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2016 Mountain West Connection college athlete of the year: The finalists

You might think it’s been a down year for the conference, but the MWC has featured many strong individual performances. Now, tell us who’s best.

NCAA Basketball: Pacific at Nevada Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

2016 has been a wild year, hasn’t it?

The calendar year began with Nevada claiming the conference crown in women’s swimming and diving and continued with shockers in some of the major sponsored sports — Fresno State shocked the nation by claiming the men’s basketball title and the MW’s lone NCAA tournament berth, while New Mexico did the same by winning the conference baseball tournament. Colorado State and San Diego State continued successful runs in women’s basketball and football, respectively, as well.

Across all sports, however, each program had individuals who shined. Now, it’s your turn to tell us who is the best of the best.

Last year, things got weird between Wyoming’s Larry Nance Jr. and Nevada’s Trenton Brooks, but the process is mostly the same: We give you twelve candidates, you give us one winner. Cast your vote in the Google Form at the bottom of the page, leave comments as you see fit, and check in with us after New Year’s Day for the results!

And don’t forget: If you haven’t yet voted in our poll for Mountain West Connection’s pro athlete of the year, be sure to check it out here.

Brian Hill, Wyoming - The Mountain West’s toughest runner was the biggest key to the conference’s most stunning turnaround in 2016. The junior running back finished second in the MW with 1,860 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns, topping 100 yards nine times this season.

Griffin Jax, Air Force - The Falcons took a big step forward on the diamond, and their ace Jax led the way. He was an easy first-team all-Mountain West selection after posting a 9-2 record with a 2.02 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 105.2 innings, and this performance helped him become the highest drafted player from the Academy in MLB history.

Jeremy McNichols, Boise State - Despite being overlooked just about everywhere else in awards season, the junior running back has put up numbers that simply can’t be ignored here. To date, McNichols has scored 27 touchdowns (second in the FBS) and racked up 2,185 all-purpose yards, which is second in the Mountain West.

Jalen Moore, Utah State - Moore led the Aggies in scoring eight times after January 1 in the 2015-16 season, and he’s raised his game in the young 2016-17 campaign, leading USU in points (16.6) and minutes (32.8) while also pitching in with 4.6 rebounds per game.

Ellen Nystrom, Colorado State - The Rams’ women’s basketball team had the most successful season in program history in 2015-16, going 31-1 to claim an NCAA tournament berth and, for a time, a top 25 ranking. Nystrom set a MW championship game record with 16 assists and scored the deciding points in that game, as well; she’s also led CSU in points (16.3) and rebounds per game (7.3) so far in 2016-17, as well.

Cameron Oliver, Nevada - The Wolf Pack have emerged as the Mountain West’s top team in 2016-17, but the sophomore Oliver has put together quality numbers across the entire calendar year. Aside from being named the conference’s Freshman of the Year and a member of the all-tournament team at the end of last season, he’s also averaged 16.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game as Nevada has raced to the top of the conference standings.

Kenny Potter, San Jose State - It may not have been the season that the Spartan quarterback anticipated, but he showed a lot of toughness in finishing 2016 with 2,273 passing yards and 16 touchdowns (against 10 interceptions). He also led SJSU in rushing with 548 yards (after adjusting for sacks) and seven touchdowns.

Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State - You may have heard a little something about the NCAA’s new career rushing leader in recent days. He capped off one of the most successful careers in Mountain West athletics history by rushing for 2,133 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Aztecs.

Lily Sender, UNLV - The Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year in women’s soccer, Sender powered the Rebels to their first conference title as one of the best players in the country. The senior finished in the top 20 nationally by scoring 15 goals and 38 total points, numbers which helped her become the first All-American in the program’s history.

Katie Spieler, Hawaii - Nobody in the Mountain West does beach volleyball like Hawaii, and few athletes in program history did Hawaii beach volleyball like Spieler. Aside from being named an American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American, she also acheived the highest GPA of any athletes in the NCAA beach volleyball tournament and helped UH to a #4 ranking nationally.

Carl Stajduhar, New Mexico - Stajduhar brought the thunder for the Lobos on the diamond in 2016, hitting .351/.432/.658 with 17 homers and 35 total extra base hits for the conference tournament champions. Those names helped him claim Player of the Year honors and an All-American nod from Louisville Slugger.

Ricky Tyler Thomas, Fresno State - The Bulldogs clinched the 2016 Mountain West baseball regular season title on the strength of their arms, and no one was better than the lefty Thomas. He averaged more than a strikeout per inning and finished second in the conference in wins (9-4 overall) and ERA (2.16). Moreover, Thomas also spent the summer with Team USA’s collegiate squad and recently earned the Dick Case Award, given annually to the organization’s top player.