HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Mercer University soccer forward Will Bagrou and Samford University distance runner Karisa Nelson have been named the 2017 Southern Conference Male and Female Athletes of the Year, the league announced today (May 30). Bagrou and Nelson will be honored as part of the league's annual Honors Dinner on Wednesday night in Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Nelson becomes just the second Bulldog to win the award. This year as a junior she became Samford's first Division I national champion as she won the women's indoor mile. Her time of four minutes and 31 seconds was four seconds better than her previous best time. Earlier in the winter, she won the indoor mile at the Southern Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships. Earlier this month, she won the women's 1500-meter run at the SoCon outdoor championships.
During the fall of 2016, she was named the league's Women's Cross Country Runner of the Year after winning the 5k event in Chattanooga, Tenn. She placed 21st at the NCAA cross country championships and earned honorable-mention All-America honors.
She holds a 3.0 GPA in biochemistry at Samford and has been named to the Southern Conference Academic Honor Roll. In addition to her studies, she has volunteered with the Christian Services Ministry and has been a part of an initiative to plant trees on Lakeshore Drive adjacent to the Samford campus.
Bagrou is the first Bear to be named Athlete of the Year
, and is the first men's soccer player in league history to win the award. The junior was named the league's Player of the Year last fall and garnered first-team All-America honors by the National Soccer Coaches Association. He finished the year as a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann trophy, given to the top Division I soccer player.
He led Mercer with eight goals, including two game-winners, and 20 points during the 2016 season on his way to garnering first-team all-conference honors. Bagrou had two of the fastest three goals on the season, scoring just 26 seconds into one contest and tallying in 90 seconds in another game. The Dacula, Ga., native helped Mercer win the conference tournament and advance to the NCAA tourney for the first time in 15 years.
Bagrou carries a 3.2 GPA and has participated on various community service projects, including the Macon (Ga.) Miracle League. He also spent time tutoring children at Bruce Elementary School in Macon and assisted the homeless at Rescue Mission of Middle Georgia.
The Athlete of the Year Awards are selected annually by the Southern Conference athletics directors and a media member representing each conference school. The award recognizes athletic achievement, academic performance and civic involvement. Prior to 1990-91, the award was selected solely by members of the Southern Conference Sports Media Association. Beginning in 1991-92, the men's award was named after the late Bob Waters, who was Western Carolina's head football coach from 1969-88.