NASHVILLE-- For their contributions to Vanderbilt athletics over the 2003-04 school year, VandyMania has chosen senior basketball forward Matt Freije as its Male Athlete of the Year; sophomore golfer May Wood as its Female Athlete of the Year; and women's golf coach Martha Freitag as its Coach of the Year.
VandyMania's Male and Female Athletes of the Year were chosen through an entirely subjective process by the VandyMania staff, based on the following criteria: their contributions to Vanderbilt athletics; their value to their respective teams; and their overall fan appeal. For our Coach of the Year, well, we chose the Vanderbilt coach whom we felt had done the most remarkable coaching job.
The selection of Freije as VandyMania's Male Athlete of the Year was not a difficult one. A few other male candidates shone brightly; Warner Jones, Jeremy Sowers and Ryan Klosterman all had outstanding seasons in baseball. Chad Harris was a worthy senior on Vandy's Sweet 16 tennis team. Jay Cutler and Jovan Haye drew attention to the football team.
Yet no male Vanderbilt athlete dominated his sport the way Freije did, and no player, male or female, drew more positive attention to Vanderbilt athletics. The senior finished the regular season as the SEC's scoring leader (though postseason games dropped his average below Ole Miss' Justin Reed). He was a unanimous first-team All-SEC selection, and likely would have been SEC Player of the Year if not for the transfer of Baylor's Lawrence Roberts to Mississippi State.
Freije finished his career as the all-time Vanderbilt scoring leader with 1,891 points. Perhaps most importantly, he was instrumental in leading Vanderbilt back to the NCAA Tournament, breaking a seven-year drought, and all the way to an unforgettable Sweet 16 appearance.
For many years men's basketball was the marquee sport at Vanderbilt, but the program had fallen upon hard times in recent seasons. In his senior year, Freije helped put the Magic back in Memorial, and helped restore men's hoops to its place on the throne. He is expected to be taken by an NBA team in Thursday's draft.
Picking the VandyMania Female Athlete of the Year was a little tougher. Basketball is without a doubt the most popular women's sport, and the women's hoops team also reached the Sweet 16. Jenni Benningfield was unquestionably a fan favorite.
Kelly Schmandt and Aleke Tsoubanos helped the tennis team back to the Final Four (if you gave it to one, you'd probably have to give it to both of them). Michelle Allen was MVP of a lacrosse team that reached the Final Four. Josie Hahn won the heptathlon in the SEC Outdoors, advanced to the NCAA's, and will have a shot at making the U.S. Olympic Team.
Yet our choice for VandyMania Female Athlete of the Year is golfer May Wood. The sophomore from Signal Mountain, Tenn., earned SEC Co-Golfer of the Year honors after amassing a 73.16 adjusted stroke average, good for first in the conference and 10th nationally. The Signal Mountain, Tenn., native earned medalist honors at the SEC Women's Golf Championship and finished in the top 10 of five tournaments. She was also a first-team All-SEC selection.
Moreover, Wood led Vanderbilt to its first-ever SEC Championship in April in Baton Rouge, and finished as individual champion after winning a sudden-death playoff. She finished second individually at the NCAA Central Regional, which the Commodores also won.
Wood did not compete in the NCAA Championships, as she was declared academically ineligible. Despite the disappointment, the sophomore turned in one of the more memorable years ever for a Vanderbilt golfer. Wood has said she plans to take a year off from school and return to Vanderbilt in 2005.
Choosing the VandyMania Coach of the Year was the most difficult task of all for our staff. In a year that amounted to a renaissance for Vanderbilt athletics, especially in the spring sports, a number of Commodore coaches were worthy.
Kevin Stallings (men's basketball) merited strong consideration; coming off an 11-18 season the previous year, he guided his team to a 23-10 record and a Sweet 16 appearance. Likewise Tim Corbin led Vandy baseball to the best season in school history and an unprecedented appearance in the NCAA Super Regionals. Geoff MacDonald (women's tennis) and Cathy Swezey (women's lacrosse) coached their teams into national Final Fours. Any of those choices would have been worthy.
Yet our choice is women's golf coach Martha Freitag, who coached her team to an SEC Championship and a fifth-place finish in the NCAA Championships, the school's best finish in history.
In the course of the 2003-04 golf season, Freitag's Commodores won five tournaments, including the Southeastern Conference Championship and the NCAA Central Region in post-season play. Even more remarkably, Freitag coached her team to fifth in the NCAA Championships without Wood, the SEC Co-Golfer of the Year.
We're not alone in our esteem for Freitag-- she was selected National Coach of the Year by Golfweek Magazine.
Congratulations to all three of our honorees for their outstanding seasons.
Disagree with our selections? Feel free to voice your opinions on our VandyMania message boards.