DAVIS, Calif. - Junior guard Dani Nafekh, senior guard Brynton Lemar, and junior all-arounder Alexis Brown earned the top three individual UC Davis athletics awards during Sunday’s inaugural Gunrock Gala.
At this year-end celebration, Nafekh, a women’s basketball standout, won the W.P Lindley Award as the outstanding scholar-athlete of the year. Lemar, who played a vital role in men’s basketball’s inaugural appearance at the Division I NCAA Tournament, is this year’s Colby E. “Babe” Slater award recipient as the male athlete of the year. Brown, an elite gymnastics talent, collected the Dr. Hubert Heitman Award, which is presented to the female athlete of the year.
Cross country is this year’s winner of the Marya Welch Award, given to the top academic female squad. For the third year in a row, tennis earned the Lyle Leach Award, which honors the men’s team with the highest GPA.
For the first time in school history, UC Davis student-athletes were responsible for selecting the winners of six new awards, honors the athletics department will now present on an annual basis.
Both basketball teams were selected to receive the inaugural Female and Male Team Performance of the Year awards for their respective, and deep, postseason runs. Track & field freshman sprinter Kierra Davis, and men’s basketball junior forward Chima Moneke garnered Female and Male Newcomer of the Year awards; middle distance runner Rianna Goins and Lemar earned Female and Male Individual Performance of the Year, respectively.
W.P Lindley Award - Dani Nafekh (women’s basketball)
Hailing from Oakville, Ontario, Canada, Nafekh was an All-Big West Conference second team honoree — her first career all-league honor — and was UC Davis' selection for the Big West Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Finishing third on the team in scoring at 11.0 points per game, she scored a career-high 28 points while tying a school single-game record with eight three-pointers made in a win over San Diego State, ranking fourth on the program's single-game scoring list in the Division I era.
She moved into the all-time top 10 with her 284 career assists while also leading the Big West in three-point percentage, making 61 three-pointers overall, and shooting better than 46 percent from beyond the arc this season.
Colby E. “Babe” Slater Award - Brynton Lemar (men’s basketball)
Lemar capped an outstanding career at UC Davis as the leading scorer for a team that won 23 games and earned the program’s first trip to the NCAA Division I Tournament. By scoring 581 points as a senior -- the second-highest single-season total in the program’s Division I era -- the All-Big West first team recipient became the 22nd player in the history of the program to record 1,000 career points.
The San Diego, Calif., native finished with 20 points in the Big West Tournament championship game win over UC Irvine, including 11 of the team’s last 13, and the final eight straight to fuel the Aggies’ come-from-behind rally over the Anteaters.
Known and respected for his ability to hit clutch baskets in crunch time, Lemar helped the Aggies record their first-ever Division I postseason victory thanks to their four-point triumph over North Carolina Central in the First Four. Lemar averaged 16 points during the Aggies’ run at the NCAA Tournament.
Dr. Huber Heitman Award - Alexis Brown (gymnastics)
Brown, who hails from Huntington Beach, Calif., enjoyed one of the most outstanding seasons in Aggie women's gymnastics history. She scored 39.000 or better in the all-around six times, and hit a then-school-record 9.900 on balance beam three times before teammate Katy Nogaki later broke the benchmark outright.
Brown earned three Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Gymnast of the Week awards, captured first-team All-MPSF honors on all four events, plus the all-around, before adding the conference's Gymnast of the Year award to this year’s haul. At the MPSF Championships, Brown captured individual titles in the all-around and on floor exercise. Finally, she earned an individual at-large berth to the Seattle Regional — her second NCAA postseason appearance.
Female Team Performance of the Year - Women’s Basketball
Enjoying one of the most successful seasons in the history of the program, women's basketball finished with a Division I-record 25 victories and 14 wins in league play en route to a Big West regular season title, earning a berth to the postseason for the fifth time in 10 seasons at the D-I level.
The Aggies, who closed the regular season with 10 consecutive victories, earned their first-ever postseason win in the first round of the WNIT at Utah, and advanced to the "Sweet 16" with a road win at Colorado State two days later.
A historic season led to four UC Davis student-athletes earning All-Big West honors: sophomore Morgan Bertsch and junior Pele Gianotti on the first team, junior Nafekh on the second, and newcomer Nina Bessolo on the all-freshman team. In addition, Head Coach Jennifer Gross was named the Big West's Coach of the Year for the first time in her career in her sixth season at the helm.
Male Team Performance of the Year - Men’s Basketball
In addition to recording another undefeated home record for the second time in the last three years, men’s basketball won the Big West Tournament for the first time in school history. By doing so, UC Davis punched its first-ever ticket to the NCAA Division I Tournament, and collected its inaugural postseason victory by defeating North Carolina Central in the First Four.
With that win, the Aggies advanced to the Midwest Regional to face top-seeded Kansas.
UC Davis dominated this season’s Big West men’s basketball honor roll with its league-high six all-conference selections: Lemar and Moneke earned first team honors — the latter was named league Newcomer of the Year — sophomore guard Siler Schneider, in addition to his Honorable Mention selection, earned Best Sixth Player, and senior guard Darius Graham won the Hustle Player of the Year award for the second year in a row.
Female Newcomer of the Year - Kierra Davis (women’s track & field)
Davis, a freshman sprinter, is the first UC Davis student-athlete named Big West Women’s Freshman of the Year since Holly Tokar won this award in 2014.
The Upland, Calif., native finished fourth in the 200-meter dash and seventh in the 100 meters at the Big West championship meet. Her time of 11.70 seconds in the 100 preliminary heat ranks fourth in school outdoor history, while the 23.84 she ran at the UNLV Invitational puts her third in the Aggies’ record book. Davis also took part in the program’s No. 2 relays in school history: a 3:39.54 in the 4x400, and a 44.81 in the 4x100 that won the conference title.
Male Newcomer of the Year - Chima Moneke (Men’s Basketball)
Moneke, the Big West Newcomer of the Year and all-conference first team selection, is the first Aggie to receive the Riley Wallace Award, which is presented to the top Division I men’s basketball transfer in the nation. That recognition is among numerous awards collected by the Canberra, Australia, native in his first season in a UC Davis uniform. He ended the Big West Tournament as its Most Valuable Player and then collected All-District accolades from the National Association of Basketball Coaches shortly thereafter.
The Big West's rebound champion — his 9.5 rebounds per game average is two more than the league's second-ranked individual — led all conference players in nine categories, and finished No. 6 in scoring at 14.6 points per game.
Female Individual Performance of the Year - Rianna Goins (Women’s Track & Field)
Goins is the first Aggie in the Division I era to represent UC Davis at the USA Track & Field Indoor Championships by winning the women’s 600-meter run at the New Mexico Classic. She qualified for Nationals with a time of one minute, 31.60 seconds, highlighting her team’s action at that indoor track & field meet. The senior middle distance runner from Anaheim Hills, Calif., also defended her individual title at this year’s Big West Track & Field Championships, winning the 800 meters with 17-hundredths of a second to spare.
Male Individual Performance of the Year - Brynton Lemar (Men’s Basketball)
When UC Davis needed a crucial basket, opposing teams knew the ball would eventually end up in Lemar’s hands, and they still could not stop the inevitable from happening. Whether it was a key scoring run — it was his scoring outburst midway through the second half that lifted UC Davis to a victory over Sacramento State in the first college basketball game in Golden 1 Center history — or a defensive stop, Lemar had a knack for coming up clutch whenever the Aggies needed it.
Of his 20 points scored in the Big West Tournament’s championship game, 13 took place throughout the final minutes, including a stretch that saw Lemar score eight in a row for the Aggies to help them punch their ticket to the Big Dance for the first time in school history.