BY Steve Rudman 11:07AM 01/25/2011

76th annual Sports Star of the Year awards

Collection of high achievers make Female Athlete a tough choice

Auburn's Ariana Kukors is one of five nominated to receive the Female Athlete of the Year award / Photo by USA Swimming / Mike Comer

The 76th annual Sports Star of the Year, presented by ROOT SPORTS (formerly FSN), will be held Wednesday at Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle (200 University Street).

Launched as the “Man of the Year” banquet in 1935 by late Seattle Post-Intelligencer sports editor Royal Brougham, the show grew into the “P-I Sports Star of the Year” program in the early 1990s, when the newspaper began recognizing the area’s greatest male and female sports achievers.

Following closure in March 2009 of the print P-I, the one of the region’s top sports traditions was in jeopardy of ceasing to be held. With the help of the Seattle Sports Commission and Seattle Children’s Hospital, the Sports Star of the Year celebrated its 75th year on the big stage at Benaroya Hall.  More than 1,000 attendees to see a community’s sports history unfold.

The Seattle Sports Commission is committed to protect and grow this program as one of the longest-tenured events of its kind in the nation.

The current program calls for the selection by voters of the Professional Sports Star of the Year, the Male Sports Star of the Year, the Female Sports Star of the Year, and the Sports Story of the Year (for ticket information, click here).

Female Sports Star of the Year award nominees (nominees listed alphabetically):

Katie Follett / SSC Photo

KATIE FOLLETT, UW Cross Country/Track & Field

Follett concluded her career as one of the greatest runners in University of Washington history by earning 2010 NCAA All-American honors in track & field and cross country. In her illustrious career, Follett garnered All-America honors eight times and joined Regina Joyce (1980-82) as the only three-time All-America s in school history. Leading up to the NCAA meet, Follett finished in the top-10 in every race in which she participated. She was seventh at the NCAA West Regional meet, earning All-West Regional honors. She finished eighth at the Pac-10 Championships as UW defended its title. She placed seventh at the NCAA West Regional meet to help the Huskies to a huge win with 25 points, earning All-West Region honors. In track, Follett concluded her career having set the school record at 1,500 meters and one mile and as a two-time All-American. She also ran the fastest 1,500-meter time of the year by a college athlete in winning the Mt. SAC Relays title in a school-record time of 4:10.66 (named Pac-10 Track Athlete of the Week for that effort), and she finished second in the NCAA Indoor Mile, matching the best-ever finish by a Husky woman in that event. Follett came to the Huskies from Fort Collins High School in Fort Collins, CO. As a prep, she won 23 of the 34 cross country races she entered and was a 10-time All-State performer.

Jenna Hagglund / SSC Photo

JENNA HAGGLUND, UW Volleyball

A native of West Chester, OH., and a graduate of Lakota West High School, Hagglund made All-America twice during her University of Washington career and helped lead the Huskies to the NCAA Elite Eight in both 2008 and 2010. A finalist for the 2010 Lowe’s Senior Class Award, Hagglund finished her career with 5,326 assists, 10th most in Pac-10 Conference history. In addition, Hagglund was the starting setter in all four of her varsity seasons at UW, compiling the second-most career assists in school history. In addition to her great work on the court, Hagglund, boasting a 3.51 grade-point average, was named to the Pac-10 All-Academic team for the second time in her career in 2010. After graduating from UW, Hagglund relocated to southern California to begin training with the U.S. National team.

Jessica Pixler / SSC Photo

JESSICA PIXLER, SPU Cross Country/Track & Field

Pixler attended Seattle Pacific University so she could both run cross country and play soccer, something most Division I schools prohibit. The Falcons wound up hitting the motherlode as Pixler culminated her college career last June owning 12 NCAA Division II national championships. A finalist for the Female Athlete of the Year award for the second consecutive year, Pixler became eligible again in 2010 because of her indoor and outdoor accomplishments in 2010. At the NCAA Division II indoor meet last March, she won the mile. At the NCAA outdoor meet last May, she won the 1,500 meters, giving her 12 national crown overall. In all, Pixler won three 1,500 titles, three cross country titles, four indoor mile titles, an indoor 5,000-meter title, and was part of a victorious SPU distance medley relay team. Last week, Pixler was named one of the NCAA Today’s Top VIII award winners, which honors eight recipients spanning all three NCAA divisions for their athletic and academic success and for their community involvement. Also in 2010, Pixler was named the NCAA Division II national Outdoor Athlete of the Year by the U.S. Track & Field and the Cross Country Coaches Association. That gave her a sweep of the USTFCCCA Athlete of the Year awards: cross country last fall, indoor track this past winter, and outdoor track in the spring. The Falcon senior became just the second woman to win all three of those awards in the same school year. The only one to do so previously was Mandy Zemba of Grand Valley State (Mich.) in 2005-06.

Ariana Kukors / Mike Comer, USA Swimming

ARIANA KUKORS, USA Swimming

No athlete nominated for Female Athlete of the Year may have a bigger national upside than Kukors. A graduate of Auburn’s Mountain View High School, Kukors is already one of the best swimmers in the world and favorite to medal in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. A Federal Way native whose initial international competition was the 2006 Pan Pacific Championships (she won a silver medal in the 400 IM), Kukors has emerged as one of the elite swimmers in the country. In 2010, she won a gold medal in the 200-meter individual medley at the CP National Championship. But it was in 2009 that she really announced herself. On July 26, at the World Aquatics Championships in Rome, Kukors broke Stephanie Rice’s world record (2:08.45) in the 200-meter individual medley with a time of 2:07.03 in a semifinal heat. On July 27, Kukors broke the record she set the previous day by clocking 2:06.15.  In 24 hours, Kukors lowered the world mark by more than two full seconds, a stunning achievement, and established herself as a superstar of USA Swimming, which ultimately named her the 2009 Female American Swimmer of the Year. Kukors was so good in high school that she could not afford to waste the effort swimming for her high school team. She attended the University of Washington for a year, but needed stronger competition and relocated to Fullerton, CA., to train with the Fullerton Aquatics Sports Team (FAST) after her coach, Sean Hutchison, was named head coach.

Karen Thatcher / Photo courtesy of USA Hockey

KAREN THATCHER, USA Hockey

Thatcher became a scoring weapon for the USA Women’s Hockey team at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. She led the USA to a silver medal and helped put women’s hockey in the national spotlight. Thatcher is a two-time member of the U.S. Women’s National Team for the International Ice Hockey Federation World Women’s Championship (gold-2008-09). She is also a three-time member of the U.S. Women’s Select Team for the Four Nations Cup (1st-2008, 2nd-2006-07), a member of the U.S. Select Team in 2008-09, a three-time member of the U.S. Women’s Under-22 Select Team for the Under-22 Series with Canada (2002-04). Thatcher also participated in the USA Hockey Women’s National Festival five times (2003-04, 2007-10). Thatcher graduated from Providence College in 2006 with a degree in biology and relocated to Blaine, prior to the Vancouver Olympic Games.


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