Johnson, Saraceno get top nods at SB Awards

Sophomore basketball player Orlando Johnson and senior volleyball player Rebecca Saraceno were named Male and Female Athletes of the Year respectively, while men’s basketball coach Bob Williams and women’s volleyball coach Kathy Gregory were named Coaches of the Year at the 2010 SB Awards on Wednesday night at the Isla Vista Theater.

Johnson led the Big West in scoring at 18.0 points per game and earned numerous honors following the season, including: Big West Player of the Year, Big West Tournament MVP, First Team All-Big West, First Team All-District, Mid-Major All-American, and Associated Press Honorable Mention All-American. The Seaside, Calif., native also helped UCSB to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2002. Johnson, a transfer from Loyola Marymount, was also chosen as the Male Newcomer of the Year.

For her part, Saraceno was also named Big West Player of the Year, Honorable Mention All-American, First Team All-Region, and First Team All-Big West. Additionally, she was an AVCA National Player of the Week. Saraceno averaged 4.45 kills and 2.66 digs per set and helped to lead the Gauchos into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three seasons.

Williams was named Big West Coach of the Year after directing a young UCSB team to the Big West Conference regular season and tournament championships in the same season for the first time in school history. The Gauchos won 20 games, including 15 of their last 19, and received an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament with a roster that included just two seniors.

Gregory was chosen Big West co-Coach of the Year after guiding UCSB to a 22-8 overall record and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. She has guided the Gaucho program for 35 years and her teams have qualified for 27 of the 29 NCAA Tournaments.

There were several other awards given out during the gala celebration.

Basketball was chosen Men’s Team of the Year, while volleyball was named Women’s Team of the Year. The basketball team’s victory in the Big West Tournament was voted overall Team Performance of the Year. The Individual Male Performance of the Year was awarded to track and field’s Scott Smith who broke school records in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, and the Individual Female Performance of the Year was given to high jumper Jane Doolittle who broke a 20-year old school record in the high jump.

UCSB’s Female Newcomer of the Year was basketball player Mekia Valentine. A Second Team All-Big West selection, the transfer from Wake Forest averaged 12.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, and blocked a school record 120 shots. Valentine also set a Gaucho standard with 11 blocked shots in a win over UC Irvine.

Women’s swimmer Courtney Bauer was awarded the Phil Womble Gaucho Heart Award. A senior, Bauer was diagnosed with lymphoma at the age of five and underwent chemotherapy. She survived and became a standout swimmer for UCSB, earning the 2010 conference title in the 400 freestyle relay. The award is named for longtime Gaucho supporter Phil Womble and his “never give up” attitude. Womble, 73, was born with cerebral palsy, but he has never allowed the condition to slow him down. He continues to regularly attend numerous UCSB Athletics events each year and in the spring of 2008, the Phil Womble Hall of Champions was dedicated in the lobby of the Intercollegiate Athletics Building on the UCSB campus.

The “Dare to Make a Difference Award” was presented to Becky and Gary Eldridge, longtime supporters of several UCSB teams. In addition to their support of several Gaucho squads, the Eldridges are part of the Living Scholar program.

The golf and women’s swimming teams, which each earned a perfect score of 1,000 by a measure of the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate, earned the Team Academic Recognition Award. The 1,000-point score ranked among the top schools in the nation.

Finally, swimmer and water polo player Joe Plume and swimming’s Anne Marie May were chosen Mr. and Ms. Gaucho respectively. In a vote of their fellow student-athletes, Plume and May were deemed to best represent the meaning of being a Gaucho student-athlete.

Mr. and Ms. Gaucho were not the only awards voted on by the student-athletes. All of the honors, with the exception of the Phil Womble Gaucho Heart Awards and the Team Academic Award, were voted on by student-athletes.