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Athlete of the Year: Rachael Hackbarth

Make no mistake, senior Rachael Hackbarth had one of the best seasons in Missouri Valley Conference history. Based on her statistics, her conference and national accolades and her invitation to play for the USA Women’s All-Star team, Hackbarth is more than deserving of The Times-Delphic Drake Athlete of the Year award.

But that’s not why this exceptional player should win this award. The thing about Hackbarth is that she embodies everything that is good in college athletics.

There’s something admirable about the way Hackbarth goes about her business. She is steady, calm and humble. She never seems rattled or worried when things aren’t going her way.

Off the court, Hackbarth is soft-spoken and polite, always carries a booming smile on her face and always exhibits a silent confidence.

When I first met Hackbarth three years ago, I was amazed by her strength and her dominance on the court. The first time I saw her play, I thought to myself, “This girl should be averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds a game.” But she wasn’t, at least not yet.

Every year that went by, Hackbarth got better and better. Her commitment to excellence and her drive to keep improving should not be overlooked. Hackbarth averaged 6.8 points per game her freshman season, 12.3 PPG her sophomore year, 14.6 PPG her junior season and, finally, 18.9 PPG her senior year. From averaging 4.7 rebounds per game her freshman season, Hackbarth concluded her Drake career averaging 11.9 RPG.

In fact, Hackbarth became a double-double machine this year. No one recorded more double-doubles in the NCAA this season, not even Brittney Griner of Baylor. Hackbarth recorded 26 double-doubles during the 2011-12 campaign.

Putting aside her marvelous statistics, what I appreciate the most about Hackbarth’s game is how much of an impact she has on both ends of the floor.

The Bulldogs were able to run their offense through Hackbarth. This opened up the perimeter and freed up teammates whenever she was double-teamed or even triple-teamed. On defense, it never mattered who the Bulldogs were playing. Hackbarth was able to guard the opposing team’s center one-on-one without a hiccup.

Hackbarth was a rock for the Bulldogs. She was the heart and soul of this squad all year.

The Bulldogs struggled throughout the regular season. Two starters (Kayla Person and Brittnye McSparron) left the team, and they lost junior Stephanie Running to injury. By the time the State Farm MVC Championship came around, Drake was playing with nine healthy bodies, including three freshmen.

Yet the Bulldogs had a magical run. Drake defeated Evansville, Illinois State and Wichita State to reach the championship against Creighton. Drake lost to Creighton and received a Women’s National Invitation Tournament bid, where it lost to South Dakota in the first round.

Through it all was Hackbarth. Always steady, always reliable.

Hackbarth earned All-MVC first-team honors and All-MVC defensive-team honors. She was named the 2012 Jackie Stiles MVC Player of the Year after leading the conference in rebounding and scoring, the third time anyone has ever accomplished that feat. Lastly, Hackbarth was named an Associated Press All-American honorable mention.

Hackbarth has all the accolades and statistics that you could ever ask for, and we should not overlook them. But look at what she did for this team. Look at how she led this team to the MVC Championship.

Hackbarth didn’t shy away from anything this season. The MVC tournament run was a culmination of the maturation of Hackbarth as a leader and as a player.

In the end, what I want you to know about Hackbarth is that she embodies everything that we need to uphold and celebrate about college athletics. She did things the right way: with hard work and determination. She has improved and matured every year, has been a great student, an outstanding athlete and an even better person in her time at Drake.

She is my pick for The Times-Delphic Drake Athlete of the Year.

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