The award is named in honor of the former WAC commissioner Joe Kearney, honoring the top male and female WAC athlete. The WAC Athletics Directors select the male award winner, with the WAC Senior Woman Administrators choosing the female honoree. Willoughby led the Rainbow Wahine to the National Semifinals of the 2002 NCAA Tournament before the team fell to the Stanford Cardinal. She was named the WAC Player of the Year for the second straight season, while earning AVCA first-team All-America honors and being named to the NCAA Championship all-tournament team.
Willoughby, a Napoleanville, Louisiana native nicknamed the "Bayou Basher", set school and conference records last season, posting 38 kills in a four-game match against Washington (9/7). She led the WAC and finished second in the country in kills per game (6.31). She also led the WAC in service aces (76) and finished third in hitting (.342).
Willoughby also did well for the UH Rainbow Wahine basketball team, being named the WAC Player of the Week (2/10) and finishing second in the conference as an 82% free throw shooter.
Golfer Nick Watney of Fresno State earned the male award.