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The best Nevada Wolf Pack athlete every year for the last half-century

Kirk Snyder
Kirk Snyder had a tremendous 2003-04 season, leading Nevada to its first Sweet 16. (Nevada athletics)

Earlier this month, we launched a 16-player tournament to determine the Wolf Pack's top athlete during the 2020-21 season (baseball player Tyler Bosetti won the two-week event). But why stop there? What about Nevada's top athlete each year for the last half-century? This is a project I started during the beginning of the pandemic but never finished. Originally, I was going to list the top Wolf Pack athlete for the last 100 years. That ended up being too daunting, and the Wolf Pack's record books aren't strong enough for me to accurately determine who Nevada's best athlete was in 1937, for example. So we're going back to the 1971-72 season and picking one athlete every year until 2020-21, a span of 50 seasons. Enjoy!

Wolf Pack's top athlete in each of the last 50 years

1972: Glen Jobe, skiing: Nevada has a proud history in skiing, a program its shuttered from the Division I level in 2009. Jobe starred in Alpine and cross country skiing at Nevada from 1971-73 and was the Western Collegiate Racing champion and Pacific Coast Intercollegiate champion while qualifying for the NCAA Championships. He made the 1980 U.S. Winter Olympic team in biathlon.

1973: Pete Padgett, men's basketball: As a freshman, Padgett averaged 16 points per game and set a school record that still stands with 17.8 rebounds a night. Padgett played under his father, Jim, who came to Nevada following a head-coaching stint at Cal (1968-72). Padgett's 1,464 career rebounds rank sixth in modern college basketball history (post-1973).

1974: David Clapham, football: Two years before Chris Ault took over Nevada football, Clapham was named an AP All-American at offensive tackle, the Wolf Pack's first football All-American since 1952. Nevada went 7-4 that season. Clapham also was a heavyweight boxer who went undefeated in league matches during his Nevada career.

1975: Domingo Tibaduiza, cross country: A star distance runner for Nevada in the early-to-mid 1970s, Tibaduiza was named an All-American in 1975 after finishing second in the NCAA 10,000-meter event. He also was an All-American in the 5,000 meters. Tibaduiza competed in four Summer Olympics and won the 1982 Berlin Marathon.

1976: Edgar Jones, men's basketball: The first national superstar for the Nevada basketball team, Jones is the first of our multiple-year winners. As a freshman in 1975-76, Jones averaged 17.6 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. Nevada only went 12-14 this season, but Jones proved he was a bona fide star.

1977: Edgar Jones, men's basketball: Jones' best individual season came in his sophomore campaign in 1976-77 when he averaged career highs in points (23.7) and rebounds (13.1) while making 50.5 percent of his shots. Nevada improved its record to 15-12, and Jones later powered the Wolf Pack to wins over Top 25 teams and into the then-prestigious NIT.

1978: Doug Betters, football: Betters transferred from Montana to Nevada for a single season in 1977-78. The defensive lineman had 72 tackles, 10 sacks and 17 tackles for loss and was named a Division II AP All-American. He was drafted by the Miami Dolphins after that season and eventually became the NFL's defensive player of the year in 1983.

1979: Ann Belikow, women's swimming: A three-time Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) All-American, Belikow was a senior this season and led Nevada to the Division II national championship. She scored 77 points in the championship meet, setting national records in the 50- and 100-meter breaststroke. She won three national titles, adding a 200 breaststroke win.

1980: Frank Hawkins, football: Hawkins was a three-time All-American who rushed for 1,683 yards during the 1979-80 season. His 1,806 all-purpose yards were a school record. Hawkins, who had 11 100-yard games that season, scored 13 touchdowns and led Nevada into the FCS playoffs.

1981: Frank Hawkins, football: During his senior season, Hawkins rushed for a then-program record 1,719 yards, becoming the FCS' all-time leading rusher in the process. Hawkins had 11 100-yard games and two 200-yard games that season, including 268 yards against Idaho, scoring four times in that contest. He was a 10th-round pick in NFL draft that year.

1982: Charles Mann, football: As a senior, Mann was named an All-American after leading the Big Sky Conference with 14 sacks. He was named the conference's Most Valuable Defensive Lineman. Mann was a third-round pick in the 1983 NFL draft and became a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time Super Bowl champion.

1983: Robbin Thein, women's swimming: A Wooster High graduate, Thein starred for the Wolf Pack in the AIAW days before the NCAA accepted women's sports. In the 1983 championships, she set a national record and took first place in 200 backstroke. She also finished second in the 100 backstroke and third in the 50 backstroke that year.

1984: Derrick May, cross country: May made history by becoming the first runner in Big Sky history to win the 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the conference meet. This year was May's senior season and marked his fourth straight Big Sky win in the 10,000 meters. May would go on to run one of the world's fastest marathons in 1987.

1985: Chris Starr, women's basketball: Starr earned All-American honors three straight seasons, starting in 1984 and running through 1986. As a junior this season, Starr averaged 23.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per game (she's one of two Wolf Pack women basketball players to be an All-American; Kate Smith joined her in 2001).

1986: Chris Starr, women's basketball: Starr capped her career with a stellar senior season, again earning All-American honors. Starr averaged 22.1 points on 64.6 percent shooting, which is a program record. She finished her career with a Nevada-best 2,356 points. Nevada went 17-8 this season, one of the best records in program history.

1987: Eric Beavers, football: Beavers led one of the best teams in Nevada football history this season as the Wolf Pack went 13-0 before losing the FCS semifinals to Georgia Southern, 48-38. Beavers set the school record for passing yards with 2,810 and his 25 touchdowns still rank top 10 in program history.

1988: Marty Zendejas, football: Marty was the younger brother of Tony Zendejas, who starred for Nevada in the early 1980s. In this season, Marty Zendejas set the FCS career scoring record, previously held by Tony, and was the only FCS player named to the FWAA All-America first team. The Wolf Pack was No. 1 in the nation early in the season but ended the year 5-6.

1989: Bernard Ellison, football: A defensive back, Ellison earned Kodak All-American first-team honors as Nevada went 7-4, an uncharacteristically average campaign under Chris Ault. Ellison would tear his Achilles the following season before earning All-American honors again in 1990. He was a seventh-round draft pick by the Chiefs in 1991.

1990: Kamy Keshmiri, men's track and field: One of two three-time honorees on this list, Keshmiri, a Reno High alum, transferred back to his hometown after a year at UCLA. In 1990, he won Nevada's first track and field national championship in 25 years when he won the discus while setting the Big Sky record with a throw of 63.12 meters (207 feet, one inch).

1991: Kamy Keshmiri, men's track and field: Keshmiri's dominance continued as he repeated as the national champion in the discus throw, moving his mark to 66.58 meters (218 feet, 5 inches) during his junior season.

1992: Kamy Keshmiri, men's track and field: Keshmiri completed his three-peat by winning the NCAA title in the discus with a throw of 67.06 meters (220 feet), which remains an NCAA record almost three decades after it was set. He was ranked as the 11th-best athlete in the history of the Big Sky Conference.

1993: Ali McKnight, women's track and field: A local from McQueen High, McKnight was in the running for Wolf Pack athlete of the year in 1993, 1994 and 1995, where she finished second in the heptathlon, the highest placement for a female Wolf Pack track and field ever at the NCAAs. She also made the U.S. Olympic trials in 1996 and 2000.

1994: Enoch Borozinski, men's track and field: It was a bittersweet year for Borozinski, who won the NCAA championship in the decathlon in 1994 just a couple of weeks after Nevada announced it was dropping its men's track and field program. Borozinski also was named the Big West track and field athlete of the year and won bronze in the 1993 Olympic Festival.

1995: Alex Van Dyke, football: A JuCo transfer, Van Dyke had two huge seasons at Nevada, catching 98 passes for 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns in 1994 before grabbing 129 balls for 1,854 yards and 16 touchdowns in 1995. He was the No. 30 pick in the NFL draft by the New York Jets in 1996.

1996: Lisé Mackie, swimming: Mackie won her first of three straight Big West swimmer of the year honors in 1996 before competing in the Olympics later that summer for Australia. She finished sixth in the 100 freestyle relay and earned a bronze medal in the 200 free relay. She is one of two Wolf Pack athletes to win an Olympic medal.

1997: Andy Dominique, baseball: Dominique led Nevada to its second NCAA Regional in school history with one of the most powerful offensive displays in program history. He hit .353 with a 1.244 OPS and program-record 30 homers and 96 RBIs in 60 games before being a 26th-round pick by the Boston Red Sox.

1998: Lisé Mackie, swimming: Mackie capped her three-peat of Big West swimmer of the year honors in 1998. As a senior, she capped her career with nine All-American honors and 18 Big West titles and left Nevada as the most decorated athlete in school history in terms of All-American awards and conference championships won.

1999: Limin Liu, swimming: From 1999-2002, Nevada athletes won seven individual national championships, with Liu taking home three of those. In 1999, the Olympic medalist won the 200 butterfly and also was an All-American in the 100 fly. The following year, she won the 100 and 200 fly. Her three national titles are tied for the most in school history.

2000: Trevor Insley, football: In 2000, Insley had what could still be considered the best college season for a wide receiver ever when he caught 134 passes for 2,060 yards and 13 touchdowns in 11 games while becoming the NCAA"s all-time career leader in receptions and receiving yards. He remains the only college receiver to post a 2,000 yard season.

2001: Katerina Hanusova, women's skiing: A transfer from Colorado, Hanusova became Nevada's first skier to win a national title since Pat Myers in 1952 when she captured the the 15K freestyle and 5K classical championships in 2001. She added another title, in the 15K freestyle, in 2002.

2002: Ryan Tanoue, rifle: Tanoue was a seven-time All-American, with his crowning achievement in college coming in 2002 when he won the individual air rifle championship as a freshman in a tiebreaker over Alaska Fairbanks’ Matthew Emmons. That remains the only individual title in Nevada rifle history (the program was dropped from the D-I level in 2018).

2003: Kevin Kouzmanoff, baseball: A transfer from Arkansas-Little Rock, Kouzmanoff spent just one season at Nevada, but it was a great one. The third baseman hit .361 with 17 homers en route to All-American honors. Nevada won 31 games, including twice over No. 1-ranked Rice, but didn't make the NCAA Tournament. Kouzmanoff was a sixth-round pick in 2003.

2004: Kirk Snyder, men's basketball: Snyder rejuvenated the Wolf Pack basketball program by leading Nevada to the WAC Tournament title and its first NCAA Tournament berth in 19 season. Snyder won WAC player of the year honors and led Nevada to its first Sweet 16 appearance after averaging 18.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists. He was the 16th pick in the draft later that year.

2005: Nick Fazekas, men's basketball: One of two three-time honorees on this list, Fazekas kept Nevada at the national level after the 2004 Sweet 16 run. He was named the WAC player of the year after averaging 20.7 points and 9.4 rebounds while leading Nevada to the NCAA Tournament's second round.

2006: Nick Fazekas, men's basketball: Fazekas didn't slow down his junior season, again earning WAC player of the year honors after leading the Wolf Pack to regular-season and tournament titles. Nevada was upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Montana, but Fazekas averaged a career-high 21.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.

2007: Nick Fazekas, men's basketball: After testing the draft waters and returning to Reno, Fazekas made it a three-peat by winning the WAC player of the year honors yet again. He tallied 20.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game and led Nevada to the second round of the NCAA Tournament before being a second-round NBA draft pick.

2008: Noelle Micka, softball: As a freshman, Micka earned second-team All-American honors, becoming the first player in program history to accomplish that. Micka hit .399 with seven homers and powered the Wolf Pack to the WAC championship while winning two games in the UCLA Regional. Nevada went 8-7 against Top 25 foes, including a win over No. 1 Arizona.

2009: Katie Holverson, softball: Holverson went 28-11 this season, setting a program record for victories that still stands (her 22 wins in 2008 are the second most). She posted a 1.70 ERA, also a program record by a wide margin (1.98 is in the second place). Nevada won 40 games, a WAC title and reached the NCAA Regional.

2010: Luke Babbitt, men's basketball: In the best scoring season in Nevada history, Babbitt, only a sophomore, scored a program-record 743 points (21.9 per game) and became the first player in program history to shoot better than 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line. He was the No. 16 pick in the NBA draft.

2011: Colin Kaepernick, football: In arguably the greatest season in Wolf Pack history in any sport, Kaepernick powered Nevada to a 13-1 record, including a win over No. 3 Boise State and a No. 11 ranking in the final AP Top 25. Kaepernick accounted for 4,228 yards and 41 touchdowns while finishing in eighth place in the Heisman Trophy voting.

2012: Deonte Burton, men's basketball: Despite being a sophomore, Burton won WAC basketball player of the year honors in 2012 while leading Nevada to a 28-7 record (the Wolf Pack reached the NIT's quarterfinal round). Nevada won the WAC with a 13-1 record, its highest winning percentage in a conference season. Burton averaged 14.8 points and 4.2 assists.

2013: Braden Shipley, baseball: Shipley earned conference pitcher of the year honors for the second straight season, doing so in Nevada's first year in the Mountain West. He posted a 7-3 record and 2.77 ERA while striking out 102 batters in 107.1 innings. Shipley was the 15th pick of the 2013 MLB draft, the highest in school history.

2014: Deonte Burton, men's basketball: As a senior, Burton led Nevada to a surprising third-place finish in the Mountain West as he became the program's second-leading scorer in school history. Burton averaged career highs in points (20.1), assists (4.4), rebounds (4.3) and steals (1.5) per game.

2015: Krysta Palmer, diving: Before becoming an Olympian this summer, Palmer was the best diver in the Mountain West, earning diver of the year honors in 2015 and 2016. In 2015, Palmer won all 11 of her events during the regular season before sweeping the three events at the conference championships en route to All-American honorable mention honors.

2016: Sharae Zheng, diving: No Wolf Pack athlete has had a better debut season than Zheng, who joined Nevada at the semester break before winning two NCAA titles in her first year on campus, the 1-meter and 3-meter dive. That made Zheng one of just four Wolf Pack athletes with multiple individual nationals titles.

2017: Sharae Zheng, diving: One of eight athletes to make repeat appearances on this list, Zheng followed her NCAA championship season by earning Mountain West diver of the year honors and earned All-American status in the 1-meter and 3-meter dive after finishing sixth and seventh, respectively.

2018: Caleb Martin, men's basketball: One half of the Martin twin duo, Caleb was the Wolf Pack's first Mountain West basketball player of the year after leading Nevada to a conference regular-season title and the second Sweet 16 berth in school history. Martin averaged 18.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists and keyed NCAA Tournament upsets of Texas and Cincinnati.

2019: Nicola Ader, women's track and field: The German native earned four All-American honors, including second team in the outdoor high jump, long jump and heptathlon and second team in the indoor high jump. That made her the most decorated athlete in Nevada women's track and field history.

2020: Jalen Harris, men's basketball: In his only active season at Nevada, Harris averaged 21.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game in one of the most prolific offensive seasons in program history. Harris' 650 points were the 11th most in a single season in school history as Nevada went 19-12 in its first year under Steve Alford.

2021: Carson Strong, football: Strong became the first underclassmen to win the Mountain West offensive player of the year award after throwing for 2,858 yards and 27 touchdowns and posting a program-record 160.6 quarterback rating while leading Nevada to a 7-2 record, including a bowl win over Tulane.

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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