UPDATE: Which former Mountain West athlete had the best 2015 across the NFL, NBA, MLB and more? You tell us! Click here to cast your vote for the site's professional athlete of the year!
2015 was a pretty good year for the Mountain West Conference. Boise State rang in the year as the Group of 5's best team, fresh off a Fiesta Bowl victory on New Year's Eve, while Wyoming shocked prognosticators by clinching a berth in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. San Diego State rode power arms and a balanced lineup to a regional berth in the baseball tournament, and then rode power running and a strong defense to its first outright championship on the gridiron earlier this month.
It was a pretty good year for many athletes throughout the conference, as well, and now we at Mountain West Connection want our readers to answer one question: Which player deserves to be named our Player of the Year?
We picked one athlete for each team, taking into account nominations from our staff writers, and we'll have a vote at the bottom of this post for you to determine who is most deserving.
Trenton Brooks, Nevada pitcher/outfielder - The Wolf Pack made a habit of bludgeoning opposing pitchers with one of the most powerful lineups in the nation, and no one did more damage than the Tony Gwynn Player of the Year. Brooks slugged .365/.484/.515 in 55 games, scoring 51 runs and collecting 52 RBI and 103 total bases. He also contributed on the mound for good measure, with a 3-0 record, 12 strikeouts and a 1.90 ERA in 23 2/3 innings.
Tyler Ervin, San Jose State running back - Few players had a bigger breakout in 2015 than the Spartans' senior runner, who seized the starting job and ran for 1,601 yards and 13 touchdowns. He set a school record against Fresno State with 300 yards (!) on the ground, and had seven games with at least 100 yards, including their Cure Bowl win over Georgia State.
Kyler Fackrell, Utah State linebacker - Recovering the form which generates first-round speculation is no easy feat for any athlete, but the senior tackle machine made many forget the knee injury which cost him nearly all of 2014. The Aggies may have been one step behind SDSU in dominant defense, but Fackrell was an easy all-conference selection after racking up 76 tackles, including 13.5 TFL, four sacks and two forced fumbles.
Courtney Frerichs, New Mexico cross country - National championships of any kind are few and far between in the Mountain West, so when Sports Illustrated describes UNM's women's cross country squad as "the most dominant team all year" in its sport, you have to take notice. The senior runner led the Lobos at four of five meets in 2015, capped by a six-kilometer jaunt in 19:53.1 at the NCAA championships in November. That's 3.72 miles! That's roughly 5:20 per mile, which is certainly faster than any of us (and probably the nominees) could run!
Marvelle Harris, Fresno State guard - The conference's choice for preseason Player of the Year in men's basketball, Harris didn't earn the recognition for no reason. He averaged 17.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game in conference play during the 2014-15 campaign, all while averaging 37 minutes a contest, and has been even better in the young 2015-16 season (18.9 PPG, 4.7 APG, 1.8 steals per game) for the surprising Bulldogs.
Rashard Higgins, Colorado State wide receiver - "Hollywood" Higgins wasn't quite as healthy or prolific as he was during his breakout sophomore season, but that didn't stop him from finishing second in the MWC in catches (66) and receiving yards (933), as well as tying for the conference lead with eight TD grabs in just eleven games. Those numbers earned him a second straight appearance on the all-conference first-team squad.
Larry Nance, Jr., Wyoming forward - The only nominee to spend part of 2015 in college and part of 2015 in the pros, Nance was the driving force behind the Cowboys' men's basketball title this year. He averaged 17.6 points and 8.6 rebounds in 14 MWC contests, and went for 14 and 6 in the conference title game against San Diego State. Despite the team's first-round exit in the NCAA tourney, Nance was selected 27th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State running back - The conference's Offensive Player of the Year lived up to lofty expectations, foiling opposing defenses week after week to the tune of 1,554 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. He rolled off nine 100-yard efforts on the season, including eight in a row to help the Aztecs sweep through the conference undefeated.
Brett Rypien, Boise State quarterback - The Broncos had high expectations on the blue turf, but while the win-loss record may look somewhat disappointing in retrospect, Boise fans can be encouraged by having had the conference Freshman Player of the Year under center. Rypien finished third among FBS freshman signal-callers in QB rating, third in completion percentage, fourth in passing yards, and fifth in passing TDs.
Weston Steelhammer, Air Force safety - The hard-hitting junior proved once again to be a key piece of Troy Calhoun's battle-tested defense, a unit that led the Falcons to their first Mountain West title game, recording 80 tackles, including 10 1/2 tackles for loss (the best among MWC defensive backs), and five interceptions.
Nikki Taylor, Hawai'i women's volleyball - The only two-sport athlete to be nominated (yes, volleyball and sand volleyball are two different beasts), Taylor was an integral part of two teams that went a combined 47-5 on the year. She was named an AVCA All-American for her efforts on the hardwood and led UH to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, while also leading the Warriors to the AVCA Championships in the sand.
Christian Wood, UNLV forward - The Rebels' big man may have raised some eyebrows and then broken some hearts when he unsuccessfully made the jump to the NBA, but it's hard to argue with the numbers he put up during his time at Thomas & Mack. He was one of only two MWC players to average a double-double in conference action last season, and he did manage to catch on in the NBA's summer league despite the setback.
Honorable mentions - Jalen Robinette, Air Force football; Anthony Drmic, Boise State men's basketball; Sarah Schweiss, Colorado College women's soccer; Kiah Hicks, Colorado State track and field; Taylor Ward, Fresno State baseball; Kennedy Tulimasealii, Hawai'i football; Ian Seau, Nevada football; Cullen Neal, New Mexico men's basketball; Steven Pallares, San Diego State baseball; Christian Tago, San Jose State football; Nick Vigil, Utah State football; Brian Hill, Wyoming football