Sweep for Willamette at Oregon Sports Awards

BEAVERTON, ORE. -- Former Willamette University track and field and cross country athlete Nick Symmonds and current Bearcat cross country and distance runner Sarah Zerzan were chosen as the 2006 Ad Rutschman Small College Athletes of the Year at the 55th Annual Oregon Sports Awards show on Sunday, Feb. 11 at the Tiger Woods Center on the Nike Campus in Beaverton, Ore. Symmonds won the Small College Male Athlete of the Year Award and Zerzan received the Small College Female Athlete of the Year Award.

Symmonds, from Boise, Idaho (Kelly HS) won seven NCAA Division III individual track and field titles while running for the Bearcats. He set the Division III record in the 800-meter run last spring, with a time of 1:47.34 at the Tennessee Distance Running Solution at Vanderbilt University. Also in 2006, he won two NCAA titles for the second year in a row and the third time overall. He earned the 800-meter championship with a time of 1:49.59 in the finals and took the 1,500-meter crown in 3:49.24.

After completing his collegiate career, Symmonds provided a thrilling finish in the 800-meter run at the United States Outdoor Track and Field Championships on June 25. He rallied for a second place finish in the event, after moving forward from seventh place with 120 meters remaining. He finished behind Khadevis Robinson, who claimed his second consecutive national championship and third title since 1999. Symmonds was timed at 1:45.83.

More recently, Symmonds broke the four-minute mark in the mile, as he recorded a time of 3:56.72 at the University of Washington Indoor Preview. He won the 800-meter run at the Reebok Boston Indoor Games on Jan. 27, 2007 in 1:48.15. He took second in the indoor mile run at the 2007 Tyson Invitational on Feb. 9, in Fayetteville, Ark., with a time of 4:01.21.

Symmonds was selected as the 2006 NCAA Division III Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA). Symmonds also was named to the USTFCCCA Men’s All-Academic Team for NCAA Division III. Symmonds graduated from Willamette this past spring with a 3.27 cumulative GPA and a major in chemistry.

Zerzan (Jr., San Carlos, CA/Notre Dame HS) battled a wet and muddy course to win the women’s individual title at the NCAA Division III Cross Country National Championships, held at Voice of America Park in West Chester, Ohio, on Saturday, Nov. 18. Zerzan was the first of 279 runners to cross the finish line, as she became Willamette’s first national champion in cross country. She completed the 6-kilometer course in 22:31 to win by 20 seconds.

The Willamette women’s cross country team placed 20th at the NCAA National Championships, won the Northwest Conference title for the fifth year in a row and claimed its fourth straight NCAA West Regional title. Zerzan completed a triple championship this fall, as she won the NCAA, West Regional and NWC individual titles. She set the school records for the 5-kilometer and 6-kilometer distances. She also received All-America honors for the second consecutive season. Zerzan placed 25th at the 2005 NCAA Division III Cross Country National Championships to earn her first All-America award.

Zerzan has been chosen as the cross country nominee for the NCAA Division III Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year Award, presented by Honda. The award is given to a female student-athlete who “demonstrates superior athletic achievements and embodies the ideals of team contribution, scholastic endeavor and school and community involvement.” A total of 12 student-athletes, one from each of 12 women’s sports, are nominated for the award, which will be presented in June of 2007.

Zerzan missed much of the 2006 track and field season after being hit by a car in mid-April. She had already set school records in the 5,000-meter run and the 3,000-meter run prior to the accident. She then missed a month of practice and returned with just one-and-a-half weeks to practice before the NCAA Division III Track and Field National Championships. At the National Championships, she took 11th place in the 5,000-meter run with a time of 17:41.82.

A very talented student, Zerzan was chosen for the USTFCCCA Women’s All-Academic Team for NCAA Division III this past spring. She began the 2006-07 academic year with a 3.95 cumulative GPA. She is majoring in chemistry (biochemistry track) at Willamette.

Other finalists for the Ad Rutschman Small College Male Athlete of the Year Award were Corban College basketball player Eric Fiegi, Concordia University track and field athlete Scott Halley, George Fox University baseball player Derrick Jones and Western Oregon University baseball player Nick Waechter. Other athletes nominated for the Ad Rutschman Small College Female Athlete of the Year Award were Pacific University basketball and track and field athlete DeeDee Arnall, Pacific University track and field athlete Brooke Barker, Concordia University track and field athlete Lauren Sexton and Linfield College softball player Shelly Steinke.

The Oregon Sports Awards show featured the presentation of awards in 13 categories, covering athletes from the high school level through the professional ranks. The show continued the tradition of the Hayward Award, which originated in 1948 to honor Oregon’s top athletes, coaches and sports personalities.

The show was televised live by Comcast and simulcast on 1080 AM radio, The Fan. The show was hosted by former University of Oregon and National Football League standout Ahmad Rashad. A statewide panel selected the winners after choosing more than 70 finalists and semifinalists.