Donahue, Rice named student-athletes of the year

Cole Claybourn

Senior catcher Matt Rice and senior swimmer Claire Donahue added yet another honor to their decorated WKU careers.

This one, however, wasn’t for their athletic achievements, but rather their accomplishments in the classroom.

Rice and Donahue were named the 2010-2011 student-athletes of the year, voted on by WKU athletic administration, at a press conference Thursday.

Baseball coach Chris Finwood said it was a “tremendous honor” for both Rice and Donahue.

“They’re the top of the food chain,” he said. “They’re great students. They both have been recognized not just in our university, our conference, our region, but nationally for the things they’ve done in the pool or the field.”

Rice became the third baseball player to win the award. Jack Glasser, who earlier this season became the first WKU baseball player to have his jersey retired, was the first WKU male student-athlete of the year in 1973.

A baseball player didn’t win the award again until last year, when pitcher Matt Ridings won.

Finwood said he was “awfully proud” to have one of his athletes win for the second straight year.

“We love numbers in baseball,” Finwood said. “That was a 37-year gap that we were shut out there. Now we’ve got two in a row.”

Rice was also a candidate for the Lowe’s Senior Class Award earlier this season given to seniors for their character and efforts in the classroom.

Rice said receiving this award was a “great” way to end his college career.

“I’m extremely honored,” he said. “I just can’t say enough about the experience I’ve had at Western. To have my senior year capped this way is extremely special.”

Donahue became the second WKU swimmer to win the honor. Brandi Carey won the award in 2001-2002.

Donahue was named swimming athlete of the year in the Sun Belt Conference during her junior and senior years and said she was “extremely honored” to be named WKU’s female athlete of the year.

“I didn’t just come here to swim. I came here to get a degree,” Donahue said. “It’s just an extreme honor to be able to say that I succeeded out of all the athletes who did well.”

Swimming coach Bruce Marchionda said Donahue personifies the description of “student-athlete.”

“To see her hard word pay off and be recognized from a university standpoint is just outstanding,” he said. “To get our second honor as a swimming program is a tremendous accomplishment.

Now Finwood and Marchionda are left to replace both Rice and Donahue.

That’s something that Marchionda said won’t come easy.

“Someone asked me the other day, ‘How do you replace a Claire Donahue?’ The simple answer is you don’t,” he said. “There’s not very many high school athletes in the country, or in the world, coming out that are as good as Claire.

“We’re hoping to find that diamond in the rough and develop them to the level that Claire has.”

But he said Donahue has opened the doors for WKU’s swimming program as far as recruiting is concerned that may not have been open before. Donahue made three trips to the NCAA Championships and placed second in the nation in the 100-yard butterfly event at the NCAA Championships this season.

Finwood echoed what Marchionda said about Donahue, and said the same applies to how he feels about Rice. He called Rice the “exception to the norm.”

“When you get kids like Matt Rice, you never forget them,” he said. “They make coaching just a pleasure. I can’t ever remember having to kick Matt Rice in the tail and say, ‘Let’s go. Let’s work a little harder today.’ And obviously, he doesn’t just do that on the field, but in the classroom as well.”

49 student-athletes to graduate

According to a press release from WKU Athletic Media Relations, 49 student-athletes will graduate this Saturday.

Men’s basketball seniors Steffphon Pettigrew, Sergio Kerusch and Juan Pattillo will all graduate. Senior Cliff Dixon, who left the team during the season, will not graduate on Saturday.

Women’s basketball seniors Arnika Brown, Amy McNear and Hope Brown will all graduate on Saturday, with Brown receiving her master’s degree.