KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Fort Hays State student-athletes Moritz Walther (men's soccer), Brandon Ball (wrestling), and Kacey Kennett (women's basketball) are finalists for the MIAA Fall and Winter Student-Athlete of the Year awards. A selection committee made of athletic directors, faculty athletic representatives, sports information directors, and senior woman administrators will select one male and one female as Student-Athlete of the Year for their respective seasons, making four recipients of the award in total.
This award temporarily replaces the annual Ken B. Jones Award, which normally recognizes the top female and top male student-athlete in the MIAA for all seasons. However, since spring sports did not have an opportunity to post accolades for this year, the MIAA COVID-19 Task Force implemented student-athlete of the year honors for both the fall and the winter seasons with the nomination and selection process structured identically to the Ken B. Jones Award.
The award combines the athletic, academic, and campus/community service accomplishments of the individual. The committee reviews an individual's career academic accomplishments, along with their athletic accomplishments and campus/community service from the 2019-20 year. Individuals must be a junior or senior in athletic eligibility and have a GPA of at least 3.25. All nominees from FHSU have a GPA higher than 3.65.
Pittsburg State leads the way with all four of its nominees making the finalist list, while Fort Hays State joins Nebraska-Kearney with the second-most finalists with three each. Academic All-America and All-MIAA performer Darby Hirsch of women's soccer was Fort Hays State's female nominee for fall sports, while Walther, Ball and Kennett made the finalist list for their respective seasons.
Moritz Walther was a D2CCA All-Central Region and All-MIAA/GAC selection as a defender in 2019, earning both honors for a second-straight year. He helped FHSU to a conference regular season championship for the third straight season and the program's eighth-straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament (longest current streak of any Division II men's soccer program). Walther earned CoSIDA Academic All-America honors in 2019, as well as MIAA/GAC Distinguished Scholar Student-Athlete honors. Away from the pitch and classroom, Walther was a representative of FHSU SAAC, participated in Big Brothers/Big Sisters, visited elementary schools to read to students, helped with local soccer clinics, and helped with local field/activity days for youth.
Brandon Ball was one of five male finalists for the aforementioned Ken B. Jones Award in 2018-19. He makes a finalist list for the second-straight year, this time with the five males selected for winter sports (which includes 2019 Ken B. Jones Award winner Levi Wyrick of Pittsburg State). Ball capped his storied wrestling career at FHSU in 2020 with All-America honors for the third time in his career. He finished 16-1 overall in 2019-20, held the No. 2 national ranking at 141 pounds for the majority of the year, and posted the best career win percentage in FHSU program history with a staggering overall record of 130-22 (.855) at FHSU. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the NCAA Championships as Ball was poised to make a run at a national title in his respective weight class after reaching the national semifinals the year before. He was a CoSIDA Academic All-America selection in 2019, while earning the MIAA Scholar-Athlete Award four times. Away from the mat and classroom, Ball volunteered time with instruction for youth wrestlers, spent time with FHSU SAAC, and volunteered time with a church youth group.
Kacey Kennett was an All-MIAA Second Team selection in 2019-20, collecting the third All-MIAA honor of her career, while reaching 1,343 career points – good for ninth most in program history. She helped FHSU to its third-straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament, even though the tournament never started due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kennett was a three-time recipient of the MIAA Scholar-Athlete Award, given to individuals with All-MIAA honors and a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher in the same year, while gracing the MIAA Academic Honor Roll four times. Away from the court and classroom, highlights of Kennett's service include being a representative of FHSU SAAC, organizing Tiger Field Day and events for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, serving as a leader for youth groups in her local church, and being a member of a service team for a local college ministry group.