Athletic Department Honors Top Cadets

    Ben Payne
    Ben Payne

    June 2, 2004

    The Academy's athletic department honored six of its best and brightest with the top athletic awards, the winners are:

    Most Valuable Athlete, C1C Ben Payne, who exemplifies what a cadet, should be. He is a three-time conference champion on the track, a four-time all-conference performer in cross country, an excellent student and is recognized as a model cadet-athlete. He has maintained a 3.01 GPA in aeronautical engineering. He has competed at the highest level each year, earning all-conference honors in 10 of a possible 12 seasons. No other distance runner in the five-year history of the Mountain West Conference has demonstrated the consistency that Payne has displayed nor has anyone matched his accomplishments. While he aimed for a third consecutive MWC 10,000-meter championship in May, his most significant accomplishments have come as a leader of the Academy's cross country team. He led the Falcons to their first-ever MWC championship last fall and then led the team to an eighth-place NCAA finish, the highest NCAA finish by any Academy team in many years. This followed 16th and 26th place NCAA finishes by the team in 2000 and 2001, respectively.

    Most Valuable Athlete, C1C Delavane Diaz has been an outstanding student, leader and volleyball competitor since her freshman season. Her coach considers her to have been the backbone of the women's volleyball that has excelled in every phase of the Air Force Academy curriculum. She sets the pace in everything she does and has balanced her many responsibilities as well as any cadet head coach Penny Lucas-White can recall. She is a 2004 Rhodes Scholar. Diaz has excelled in every arena and has been on the superintendent's list three of seven semesters, the dean's list seven of seven semesters, the commandant's list six of seven and the athletic director's list three of seven semesters. She earned the Sportwomen of Colorado Swede Johnson Award, which recognizes an "above and beyond" spirit of endeavor, reflecting not only substantial athletic ability and achievement on the playing field, but also academic excellence, on-and-off the court leadership, volunteerism and overall forward thinking. In 2003, she earned academic All-America recognition. She is the hardest worker in the gym and challenges all of her teammates to follow her example. She served as Summer Wing Commander and is the current Group Honor Chairman.

    Athletic Leadership, C1C Aaron Kuhle is a fierce competitor who internalized and demonstrated the Air Force core values throughout his Academy career. As a four-year starter on the men's basketball team, in the Mountain West Conference, he set the standard for others to follow. He is second in school history with the number of games played while exceeding standards in grade point average, military performance average and physical education average. Despite his busy schedule, he always took time to lead the team on and off the court. A key example of his work in a very successful community-service mentoring program with second graders at Talbott Elementary School. In this program he and others helped encourage young children to enjoy reading and learning. The program was a complete success as evidenced by the many notes, letters and calls. Kuhle has given himself for the athletic program and the Air Force Academy. He led the basketball team from an eight-win season his freshman year to the best season in school history and the first NCAA Tournament since 1962.

    Scholar Athlete, C1C Michal Polidor is considered by his coach to be the hardest working goaltender he has ever had in over 11 years in college hockey, and Polidor is an obvious over-the-top hard worker in all aspects of his life. A four-time letter-winner, he held a 3.89 cum GPA in astronautical engineering. He ranks 13th out of 1,010 cadets, is a member of the College Hockey America all-Academic team, winner of the Jim Bowman award as the team's top scholar-athlete and a Verizon Academic all-District selectee and CHA scholar-athlete of the year winner. His leadership ability is another key component of his make-up that sets him apart from his peers. He was chosen as team captain for the 2003-2004 season even though it is rare in hockey that a goalie is selected for that honor. His compassion for others was demonstrated while delivering toys to local hospitals, working with local Cub Scout packs and working intimately with neglected children at the Emily Griffith Center.

    Athletic Excellence, C3C Nicholas Welch, although only a third class cadet, his coaches consider this sophomore well deserving of the athletic excellence award. Welch recovered from a possibly career-ending injury to lead Air Force to its best season in school history, its first NCAA appearance since 1962 and a record 12-2 regular season conference record in the demanding Mountain West Conference. He reaped numerous awards to include his selection as Associated Press All-America (honorable mention), MWC co-player of the year, and first-team All-MWC. Welch's accomplishments have dispelled any doubts that the Academy can win championships in basketball.

    Outstanding Athletic Achievement, C1C Montgomery Coleman is a highly respected cadet-athlete by his teammates, the coaching staff, as well as members of the community. Coleman is both a gracious and selfless young man, who exudes the Academy's values of integrity, service and excellence. He is the recipient of the 2003 Brian Bullard Award, AFA's highest football honor, and was an All-MWC honorable mention. He has been a three-year starter, finished fifth in the conference in tackles for loss with 12.5 for 55 yards, ranked fifth in the MWC in sacks with 5.5 for 44 yards and his 12.5 tackles for loss is the most by a Falcons since 2000, when C.J. Zanotti had 13 for 54 yards. Throughout his football career, he rolled up numbers on the field; however, it's off the field where he had his biggest impact. Coleman helped start a mentoring program called Hope Springs, which is a pilot program under the umbrella of Big Brothers, Big Sisters. The program benefits teenagers from single-parent homes and that live with mothers or grandparents.

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