DENVER – NM State senior women's basketball player Brooke Salas and Grand Canyon senior swimmer Mark Nikolaev are the 2018-19 Western Athletic Conference Joe Kearney Award winners. Named in honor of former WAC commissioner Joe Kearney, the awards are given annually to the top male and female student-athletes in the WAC.
Salas, a two-time WAC Player of the Year and WAC All-Defensive Team selection, is the first player in WAC history to be named WAC Player of the Year and WAC Defensive Player of the Year in the same year (2018-19). As a senior, the Placentia, Calif., native led the conference in points (629), rebounds (367), rebounds per game (11.1), blocks (54), field goal percentage (47.7), field goals made (242), double-doubles (21) and defensive rebounds per game (8.0). She also recorded just the second triple-double in school history vs. Alcorn State on Dec. 21 when she finished with 32 points, 22 rebounds and 11 blocks.
Nationally in 2018-19, Salas ranked ninth in double-doubles, 13th in defensive rebounds per game (8.0) and 14th in rebounds (367). Her 629 points as a senior ranks third for a single-season in school history.
During Salas' career, the Aggies won four WAC regular-season titles and three WAC Tournament titles. She ranks third all-time in WAC history in career field goals made (742), fourth in rebounding (953) and fifth in scoring (1,931). Salas holds the NM State career record for blocks (156), ranks second in scoring, third in both steals (233) and field goals made, and fifth in rebounds.
"Brooke Salas represents everything it means to be a New Mexico State Aggie," NM State Head Coach Brooke Atkinson said. "She has approached the game of basketball and life with the same passion and determination day after day. Brooke has been nothing short of a phenomenal overall person here in Las Cruces and I know she will have continued success in the rest of her life."
Nikolaev finished his Grand Canyon career as the program's most decorated swimmer – a three-time WAC Men's Swimmer of the Year, an All-American and one of the best in NCAA history in the 100-yard back. The Seltso, Russia, native finished third in the 100 back at the 2019 NCAA Championships and his time of 44.33 ranks fourth all-time in the event at an NCAA Championship. He competed at the NCAA Championships in both of GCU's eligible seasons, finishing as an honorable mention All-American as a junior and a first team All-American as a senior.
Nikolaev was a seven-time first team All-WAC honoree as a senior, leading the Lopes to their first-ever WAC Swimming & Diving Championship in 2019. He currently ranks No. 1 in the world in the 50-meter backstroke by the International Swimming Federation (FINA).
"Mark is one of those rare individuals who is one of the best in the world at what he does yet is so humble that he really doesn't think that he is that good," Grand Canyon Head Coach Steve Schaffer said. "Mark is the type of athlete any coach would want. He has always led by example and always made time to help his teammates get better. In his last years at GCU, Mark took the next step to be a more vocal leader and I believe that in doing so, helped his team bring home its first WAC Championship."