Now among the conference’s best

UW-Eau Claire student-athletes have been recognized by WIAC

Story by Ellis Williams, Staff Writer

At the beginning of every sports season, athletic teams across the world set one common goal for themselves: to win a national championship.

Only one team earns the right to call themselves a champion. That’s the beauty of sports.

In the NCAA, student-athletes who fall short of a national crown are able to find comfort in individual honors awarded to them from their respective athletic conferences.

With the winter season coming to an end, the WIAC recognized a slew of Blugold athletes for their outstanding athletic achievement. Head softball coach and assistant director of athletics Leslie Huntington said in years when teams fall short of their ultimate goal, all-conference and all-conference honorable mention honors are significant.

“There is a lot of merit to the all-conference honors student-athletes receive,” Huntington said. “It speaks to the overall quality of an athletic program.”

The process of receiving all-conference honors differs from sport to sport. In team sports, WIAC office officials and head coaches of each team decide which players receive all-conference and honorable mention recognition.

Once the two groups make a decision, an all-conference first team is formed, followed by a group of honorable mention athletes. Depending on the sport, there could be as many as three all-conference teams.

In individual sports like swimming and diving and track and field, athletes compete at the WIAC conference meet in races and events for honors.

Regardless of the sport, receiving honors from the WIAC is an achievement Blugold athletes strive for. Paige Turner, a sophomore goalie on the women’s hockey team, earned an honorable mention on the All-WIAC team.

“I actually started crying,” Turner said. “It was truly a blessing and a great feeling.”

The tears of joy overcame her because she came back from hip surgery and before the season, it was unknown whether she would be able to start on time, she said.

Turner said she worked hard to return to the ice, and once she was back, her work ethic did not change. She lead the WIAC in saves with 734. She said the fact her hard work was recognized is what makes her the most proud.

A consistent work ethic is a constant theme among all-conference student-athletes. The honor highlights the hard work, passion and love of the game they exhibited throughout their respective seasons.

“To be recognized by the WIAC as one of the better players in the conference is definitely something I take pride in, and it’s pretty humbling,” men’s basketball sophomore guard Adam Hjelter said.

Hjelter led the Blugolds in scoring with 15.5 points per game, and had the 15th best free throw percentage in the nation at 89.3 percent.  He said it has taken him a lot of hard work to get to this point.

Like Turner, Hjelter battled an injury before the season, and he said his honor from the WIAC is a result of his drive to prove himself to his opponents on the court.

“Night in and night out you have to show up to games with consistent effort,” Hjelter said. “I am not taking days off or anything for granted, and I think that is a big part of it.”

WIAC recognition comes with a set of expectations. The community, coaches and teammates set these expectations, Huntington said.

Ultimately, the recognized athletes are held to a higher standard.

Hjelter said because of the honor, the way he carries himself and how he represents his program are magnified.

“It is a humbling honor, but at the same time it forces me to hold myself to a higher standard and to be accountable to my teammates, coaches and the program,” Hjelter said.

Despite the fact being recognized by the WIAC is an individual honor, both Hjelter and Turner said their honors would not have been possible without the help of their teammates.

Huntington said earning WIAC recognition brings on a leadership role because they are among the most talented athletes on their team.

“Individual awards go along with team success,” she said. “The more successful our teams can be, the better chance we have of getting our student-athletes individual honors.”