Athletics awards for the fall season

VIctoria Nguyen/HIGHLANDER
VIctoria Nguyen/HIGHLANDER

With fall quarter coming to a close, excitement is anew as we reign in a winter season highlighted by basketball and, well, more basketball. While anticipation for both men’s and women’s UCR hoops is near it’s peak, though, we would be remiss not to recognize a few of the athletes from a memorable fall season for UCR athletics. So with that, we introduce our inaugural fall awards for UCR athletics.

Freshmen Sensations

  • Solomon Demeku-Ousman, men’s cross country: Demeku-Ousman came on in a big way for a team hoping for some stability in the wake of graduating senior Cody Jordan’s eventual departure. The talented freshman finished second in four of the team’s five events this season and earned his first career top five overall finish in the season opener at the Nevada Twilight Classic (with a career-best 5k time of 16:21, I might add). Demeku-Ousman offers a lot of promise for this program and it can be expected that he will be the face of UCR men’s cross country moving forward.

  • Chelsea Doyle, volleyball: In all likelihood, Doyle will become the sixth Highlander in volleyball’s D-1 history to earn a nod on the Big West All-Freshman team. Her play was utterly masterful this season as she led the team in sets, attack percentage and serves and found herself in the top three in all but two statistical categories. Doyle will be part of a youth movement going forward for UCR volleyball as most of this year’s team — which garnered its first double-digit win season since the 2005 campaign — will be returning next season.

 

Senior Studs

  • Tyler Cunningham, women’s soccer: Ask anyone who led UC Riverside women’s soccer team in points, goals, shots, shots on goal and game-winning goals this season and the answer is simple: senior forward Tyler Cunningham. Despite what was rough end to her career in UCR’s loss to Long Beach State in the conference semis, Cunningham saw incredible success this year and not just on a team level. Cunningham was one of three Highlanders named to the Big West All-Conference First Team and finished tied for fifth in the conference in both goals and points. She also cemented her status among UCR greats, becoming the Highlanders’ career assist leader during the early part of the season.

  • Cody Jordan, men’s cross country: While the cross country men didn’t manage to see as much success as they would have hoped for this season, the team’s unquestioned leader throughout the year was Cody Jordan. Look at the race results and you’ll find that Jordan managed to finish first among the team in each of cross country’s five events this season. This includes a 1st place overall finish at the Nevada Twilight Classic to open the season and two additional top three finishes to boot. In what was the final home race in his UCR career at the Big West Conference Championships on October 31, Jordan managed to place 10th overall, astoundingly his lowest finish on the season.

  • Norberto Ochoa, men’s soccer: Formerly a transfer from Mt. Sac, Ochoa didn’t play in his first two seasons with the Highlanders but when the opportunity opened up for him this year, he ran away with it. The first goal of his UCR career came in an 3-0 victory over San Francisco on October 10, in which Ochoa scored all three goals to earn the program’s second hat trick in its Division I history. Ochoa went on to notch four more goals on the year and found himself atop the majority of UCR statistical leaderboards come season’s end, including, of course, goals scored. To top it all off, Ochoa also earned All-Big West first team honors — one of two men’s soccer players to do so this year.

 

Quiet Superstars

  • Blanca Barrio, redshirt junior, women’s soccer: As for the one statistical category Cunningham didn’t lead the women’s soccer team in this season — assists — Barrio took it. In fact, her seven assists on the year are the second most in program history and she already ranks second for the category in program history. The highlight of Barrio’s season came by way of the first multi-goal match of her career in a match against Long Beach State, in which she scored two of her five goals on the season. Barrio also managed to tie Cunningham for the team lead in points on the year and was one of three Highlanders to earn a Big West All-Conference nod in what was a storied season for the team altogether.

  • Maddie Hubbell, junior, women’s volleyball: In a season where UCR volleyball garnered its first double-digit win season since the 2005 campaign, Hubbell was a key catalyst to the team’s success all year. Look away from the box score for a minute and you’ll find that Hubbell’s consistent energy on the court was contagious among the rest of her teammates, providing them with a spark each and every game. As the team’s Libero and Defensive Specialist, Hubbell was not only serving as a leader for UCR volleyball, but found herself topping Big West leaderboards as well come year’s end after posting a conference-best average of 4.91 digs per set and leading the Big West in total digs with 525.

 

Athlete of the Season

  • Faith Makau, redshirt sophomore, women’s cross country: After winning Big West Freshman of the Year honors in 2014, Makau entered the 2015 season with lofty expectations. Most around the program had no doubts she would be good. However, perhaps not quite this good. Formerly cast in the shadows UCR cross country standout, Raquel Hefflin, Makau took the torch this season, helping lead the women’s team to four top five finishes and one 1st place victory overall. With the exception of the UC Riverside Invitational (in which she was second) Makau led the team in every event this season. Makau also managed to earn her first-ever outright victories, finishing first overall in both the Highlander Invitational and Big West Championship to close out the season; the latter netted her the individual Big West women’s cross country championship. Of this victory, Makau simply called herself “blessed.” And she continued to be so after the season where she was named the conference’s 2015 women’s athlete of the year, becoming the second Highlander in program history to do so.
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