RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — East Central University women’s cross country and track & field senior Abbie Winchester has been named the 2019-20 Great American Conference Female Scholar Athlete of the Year.
Winchester, a three-time GAC Elite Scholar Athlete recipient has carried her 4.00 undergraduate GPA in accounting into her master’s work (December 2020 graduate). She joins former ECU softball standouts — Emily Kennemer, Autumn Suydam and Mariah Ewy - as Tigers named the league’s Female Scholar Athlete of the Year. No school has produced as many different Athlete or Scholar Athlete of the Year recipients.
ECU recognized Winchester as a top-five finalist for the George Nigh award - issued to the university’s top graduating senior. She participated in ECU’s Business Scholar Leaders program, the Business Leaders Association - for which she served as secretary for one year - and the ECU Student Center for the Public Trust. She achieved membership into the Alpha Chi and Delta Mu Delta honor societies,
This past fall, she became only the 12th four-time All-GAC selection in cross country as she helped the Tigers take second at the GAC Championships. She earned a spot on the GAC All-Decade team. In track and field, she earned All-GAC honors in the high jump. She becomes the first female cross country and track student athlete named the Female Scholar Athlete of the Year.
At ECU, she helped the ECU cross country team to a 2016 GAC Championship and runner-up titles in 2019 and 2017. She also participated in the 800, 1,500, and 5,000 meters and high jump during the track & field seasons. Since the 2017-18 season, she has earned All-GAC and D2ADA Academic Teams.
Other nominees for the 2019-20 GAC Female Scholar Athlete of the Year award included Arkansas Tech junior Rilie Vote (Volleyball), Arkansas-Monticello senior Belle Tan (Golf), East Harding senior Peyton Padgett (Basketball), Henderson State sophomore Kaylie Wheeless (Cross Country), Northwestern Oklahoma State junior Kaitlyn Robison (Basketball), Oklahoma Baptist senior Michelle Carr (Golf), Ouachita senior Katharine Camp (Volleyball), Southeastern Oklahoma State senior Caitlin Cosby (Volleyball), Southern Arkansas junior Carley Hale (Cross Country/Track & Field), Southern Nazarene senior Rachel Hurtz (Cross Country/Track & Field) and Southwestern Oklahoma State senior Kaitlyn Dillon (Volleyball).
Male Scholar Athlete
Harding’s Mills Bryant won the GAC’s Male Scholar Athlete of the Year.
Bryant anchored the Bisons offensive line as the starting center for a unit that produced the top rushing attack across all NCAA Divisions, averaging 373.6 yards per game, a mark that also set the GAC single-season record and ranked as the fifth-best season average in Division II since 2000. The Bisons qualified for the NCAA DII Playoffs for the fourth-straight year.
With a 4.00 GPA for his masters work in management and business ethics, he earned CoSIDA Academic All-District honors. He became Harding’s sixth offensive lineman to receive Academic All-District honors since 1996.
Other nominees for the 2019-20 GAC Male Scholar Athlete of the Year award included Arkansas Tech senior Tyler Dunlop (Football), Arkansas-Monticello senior KJ Lesure (Basketball), East Central senior Dilland Gardner (Football/Track & Field), Henderson State sophomore Greyson Stevens (Baseball), Northwestern Oklahoma State senior Daschal Johnson (Baseball), Oklahoma Baptist senior Hayden Ashley (Football/Track & Field), Ouachita senior Brandon Matros (Baseball), Southeastern Oklahoma State senior Danrich Kruger (Tennis), Southern Arkansas junior Stuart Rehfuss (Tennis), Southern Nazarene senior Ethan Johnson and Southwestern Oklahoma State senior Braden Sweet (Football).
Note: Eric Moyer, GAC Associate Commissioner for Communications, contributed to this report.