The BESPYs are back!
The Scout sports section ran eight polls on its @ScoutSportsDesk Twitter account to determine which Bradley teams, coaches and student-athletes the public thought deserved each illustrious BESPY for the 2021-22 academic year. Each poll received an average of 296 votes.
Team of the Year
Volleyball continued its dominance on the Hilltop during the 2021-22 season. The squad finished 12-6 in MVC play, including a seven-game win streak from Oct. 22 to Nov. 13 for the longest single-season conference win streak in program history. Their 17-15 overall record led them to a third place finish in the MVC and the program’s second-ever postseason berth to the National Invitational Volleyball Championship, where they knocked off Chicago State before falling to MVC foe Evansville. They were second in the MVC in digs with 2,077 to go along with 1,484 assists and 1,575 kills.
Finalists: Men’s and Women’s Cross Country, Men’s Basketball, Men’s and Women’s Track & Field
Coach of the Year
Amy Hayes – Softball
One of the most decorated coaches in Bradley history, Hayes reached the immortal 500 career win mark on April 15 against Southern Illinois, moving her into ninth place in MVC history. She also holds the Bradley softball record for career wins and sits 10th in the MVC in all-time conference wins. The team currently sits 23-21 with an 11-10 conference record and just recently wrapped up a series victory against I-74 rival Illinois State.
Finalists: Brian Wardle, Darren Gauson, Carol Price-Torok
Honorable Mentions: Halley Morrell, Matt Tyler
Male Athlete of the Year
Connor O’Brien – Baseball
Our most lopsided victory by far, O’Brien has made his presence known on the diamond this season, hitting at a .386 tilt while slugging six home runs and 28 RBIs. The junior from San Diego was the 17th ranked first baseman in the country in D1 Baseball’s preseason power rankings and is coming off two all-MVC selections in 2019 and 2021. He currently holds a 32-game on-base streak and was the first Brave with five hits in a game in three years against Tennessee Tech on March 27.
Finalists: Rienk Mast, Terry Roberts, Alec Danner
Honorable Mentions: George Watson, Josh Kirkham, Jack Douglas
Co-Female Athlete of the Year
Grace French – Softball & Hannah Thompson – Volleyball
In a hotly contested battle that received nearly 1,000 votes, two revered seniors will share the BESPY for female athlete of the year. French pitched the first no-hitter at Bradley since 2007 against St. Thomas on March 6 and holds a 2.88 ERA, good for sixth in the MVC. At the plate, she’s batting .291 with four home runs and 24 RBIs.
Thompson, on the other hand, leaves Bradley with a legacy unlike any other. A first-team all-MVC honoree three times, the 2018 MVC Freshman of the Year and last season’s MVC Scholar-Athlete of the Year, Thompson holds the program record for digs and double-doubles while leading the team in points and kills during the 2021 season.
Finalists: Nicola Jansen, Tatum Koenig
Honorable Mentions: Caroline Waite, Julia Nielsen, Wilma Nielsen, Samantha Smith
Newcomer of the Year
Caroline Waite – Women’s Basketball
Coming in strong despite the loss of fifth-year senior Gabi Haack midway through the season, Waite won MVC Freshman of the Year and was the top scoring underclassmen in the MVC, scoring just over 13 points per game. She led the team with 72 threes, the fourth-most in a single season in Bradley history, and shot 34.3% from beyond the arc this season, even appearing on SportsCenter’s Top 10.
Finalists: Terry Roberts, Pepe Mellado, Nicola Jansen
Honorable Mentions: Madalena Andrade, Mikey Howell, Aaeri Krishnan, Malevy Leons
Most Improved Player
Samantha Smith – Softball
After hitting .194 a season ago, the senior Smith is now up to .308 on the year with four home runs and a team leading 25 RBIs. She won MVC Player of the Week back in March and was also selected to the all-Tournament team for the Plainsman Invite. Now a Bradley veteran, Smith has been an essential part of softball’s success this season and has made a major jump from her first three years on the Hilltop.
Finalists: Camden Kowalski, Tatum Koenig, Bozana Lojpur
Honorable Mentions: Carson Husmann, Kora Kauling
Freshman of the Year
Caroline Waite – Women’s Basketball
Winning a second BESPY, Waite was one of only five freshmen in program history to lead Bradley in scoring and her 2.88 3-pointers per game was fourth among all Division I basketball players in the country. She dropped 23 points in the season opener for the second-best freshman debut performance in program history, and now has two shiny BESPYs to add to her trophy wall.
Finalists: Jacob Kisting, Connor Hickman, Nicola Jansen
Honorable Mentions: Maria Perakis, Cal McGinnis, Michael Rogalski, Kirstin Hailey, Silan Demirkol, Addie Welsh, Abbott Badgley
Role Player of the Year
Silan Demirkol – Volleyball
Demirkol was top five on the team in kills, digs and aces per set in her first year as a Brave, winning MVC Freshman of the Week twice last season. She was a key part of volleyball’s run to the NIVC and will prove to be an imposing force on the outside for years to come.
Finalists: Abbie Draper, Ville Tahvanainen, Mikey Howell
Honorable Mentions: Chloe Rice, Jared Sinnaeve, Nick King