Watts, Kuurto Marshall's Athletes of Year

Marshall Athletics held its annual Olympic Sports Banquet at the Don Morris Room of the Marshall Memorial Student Center. The winners of the Marshall Male & Female Athletes of the Year were named as well and a "Spider" webbed the Men's award while a "Fin" swam away with the Women's award. Football wide receiver Darius Watts was the Ed Starling MU Male Athlete Of The Year, while sophomore Milla Kuurto of the Marshall Swimming and Diving team won the Dorothy Hicks MU Female Athlete Of The Year.

Watts, nicknamed "Spider," was unable to attend after being selected in the second round of the National Football League Draft on Saturday by the Denver Broncos. He was in Denver to meet with team officials before his first "mini-camp" on Friday. Watts was a three-time All-Mid-American Conference selection, a two-time pre-season All-American and holds numerous MAC and MU receiving records.

Kuurto, who may get a chance to swim for her native country Finland in this summer's Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, qualified for the NCAA Swim Meet, finishing 29th in the nation in the 100 butterfly and 32nd in the 200 butterfly. She holds 13 pool records at Marshall's Frederick A. Fitch Natatorium and was named the MAC Swimmer of the Year after winning three events at the MAC meet. "I am very happy with my year," said Kuurto.

Leadership awards were handed out in every Olympic Sport (sports other than football and men's and women's basketball). Each coach selected one member of their teams to introduce the players on the aquad and discuss the season's positives. A pair of "townies" who played at Huntington High were winners, as Chris Meadows won for baseball and Burke Spensky won for men's golf. The first award winner, announced after dinner and a highlite video, was women's cross country and the winner was Varinka Barbini. Coach Jeff Small announced Barbini would graduate from Marshall in May and then be commisioned at a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

The women's tennis team, who just finished a "three-peat" on Sunday by winning the MAC Tournament for the third consecutive year, was introduced by Meghan Skalsky who thanked the athletic department for allowing the team to take a bus (instead of vans) to Illinois for the championship. Tennis coach John Mercer presented his team's leadership award to his number one player, and sister-in-law, Jessica Johnson. Johnson is the younger sister of MU assistant Laurie Mercer and was first team All-MAC three straight years after transferring from Maryland, where she was first team All-ACC. MU tennis seniors won three titles and just missed a fourth as freshmen. They have won 34 consecutive MAC matches over the last three seasons.

Women's golf presented the leadership award to freshman Allyson Hatcher, who was named the MAC Freshman of the Year after finishing eighth in the MAC tournament and leading MU from last place in year one of the program in the MAC to fifth in 2004. Men's cross country winner Craig Swisher will enroll in the Elon College Doctorate program this fall and men's soccer winner Paul Dirou, who came to MU from New Zealand, is a member of MU's prestigious Yeager Scholar program.

Other winners include Zedmalia Wolfe (women's track); Andrea Kastein (volleyball); Stacy Wells (women's soccer); Sierra Davenport (softball); and Erika Nilsson (swimming and diving). Jeff Carrico, Marshall's head trainer, recognized the MU Sports Medicine program's doctors, graduate assistants and student trainers. He presented Sarah Melby, MU's assistant trainer, the Marshall Trainer of the Year award. Men's golf won the Dr. Tom Scott Academic Award for both the spring and fall of 2003, while tennis (spring) and women's golf (fall) won the Dr. Jose Ricard Academic Award. The award is given to the men's and women's team with the highest overall grade point average for each semester.

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