Illinois names athletes of the year

Yvonne Mensah long jumps at the Big Ten Indoor Championships in the Armory on February 24. Mensah was the 2007 Dike Eddleman Female Athlete of the Year. Steve Contorno

By Jason Grodsky

Illinois athletes Kevin Anderson and Yvonne Mensah received the highest possible athletic honor from the University on Tuesday.

The junior All-American tennis player and senior track and field star were named the 2006-07 Dike Eddleman Male and Female award winners as Illinois’ Athletes of the Year. Both athletes were awarded for their critical roles on their respective teams, and each helped to lead their teams to the 2007 NCAA Championships.

“To add my name to a list of great Illinois athletes and teams who had great careers and seasons is big,” Anderson said. “This is a tribute to a great season that we had as a team this year.”

Anderson is the third men’s tennis player at Illinois to win the honor. This year’s Big Ten Player of the Year in men’s tennis came on strong at the end of the season this spring to lead the Illini to the NCAA Finals in Athens, Ga., beating No. 7 Mississippi, No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Baylor along the way.

Although the Illini eventually fell in the finals to No. 1 Georgia, Anderson continued to flourish individually at the NCAA Championships. Anderson reached the semifinals in singles and teamed up with fellow junior Ryan Rowe to reach the finals in doubles in their search of becoming the first duo in NCAA history to win back-to-back national titles in doubles.

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While the second title eluded the pair, Anderson finished the season ranked No. 4 in the final ITA Fila tennis poll with a 32-9 record in singles and 29-8 record in doubles.

“We had some up and down times this year,” Anderson said. “But we still remained consistent and finished strong. I just hope that we can build on this next year.”

While Anderson was leading the Illinois tennis team in search of a national title, Mensah was playing a key role for the women’s track and field team at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships, winning four event titles and scoring 40.5 points for the Illini to earn them a tie for the conference title.

The British Columbia, Canada, native wrapped up her college career by earning the Big Ten Field Athlete of the 2007 Indoor Championships, where she set a school record in the long jump (20’8″). Mensah ends her career with 15 Big Ten titles and three All-America honors, and is the sixth recipient of the Dike Eddleman award for the women’s track & field program in the past seven years.

“This is something I never expected,” Mensah said. “When my coaches first told me I had won, I was speechless. Having just finished my senior year, I can’t think of a better way to go out than by ending my career at the University of Illinois with this prestigious award.”