GNAC Announces 18 Nominees for D2 Gold Award

Monday, September 25, 2023
by Evan O'Kelly

PORTLAND, Ore. – A total of 18 nominees for the NCAA Division II 50th Anniversary Gold Award were submitted by Great Northwest Athletic Conference institutions, as the NCAA announced its complete list of nominees on Monday.
Each conference member – including the conference office – had the opportunity to nominate one male and one female. From the list of 18 nominees, the GNAC athletic directors will vote to determine one male and one female who will be selected by as the conference’s finalists for the award. The finalists from each Division II conference will advance to the final round of voting by the NCAA Division II Management Council Identity Subcommittee, and the winner of the award will be announced at the NCAA Convention in January.
Overall Division II announced 231 nominees for the award. This award, which is part of the division’s yearlong 50th anniversary celebration that launched Aug. 7 and will extend through the 2024 Division II Baseball Championship in June, will recognize two individuals (one individual who identifies as male and one who identifies as female) who have made a positive impact in Division II. 
As part of the anniversary celebration, Division II also will provide a commemorative scholarship opportunity for student-athletes from active member schools who exhibit the core values of Division II and have not yet exhausted their athletics eligibility. Two recipients from each conference and two representing the independent institutions will be announced in May during the 2024 NCAA Division II National Championships Festival in Orlando, Florida. Nomination procedures for the scholarship will be announced to the Division II membership in January.
To learn more about Division II’s 50th anniversary celebration, visit
University of Alaska
Female Nominee: Kendall Kramer – Cross Country/Nordic Ski
Kramer has distinguished herself in the NCAA Division II as one of the top student-athletes in the nation in both
cross country and Nordic ski. She became an All-American in both sports last season, the first in Alaska Nanooks
history to do so in both, and has assisted in putting the University of Alaska Fairbanks back on the map in both
sports. In both 2021-22 and 2022-23, she has collected All-American honors in Nordic Ski and in 2022 she added
NCAA Cross Country All-American to her trophy case as she took eighth place at the championship meet. She took home the 2022 GNAC Cross Country Women's Runner of the Year honor after taking first in the conference meet.
In ski, Kramer solidified herself as one of the top classic and freestyle skiers. This past season, she grabbed a second-team All-American honor in the women’s freestyle and just missed the All-American cut in the classic, taking home 15th-place. She is currently on the National Development Team and looks to make strides in her training through both the international circuit and NCAA circuit. Kramer has helped the Nanooks to back-to-back seventh-place
finishes at the NCAA Ski Championships. Seventh is the best finish ever for Alaska and has now happened in two of
her three seasons skiing for the ‘Nooks.
Male Nominee: Abdullahi Mohamed – Men’s Basketball
Abdullahi Mohamed has been a key member of the Nanooks men's basketball team since the 2021-22 season.
After transferring to Alaska in 2021-22, he was a major part of one of the most impressive NCAA DII runs
ever. The Nanooks struggled through the 2021-22 season and as the No. 10-seed in the conference championship, but went on to win the 2022 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Championship to earn the automatic bid to the 2022 NCAA West Regional Championships. The team continued to defy odds, advancing to the Sweet 16 round. Mohamed started a run of 12 straight double-digit scoring performances, including a double-double against NNU in the GNAC quarterfinals. His leadership followed into the next season when he was named to the 2022-23 GNAC men's basketball preseason all-conference team and followed through by earning second-team all-conference.
Central Washington University
Female Nominee: Samantha Bowman – Women’s Basketball
Bowman, a native of Zillah, Wash., was a four-year starter for the Wildcats and re-wrote the record books with
four single-season CWU records. Her season records included total points (665), scoring average (22.2), field goals made (269) and field goals attempted (495), and her five career CWU records included field goals made (666), field goals attempted (1,230), rebounds (1,219), rebounding average (10.2) and games played (120). Voted the 2023 GNAC Player of the Year and the 2022 GNAC Championship MVP, Bowman was a two-time, first-team all-GNAC selection and holds the GNAC Tournament record for most points in a game (40). Bowman holds two GNAC single-game records in field goals made (18 twice) and rebounds (31), and she holds three GNAC individual season records in field goals made (269), double-doubles (26 twice) and 30-point games (8). Bowman also holds the GNAC career record for rebounds (1,219).
Bowman was the 2021-22 NCAA DII Statistical Champion in double-doubles (26) and rebounding (15.9/game)
and repeated as the NCAA DII Statistical Champion in these two categories in the 2022-23 season averaging 14.9
rebounds per game and completing 26 double-doubles. Bowman was named to the 2021-22 & 2022-23 NCAA West Region All-Tournament Team and the 2021-22 & 2022-23 D2CCA West Region First-Team. In 2023 Bowman was honored as the 2023 D2CCA West Region Player of the Year and the 2023 WBCA & World Exposure Report First-Team All-American. Bowman ended her illustrious collegiate career being named the 2023 D2CCA Roy Lenz Player of the Year. Bowman signed professionally with the NBL1 North Rockhampton Cyclones in Australia where she finished her rookie season with 20.1 points/game, 15.5 rebounds/game, 3.2 assists/game, and shot 48.9% from the field.
Male Nominee: Adam Bighill – Football
Bighill graduated in 2011 as one of the top linebackers to ever play for the crimson and black. During his career at CWU Bighill was honored as the GNAC co-Defensive Player of the Year, First Team All-GNAC, AFCA First Team All-
American, Second Team All-American, Don Hansen Football Gazette Third Team All-Region, two-
time CoSIDA Academic All-Region, two-time Second Team All-GNAC, Daktronics Second Team All-Region, and was selected to participate in the Cactus Bowl collegiate All-Star Game. Bighill finished his Wildcat career recording 314
total tackles; 163 solo and 151 assisted. He added on 46 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, and seven interceptions. Bighill is
currently ranked second all-time in Wildcat history for tackles for loss, as well as ranked fourth in both total tackles
and assisted tackles all for an individual career. Bighill has gone on to play professionally making stops with the
CFL’s BC Lions (2011-16) and NFL New Orleans Saints (2017) before landing with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers
(2018-present). Bighill has been a three-time Grey Cup Champion, in 2011 with BC and in 2019 & 2021 with
Winnipeg. Bighill has also been named a six-time CFL All-Star and the CFL Most Outstanding Defensive Player three
times (2015, 18, & 21).
Montana State University Billings
Female Nominee: Alisha Breen – Women’s Basketball
Alisha Breen is not only an All-American in her sport but also an All-American in DII athletics and being a positive
influence as a women's basketball associate head coach in DII. She was the face of MSU Billings women's
basketball. Leading her team to the Elite 8 in 2018 while becoming a first-team All American and the program's and GNAC’s leading scorer with 2,001 points. Breen is now an associate head coach on the MSUB women's basketball team.
Breen was also recently named to the WBCA 30 under 30 list for women's basketball - a true testament to her young
leadership and how she is paving the way for young women in sports.
Male Nominee: Sam Charles – Men’s Soccer
Sam Charles is the best men's soccer player in program history, becoming the Daktronics DII National Player of the
Year in 2009. Charles set an MSUB & GNAC single-season record with 24 goals in that year, en route to 69 goals and
18 assists in his career. The two-time GNAC Player of the Year is a benchmark for success in DII. Charles, from
England, came to Montana without knowing much about the NCAA nor the USA. He quickly fell in love with the DII
landscape, allowing him to get his degree while playing the sport he loves - an opportunity to balance his lifestyle.
Charles is what every MSUB soccer player looks up to with goals of having a career like his. He was inducted into the MSUB Hall of Fame in 2016.
Northwest Nazarene University
Female Nominee: Ashley (Puga) Alexander – Women’s Track & Field
One of the most decorated athletes in Northwest Nazarene history, Ashley won NCAA Division II national titles in the
800 meters at both the indoor and outdoor championship meets in 2009. She won seven GNAC conference titles,
set 12 school records, was named the USTFCCCA NCAA Division II Outdoor Female Track Athlete of the Year in
2009, the GNAC Female Athlete of the Year twice, was a nine-time All-American, and was a finalist for the NCAA
Woman of the Year in 2009. In 2018, she was the first GNAC athlete to be inducted into the USTFCCCA NCAA
Division II Hall of Fame. At the time of her induction, she held school records in the 800 (2:05.23), 1,500 (4:23.17),
3,000 (10:02.12), and the 4x400-meter relay (3:51.47). In the classroom, Puga graduated summa cum laude with a
major in accounting and business administration. She was a three-time all-GNAC Academic Team member and was
the 2008-09 GNAC Female Scholar Athlete of the Year.
Male Nominee: Julio Castillo – Men’s Soccer
During his two-year career with NNU, Castillo was twice named a National Soccer Coaches Association of America
All-American, earning first-team honors after his junior season and honorable mention recognition following his
senior campaign. In 36 games for the Crusaders (now Nighthawks), the product of Tijuana, Mexico, had five goals
and 24 assists, which included setting a GNAC single-season record of 15 assists as a senior. He was also named
the GNAC Newcomer of the Year as a junior and GNAC Player of the Year as a senior. Castillo is now the top
assistant coach for the NNU men's soccer program, making an impact on countless student-athletes, particularly
those of Hispanic/Latino descent. Last season, he helped lead NNU to the best finish in program history, winning the
GNAC title and reaching the Elite Eight in the DII national tournament.
Seattle Pacific University
Female Nominee: Jessica (Pixler) Tebo
Jessica Pixler is the only NCAA Woman of the Year award winner in GNAC history. She won 12 NCAA championships, 19 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships, was a four-time cross country All-American, and was named all-west region and all-GNAC. Pixler was the National Female Track Athlete of the Year, a seven-time USTFCCCA Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year, an Academic All-American and SPU’s Honda Award nominee. She was a four-time SPU Athlete of the year, a 5,000 meters finalist at the 2016 Olympic Trials and was the NCAA Walter Byers Post-Grad Scholarship winner.
Male Nominee: Scott Cairns – Men’s Soccer
Cairns helped the Falcons reach the NCAA men’s soccer title game all four years he was at SPU (1983-86). SPU won three titles in those four years (1983-85-86). Cairns was selected to the 1986 Senior Bowl, earned Soccer America MVP in 1986, and was a four-time All-Northwest Collegiate Soccer Conference selection. Cairns was also a three-time all-region pick and set up his teammates with 42 assists during his career, which was a school record at the time.
Simon Fraser University
Female Nominee: Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe – Women’s Basketball
Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe is a history-maker for Simon Fraser University, where she played four seasons (her first was
with SFU when it competed in U SPORTS). In her final campaign (2012-13), she was the Great Northwest Athletic
Conference Player of the Year, all-west region, and an All-American (WBCA (1st), Daktronics (2nd), WDIIB (2nd)).
Since finishing her NCAA career, Raincock-Ekunwe has played for Canada at two Olympics (2016 and 2020),
become the first Canadian from a Canadian school to make the WNBA (NY Liberty) and earned the following
awards in European league play: DBBL champion (2016), Swiss LNA First Team (2014), Swiss LNA All-Imports Team
(2014), Swiss LNA Defensive Player of the Year (2014), Swiss LNA Center of the Year (2014). She completed her
first year of coaching with SFU women's basketball last season (2022-23).
Male Nominee: Carlo Basso – Men’s Soccer
Simon Fraser University became a full member of the NCAA in 2012 and Carlo Basso's efforts helped put the
school's men's soccer team immediately into national championship contention. In his final two seasons with SFU, Basso helped the team make the NCAA Division II Men's Soccer Final Four twice. In four years at the school (2010, SFU's first year in the NCAA's Great Northwest Athletic Conference, to 2013), Basso racked up 47 goals, 16 assists and 110 points in 87 games. He was an NSCAA first-team All-American twice in his career (2011 and 2012) and was the GNAC Men's Soccer Player of the Year and SFU's Male Athlete of the Year in 2012. Basso continued his soccer career with the Ottawa Fury and Victoria Highlanders before moving into coaching. He has coached with the local club Coquitlam-Metro Ford and is currently the interim head coach of SFU women's soccer after becoming an assistant coach in August 2021. He holds two degrees from SFU (B.A., 2015 and B.Ed, 2017).
Western Oregon University
Female Nominee: Bridget Johnson Tetteh – Women’s Track & Field
Tetteh competed in Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field at Western Oregon University from 2003-06. As a student
athlete, she earned four GNAC titles, two in the heptathlon, one in the 100-meter hurdles and 4x400. She left the program as the all-time point scorer in GNAC Outdoor history with 115 points over her four-year career. Tetteh earned two NCAA All-American honors in the heptathlon during her junior and senior seasons. She ranks in the Western Oregon
top 10 in the 100-meter hurdles, long jump, shot put, javelin, and remains the school record holder in the heptathlon.
Upon completion of her eligibility, Tetteh served as a graduate assistant at WOU while earning her master’s
In 2012, Tetteh was hired as the assistant commissioner of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference and in 2015
was promoted to associate commissioner. At the GNAC, Tetteh's primary areas of focus are NCAA compliance and
championships administration. She also serves as the conference office Senior Woman Administrator and Student
Athlete Advisory Committee liaison. From 2012-2014, she served as a member of the Regional Advisory Committee in volleyball. She is currently serving a four-year term as a member of the NCAA Track & Field Rules Committee. In addition, she serves on the NCAA Division II Ethnic Minority and Women's Internship Grant committee. In 2022, Tetteh served as the Tournament Director for the NCAA DII Men's & Women's Soccer National Championships during the NCAA Fall Festival in Seattle.
Male Nominee: David Ribich – Track & Field/Cross Country
David Ribich, former Western Oregon University runner and current professional Track & Field athlete for Nike/Union
Athletics Club, left a forever stamp in NCAA Division II athletics. A 2014 graduate of Enterprise high school, Ribich
posted personal bests of 2:03.99 (800m), 4:10.45 (1500m), and 8:57.32 (3000m). During Ribich’s freshman season
he made an immediate impact for the Western Oregon Wolves, winning the GNAC Conference title in the 1500m in a
time of 3:50.58. This only jumpstarted his career, as he would go on to post NCAA DII record times in the 1500m
(3:37.35), 3000m (7:50.81), and as a key member of the Distance Medley Relay (9:40.15). The 2017 NCAA DII Indoor Track & Field Championships marked Ribich’s first national championship title as the 1600m leg of the Distance Medley Relay. The Wolves pulled out the victory over Adams State by .001 of a second. Ribich would add another championship during his 2017 Outdoor season in the men’s 1500m.
Ribich also proved himself on the cross-country course, securing the 2017 NCAA DII West Region Championship at his home course in Monmouth. Ribich and the Wolves aimed to defend their 2017 Indoor National Championship in the Distance Medley Relay, and it took a miraculous close from Ribich on the 1600m leg (3:54.5) to secure the victory and come back from over nine seconds down to win their second NCAA Championship in two years. Ribich won his 4th NCAA DII Championship in the 1500m when he led a Wolves 1-2 finish in the event with teammate Dustin Nading. On December 26th of 2018, Ribich released his book Small School Big Dreams, documenting his final year as a collegiate track & field athlete. His book documented the day-to-day journey of one of the most successful NCAA
Division II track & field athletes in history, leading up to signing his professional contract with Brooks. Ribich’s book
quickly became widely recognized in the running community, motivating future classes of runners and illustrating
what it takes to be successful in other facets of our lives.
Western Washington University
Female Nominee: Audrey (Coon) Schwind – Women’s Rowing
Audrey Coon rowed in the WWU varsity eight for three straight NCAA Division II national champions (2007-09),
earning first-team Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association All-America honors in 2009 and twice receiving Co-SIDA
All-America honors. In her three years in the boat, the varsity eight did not lose a race to a Division II or III school. She was a 2010 NCAA Woman of the Year finalist. Coon graduated from WWU Magna Cum Laude with a 3.96 GPA, earning a degree in Spanish and Elementary Education.
Male Nominee: John Fuchs – Women’s Rowing Coach
John Fuchs has been the women's rowing coach at Western Washington University since 1999, leading the Vikings
to eight NCAA Division II National Championships, with seven consecutive titles in 2005-2011, another
championship in 2017 and an additional five runner-up finishes. WWU has appeared in 19 of the 21 Division II
national regattas and had 35 CRCA All-Americans during Fuchs' tenure. All of this was accomplished in a program where the vast majority of student-athletes were walk-ons with little or no previous rowing experience. Fuchs is a 1988 graduate of Western Washington University.
Conference Office Nominations
Female Nominee: Lindsey Butterworth – Track & Field/Cross Country (Simon Fraser University)
Not only was Lindsey Butterworth an outstanding All-American student-athlete during her career at Simon Fraser,
but she continued to have success upon graduation evidenced by her participation in the 2020 Olympic Games as a
member of Team Canada. Lindsey was the GNAC Female Athlete of the Year in 2014-15, and won the NCAA Division
II national title in the 800 meters at both the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships in 2015. Overall she was a
seven-time All-American during her career as a GNAC student-athlete. She went on to compete in the 2017 and 2019
world championships in the 800 meters as well.
Male Nominee: Travis Connell – Women’s Soccer Coach (Western Washington University)
One of the most successful coaches in GNAC history, Travis Connell has led Western Washington to two NCAA
Division II national titles (2016, 2022). His unprecedented success, which includes two national runner-up finishes,
was further evidenced by reaching the 400 win plateau in 2023 making him the winningest women's soccer coach in
the conference's history. In addition to his coaching prowess, Connell had similar success as a player at fellow
conference member Seattle Pacific. Connell was a member of the 1993 national championship Falcons team, giving
him three total NCAA titles throughout his career as both a player and coach.