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Ward, Oleksak recognized with Sportswomen of the Year awards

The only thing better for a university having one student-athlete be recognized as the best in their sport is having two, and that’s just what Colorado State University has.

In a recent announcement from the Sportswomen of Colorado, junior CSU swimmer Maddie Ward and senior volleyball star Katie Oleksak were both recognized as the best collegiate athletes in the state in each of their respective sports.

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Ward is taking home swimmer of the year while Oleksak secured her spot as volleyball player of the year.

The Sportswomen of Colorado is an organization that was founded in 1974 with the mission of promoting, honoring and empowering Colorado women in sports. The organization is also recognized as the first community-based organization in the country that specifically honors female athletes.

Ward and Oleksak are in good company being honored with these awards, as notable winners of the organization’s Sportswoman of the Year award include Amy Van Dyken (1995-97), CSU women’s basketball legend Becky Hammon (1999) and Missy Franklin (2012-13), to name a few.

“I wasn’t really expecting it; it was pretty crazy to receive that honor,” Ward said when asked how it felt to make it on the list of winners. “It’s really amazing to have all your hard work recognized. But it’s not just my hard work. It’s also my team’s hard work, my coaches, my trainers. It’s everyone.”

After taking a look at what Ward did in her 2018-19 season, it’s easy to see why the association decided to name her the best swimmer in the state. Ward helped her team win their final three meets of the season before going to the Mountain West Championships, where she put on one of the most impressive swimming performances in school history.

While at the championships, Ward broke not one, not two, but three school individual event records. Ward posted a blazing fast 1:00.02 time in the 100 breaststroke, a 2:00.04 time in the 200 individual medley and a 2:09.85 time in the 200 breaststroke, which was the best in the Mountain West.

As if breaking records on your own wasn’t enough, Ward also linked up with teammates Julia Box, Kristina Friedrichs and Tonicia Thomas to set a new school record in the 200 medley relay in 2019.

“Coming off of winning a Mountain West title, I want to repeat that,” Ward said in response to what that season has done to shape her mentality. “I’m never satisfied. Even if I go best time, or even if I win an event, I’m never satisfied. That’s the mentality.”

Ward wasn’t the only Ram who took part in a record-breaking year. Senior setter Oleksak had her own impact as she led the Mountain West in assists in the 2019 season to help the Rams win a school-record 28 games in a row while also securing her third consecutive Mountain West Player of the Year accolade, making her the first player in league history to win the honor three times. 

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“It’s a really amazing award to be honored with,” Oleksak said. “And it’s really cool that it’s a Colorado-based organization. I really like what they’re doing.”

Oleksak was involved in 82% of her team’s set offensive plays in the league this season and showcased her well-rounded playing style by contributing 208 digs on the defensive side of the ball.

2019 was Oleksak’s senior season, and she leaves CSU as the school’s all-time leader in assists. She was named an AVCA honorable mention all-American in each of her four seasons with the Rams. Oleksak has stated she also intends to sign a contract with a professional team overseas once she graduates in the spring.

When asked what her long list of accolades means to her, Oleksak said “My goal was never to break records; my goal was always just to work hard.”

Ward and Oleksak will be presented with their awards on Sunday, March 15, 2020, at the 46th Annual Awards and Fundraiser Banquet in Denver.

Bailey Shepherd can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @B_Sheps. 

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