The Big South Conference announced Wednesday that a league record nine student-athletes have been awarded the Conference’s prestigious George A. Christenberry Award for Academic Excellence. The award is given to the male and female student-athlete who attain the highest GPA during their undergraduate collegiate careers. It is the sixth consecutive year with a record total, and the eighth straight year at least four student-athletes have been honored.
Gardner-Webb women’s track & field athlete Gabrielle Cortese (4.00 in exercise science), Gardner-Webb women’s soccer player Jessica Ferguson (4.00 in chemistry/Spanish), Liberty men’s track & field athlete Graham Hansel (4.00 in exercise science), Charleston Southern softball player Laina Holmgren (4.00 in social and human sciences), High Point women’s soccer player Aley Kate McKinley (4.00 in business), Presbyterian women’s basketball player Janie Miles (4.00 in biology), Gardner-Webb men’s track & field athlete Keaton Poole (4.00 in business administration), Winthrop women’s cross country runner Emily Sparrow (4.00 in English) and Presbyterian men’s soccer player Jonathan Turnley (4.00 in physics/chemistry) are this year’s recipients. The conference will formally present the awards on Thursday, May 31 at The Marriott Resort in Hilton Head, S.C., as part of the league’s annual Spring Meetings and Hall of Fame Dinner.
Big South member institutions nominate one male and one female undergraduate student-athlete for the annual Christenberry Award. The honor is named for George A. Christenberry, the former President of Augusta College (now Augusta University) and one of the founders of the Big South Conference. A member of the Big South Hall of Fame, Christenberry served as the league’s first President from 1983-86.
“The Christenberry Award is the highest academic honor awarded to Big South student-athletes,” said Big South Conference Commissioner Kyle B. Kallander. “It is incredible to think that a record nine individuals completed their undergraduate academic career with perfect GPAs, especially with the demands placed on them as student-athletes. We congratulate Gabrielle, Jessica, Graham, Laina, Aley Kate, Janie, Keaton, Emily and Jonathan for their accomplishments in the classroom and on the field of play. Their academic careers truly exemplify the highest ideals of the Big South Conference.”
Cortese (Palm Bay, Fla.) was the 2017 Big South Women’s Cross Country Scholar-Athlete of the Year, and was GWU’s top cross country performer throughout 2017. She set the school-record in the two-mile run at 12:00.44, and posted Top 10 career times in indoor track competition in the 1,000-meter run (3:20:34), 3,000-meter run (10:38.38), one-mile run (5:20.83), and the 5,000-meter run (18:39.08). Cortese also ranks in the Top 10 in the following outdoor events: 1,500-meter run (4:59.31), 3,000-meter run (11:02.65), and the 5,000-meter run (18:32.06).
Ferguson (Lawrence, Kan.) appeared in 16 matches with five starts in 2017, and scored her lone goal in a 1-1 draw against Longwood, which came in the 71st minute and gave Gardner-Webb a 1-0 lead. Ferguson took nine shots with four on goal in 834 minutes played during her senior season. For her career, she played in 70 contests with 18 starts and scored nine goals with six assists for 24 points.
Hansel (Powassan, Ontario) concluded his career with a sixth-place finish in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase at last week’s Big South Outdoor Track & Field Championships. In addition, he placed inside the Top 25 in each of his four Big South Cross Country Championships (2014-17), including a 12th-place finish in 2017 which earned him All-Big South honors. His top season on the track was 2015, when he clocked a steeplechase PR of 9:17.47 and won the event at the Duke Invitational. Hansel was a member of the 2017 VaSID Academic All-State team and was selected to the 2016 Big South Men’s Cross Country All-Academic Team.
Holmgren (Eugene, Ore.) was a key contributor during her time on the Bucs’ softball team primarily as a pinch-hitter. She appeared in 59 career games with 12 starts, and her career highlights include a trio of RBI doubles in key situations this season, including Charleston Southern’s wins over Savannah State and Radford. At the CSU Athletics Banquet, Holmgren was recognized with the Highest Academic GPA Female Athlete. A member of the 2018 Big South Softball All-Academic Team, she also tallied three doubles, seven RBI and 12 hits during her career.
McKinley (Collegeville, Pa.) was a four-time Millis Scholar-Athlete, and a four-time member of both the Big South Presidential Honor Roll and the High Point Dean’s List. On the field, McKinley appeared in 36 games with two starts in her career, collecting four goals. Her most memorable goal came in the conference semifinals this past year against Campbell when she scored an unassisted goal to give the Panthers a 2-0 advantage. McKinley helped the Panthers win two Big South Championships as well as two regular-season titles.
Miles (Clemson, S.C.) was voted a CoSIDA Second-Team Academic All-American this past season and was the Women’s Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year. She finished her career with 1,086 points and was the fourth member of PC women’s basketball Division I era to reach 1,000 points. Miles is second in the program’s Division I era with 197 made three-point baskets -- 15th all-time in Big South history, was a three-time Big South All-Academic Team member and two-time CoSIDA Academic All-District honoree.
Poole (Spindale, N.C.) was voted Big South Men’s Cross Country Scholar-Athlete of the Year as a junior and senior, and was GWU’s top cross country performer in 2017. He set PRs this past season in the 5K at 16:08 and the 8K at 26:26, which ranked as the eighth-fastest time in that event in GWU history. Poole ranks in Gardner-Webb’s Top 10 in the 3,000-meter run (9:08.98), 5,000-meter run (15:40.81), and one-mile run (4:29.60) in indoor track competition, as well as the outdoor 5,000 meter run (15:57.80).
Sparrow (Clover, S.C.) was a four-year cross country competitor for the Eagles. She is a three-time Big South Presidential Honor Roll member, and was voted Winthrop’s Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year for 2017-18. Sparrow ran in the Big South Cross Country Championships all four years and posted a personal-best 22nd-place finish as a junior in 2016. Her best time in the Conference Championship meet was a 19:17.21 effort as a sophomore.
Turnley (Manhattan, Kan.) played in 33 matches with 21 starts over his four seasons and tallied more than 1,500 minutes on the pitch. He took 17 shots in his career with six coming on goal, and was a member of PC’s first Big South Men’s Soccer Championship squad and NCAA Tournament berth at the Division I level in 2017. Turnley maintained a perfect GPA as a double major in Physics and Chemistry, and is a three-time member of the Big South Presidential Honor Roll.
The nine overall selections bests the previous record of eight honorees established in 2016-17. Winthrop has its first recipient since 2013-14, while Presbyterian College has multiple honorees for the first time overall. High Point has a recipient for the second time in three years, while this is the fourth consecutive year Gardner-Webb has had a Christenberry Award winner. Charleston Southern has an honoree for the second-straight season, while Liberty’s recipient gives the Flames a Big South-record 25 total honorees in the award’s history.
Below are the 2017-18 Big South Conference Christenberry Award candidates, as nominated by their institutions. Each individual receives a personalized medallion for this achievement.
School - Female Nominee (sport) - Male Nominee (sport)
Campbell - Mackenzie Koeller (lacrosse) - Ed Stryffeler (football)
Charleston Southern - Laina Holmgren (softball) - Kyle Vesnesky (baseball)
Gardner-Webb - Gabrielle Cortese (track & field)/Jessica Ferguson (soccer) - Keaton Poole (track & field)
High Point - Aley Kate McKinley (soccer) - Jonathan Ware (soccer)
Liberty - Caroline Boone (soccer) - Graham Hansel (track & field)
Longwood - Teresa Fruchterman (soccer) - Lachlan Manser (tennis)
Presbyterian College - Janie Miles (basketball) - Jonathan Turnley (soccer)
Radford - Maddie Malueg (soccer) - Fraser Colmer (soccer)
UNC Asheville - Kayli Nichols (track & field) - Kevin Vannatta (basketball)
Winthrop - Emily Sparrow (cross country) - Kenneth Perkinson (soccer)