June 15, 2012
MADISON, Wis. -- In a season that saw University of Wisconsin teams claim a national championship and five conference titles, outstanding individual performances abounded for the Badgers.
In light of those successes in multiple sports, the challenge of selecting the Badgers’ top athletes from a pool of five men’s and five women’s finalists was no easy task.
On Friday, UW Athletics named junior football player Montee Ball as its Male Athlete of the Year and junior women’s hockey player Brianna Decker as its Female Athlete of the Year.
A finalist for college football’s top award -- the Heisman Trophy -- Ball was one of the key components of Wisconsin’s run to a second-straight Big Ten championship in football. He led the nation in rushing, matched the NCAA single-season record for touchdowns and was a consensus first-team All-American.
Decker took home the hardware as the top player in collegiate women’s hockey, winning the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award. She led the nation in goals and tied for the top spot in scoring while helping get the Badgers back to the NCAA Frozen Four championship game.
The pair will now be considered for the Big Ten Conference's top athlete honors. Ball is UW's candidate for Jesse Owens Male Athlete of the Year, while Decker vies for the honor of Suzy Favor Female Athlete of the Year.
Montee Ball (Football)
Ball quickly emerged as the Badgers’ top tailback -- and one of the nation’s best at the position -- on his way to earning consensus first-team All-America honors and a placing himself among the finalists for a number of major national awards.
Rushing for at least 100 yards in 10 games, the junior ran for an NCAA-leading 1,923 yards on the year -- the third-best total in UW history -- and also led the nation with 2,229 total yards from scrimmage.
More impressive than how Ball racked up yardage, however, was his ability to pile up points. He tied Barry Sanders’ single-season NCAA record with 39 total touchdowns by rushing for 33 scores and catching six TD passes. Ball scored at least two touchdowns in each of Wisconsin’s first 13 games, setting another NCAA record.
His 33 rushing touchdowns shattered the previous Big Ten record of 26.
For his efforts, Ball was a unanimous, consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection and was named the inaugural winner of both the Graham-George Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year award and the Ameche-Dayne Big Ten Running Back of the Year award.
He also claimed the Chicago Tribune Silver Football, annually given to the Big Ten’s most valuable player.
Ball was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, as well as the Doak Walker Award, which is presented annually to college football’s top running back. He won both the Archie Griffin Award and Jim Brown Award from the Touchdown Club of Columbus.
Brianna Decker (Women's Hockey)
In just her third year, Decker played a crucial role in helping the women’s hockey team win its fourth regular season WCHA championship and reach its second-consecutive national title game.
Leading the nation in goal scoring with 37 goals, she was named the recipient of the 2012 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, given annually to the nation’s top female hockey player. Decker became the fourth Badger to win the award.
The first-team All-American and WCHA Player of the Year has quickly ascended into the top five of the Badgers’ all-time scoring list. Posting back-to-back 80-point seasons, Decker ranks fifth in career points with 189 (86 goals, 103 assists).
Having ended the 2010-11 season on an 11-game point streak, Decker extended it in the first 21 games of the year, setting the school record for longest point streak at 32 games. In that span, she totaled 33 goals and 44 assists, including four hat tricks.
Decker recorded a season-high five points (2G, 3A) in a 7-1 win against Ohio State on Feb. 17. She had a total of six four-point games, including UW’s 4-3 overtime win over Minnesota Duluth on Jan. 21 that secured the Badgers’ first season sweep over the Bulldogs.
In 40 games, Decker failed to record a point only five times. Decker also had a hand in 17 game-winning goals, scoring five and assisting on 12 others.
Internationally, Decker played with the U.S. Women’s National Team at both the 2011 Four Nations Cup in Sweden and at the 2012 IIHF Women’s World Championships in Burlington, Vt. At the Four Nations Cup in November, Decker tallied one goal and four assists to help Team USA win its fourth gold medal at the event. At the world championships in April, she tallied four goals and six assists as the U.S. took silver.