running careers at UVa-Wise. The Fredericksburg, Virginia (Riverbend H.S.), native set the school record for the fastest 8K (26:19) as a junior and had three top-10 finishes at the MEC Championship race his freshman through junior seasons. In 2015 Wilkins placed fifth at the MEC Championships and went on to race in the NCAA Atlantic Regional Championship meet.
He led the Cavaliers to three fifth-place finishes at the MEC Championship race and spear-headed UVa-Wise's fourth-place finish at the 2014 MEC Championships. Wilkins was the Cavs' top runner when the men's cross country team placed 18th at the NCAA Atlantic Regional meet in 2015, becoming the first UVa-Wise athletic team to compete in a NCAA postseason event. For their efforts during that season, the men's cross country team was named 2016 Team of the Year at UVa-Wise's annual awards banquet. As a sophomore Wilkins was named 2015 Male Athlete of the Year at the end of the year banquet for his performance during the 2014 cross country season.
Wilkins will graduate with a degree in administration of justice and has been a strong leader within the campus community. He has been a resident advisor (RA) for four years and an active member of the National Society of Leadership and Success, Student Activities Board, Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC), Colleges Against Cancer, and the African Culture Association. Wilkins was recently recognized as Who's Who in American Universities and Colleges and was the 2017 winner of UVa-Wise's National Engage Leader Award and the Outstanding Student Leader Award among several student leadership awards received.
Nick England, Co-Cavalier of the Year
A four-year letterman on the men's golf team, England's performance in the final round of the MEC Tournament helped propel the program to its first ever league championship last fall. The Wise, Virginia (Central H.S.), native shot a 74 on day three of the event as the men's golf team became the first automatic qualifier to a NCAA Division II Tournament in the College's history.
A biology major with aspirations of being a physician assistant, England was committed to education and service. Away from golf, he served on various mission trips where he provided medical services through his volunteer efforts. Involved in several student organizations, England was also a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success and Highlands Fellowship Church.
Zachary Blair, Male Athlete of the Year
Blair finished his gridiron career as one of the more decorated student-athletes in school history. The Front Royal, Virginia (Skyline H.S.), product broke the all-time NCAA Division II record for tackles for loss in a career with 80 after posting 21 in his final collegiate season. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound linebacker finished his career as an All-America Second Team honoree, a three-time All-MEC First Team selection and a two-time All-Region performer.
Additionally, Blair was twice named Small College Linebacker of the Year by the Richmond Times Dispatch, while also being named Defensive Player of the Year by the Virginia Sports Information Directors (VaSID) in 2015 and 2016. A finalist for the Cliff Harris Award as a senior, The Richmond Touchdown Club recognized Blair as Virginia's top linebacker last fall. He finished his career with six school records and two MEC records as he became just the second player in program history to finish with more than 200 solo tackles (209).
Makenzie Cluesman, Female Athlete of the Year
Cluesman established a new single-season school record for made 3-pointers with 90 en route to All-MEC First Team honors. The 5-foot-8 guard led UVa-Wise in scoring average (13.9 ppg), assists per game (4.1 apg), free throw percentage (.797) and 3-point field goal percentage (.386) during her final collegiate campaign. A native of Jonesville, Virginia (Lee H.S.), Cluesman finished her career with 1,319 points to rank 10th all-time in school history.
Named Cavalier of the Month during the basketball season, Cluesman was also named to the MEC All-Tournament Team. Her on-the-court performance helped the women's basketball program to its first 20-win season since 2006 as the Cavs claimed 21 victories and finished third in the MEC regular season standings. UVa-Wise appeared in the D2SIDA regional rankings throughout the season and made the school's first appearance in the semifinal round of the MEC Tournament.
Alex Arnold, Freshman of the Year
Named MEC Freshman of the Year, Arnold took home the same honor at the UVa-Wise Athletics Banquet. A native of Wytheville, Virginia (George Wythe H.S.), Arnold tied for medalist honors at the MEC Championship tournament before finishing runner-up after a playoff hole.
Also an All-MEC honorable mention selection, Arnold turned in top-15 finishes at the MEC Fall Invitational and the Barton Invitational, in addition to his strong showing at the conference championship. Named Cavalier of the Month in October, Arnold is the inaugural UVa-Wise Freshman of the Year award winner.
Men's Golf, Team of the Year
Men's golf claimed four top-five finishes last fall en route to Team of the Year honors, but the team's biggest accomplishment came in the second week of October when David Harvey's team shocked the MEC by claiming the league title. Picked to finish 10th in the MEC Preseason Coaches' Poll, Harvey's team entered the MEC Championship having never finished higher than eighth in the event. History went out the window as UVa-Wise shot a 297 in the final round of the event to overcome a six-stroke deficit and hoist the championship trophy. Arnold tied for medalist honors with a three-day total of 222 while Jacob Smith, Andrew Johnson and Cody Large also finished in the top 25.
While Arnold, Smith, Johnson and Large turned in top-25 showings, it was the play of senior Nick England that helped carry the Cavs across the finish line. After back-to-back rounds in the 80's, England shot a 74 on day three of the event to help propel the team to the title. England's 74 was the second-lowest round of any Cav in the event and shaved 12 strokes off his day two total.
The 297 shot by UVa-Wise on day three was the lowest round of any team in the tournament and was nine strokes better than any other school's performance on the final day. For their accomplishment, the men's golf program became the first UVa-Wise athletic program to automatically qualify for NCAA Tournament play. The team will compete in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional May 7-10 in Daniels, West Virginia.
Kristin Kunzman, Coach of the Year
Kunzman's transformation of the women's basketball program reached new heights this past winter as the team claimed 21 wins and advanced to the semifinal round of the conference tournament. Picked to finish 10th in the MEC Preseason Coaches Poll, UVa-Wise defied the preseason prognostications by finishing third in the regular season race.
Kunzman's team was ranked as high as seventh in the D2SIDA Atlantic Region Poll during the course of the season, while contending for the regular season championship for the bulk of the year. UVa-Wise defeated a pair of regional qualifiers during the season, including regular season MEC champion Glenville State (87-75) on Feb. 4. The victory over the Pioneers was one of 11 inside the David J. Prior Center last season as the team posted an 11-1 home mark, the best since the facility opened.
The 21 wins on the season marked just the sixth time in the 47-year history of the program that the team reached at least 20 victories.
Paul Kilgore, Outstanding Service Award
In 1985 Kilgore started his career at then Clinch Valley College, a career that has now span over three decades. A lifelong resident of nearby Norton, Virginia, Paul graduated from John I. Burton High School before coming to work for the College. Kilgore has a true servant's heart as his genuine love for UVa-Wise and its students is shown daily through the pride he places in his work, his kind words, constant sincere smile, and willingness to always lend a helping hand.
Paul has been an outstanding supporter of UVa-Wise athletics and the student-athletes throughout his career, both as a visible fan and behind the scenes taking care of facilities. He has always provided ever present encouragement. In his free time, Kilgore enjoys spending time with his family, serving his church and helping others.