American Pharoah was named the 2015 Kentucky Sportsman of the Year on Monday. He was the first-place vote-getter on 141 of 163 ballots, including my own. In the interest of full disclosure, below is the ballot I submitted to Mark Story, my colleague who organizes voting for the prestigious award every year.
1. American Pharoah, horse racing: If a voter believes that a horse should be eligible to win Sportsman of the Year, and that the horse racing Triple Crown matters, I’m not sure how the first thoroughbred to pull off the feat in 37 years isn’t a lock for his or her No. 1 spot.
2. Willie Cauley-Stein, basketball: No player under John Calipari had as varied an experience at UK as did Trill. From a first-round loss in the NIT to an unbelievable run to the NCAA championship game to an undefeated regular season culminating in his becoming the first All-American selection to average fewer than 10 points. Judging from his interests outside of basketball, he embraced what it means to be a college student off the court as much as on it.
3. Kash Daniel, football: Overnight sensations are far less frequent in the social-media age, but the Paintsville star dominated football talk all season long after going from unknown to unbelievable in the summer. The only significant honor the he failed to achieve was state champion, enabling his absence from the Tigers’ playoff loss to Pikeville (the eventual Class A titlist) to produce one of the best “What ifs?” in recent memory.
4. Sydney Moss, women’s basketball: Former Boone County standout was a wrecking ball at the Division III level while leading Thomas More to its first title in any sport. She’s poised to take the Saints (still undefeated this season) back to the championship game, too.
5. Makayla Epps, women’s basketball: Staked her claim as the player for the UK women’s team as a sophomore and continues to excite as a junior. If anyone’s getting the Wildcats to their first Final Four, it’s Epps.
6. Philip Haywood, football: Small-town football is the best football, and small-town mountain football is even better. The Belfry legend did something no one in state history has done (reached 400 wins) and led the Pirates not just to their third straight title, but their most dominating championship victory – a shutout of LexCath team which had been firing on all cylinders – yet.
7. Todd Bretz, boys’ soccer: He’s been at Paul Laurence Dunbar since it opened and has no immediate plans to depart. Taking the state wins record was impressive, but doing so in a city rich in soccer talent and tradition was even moreso.
8. Chastity Gooch, women’s basketball: A Kentuckian who finished as one of the all-time greats for a program steeped in success has no business being left off anyone’s top 10.
9. Cameron Payne, men’s basketball: One of the greatest sports misfires of 2015 was the NCAA selection committee leaving Cameron Payne and Murray State out of the field of 68. Racers had the firepower to reach the Sweet Sixteen, if not further.
10. Destinie Graves, women’s soccer: The best part for Centre soccer fans is that Graves, the state’s Miss Soccer in 2012, was only a junior last season. The scariest part for fans of other Division III soccer fans is that Graves was only a junior last season.