Mountain West Honors 2014-15 Scholar-Athletes of the Year

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Former New Mexico tennis player Samir Iftikhar and former Air Force cross country and track and field runner Rebecca Esselstein were announced today as the 2014-15 Mountain West Male and Female Scholar-Athletes of the Year, respectively.

Established by the Mountain West Joint Council in 1999, the MW Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award is the highest honor presented to a student-athlete by the Conference. The award is bestowed annually to one male and one female who best exemplify the term “student-athlete” by achieving excellence in academics, athletics and community involvement over the course of their collegiate career. In addition to athletic achievement, recipients of the MW Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award must have a minimum 3.5 cumulative grade point average, demonstrate leadership, and exhibit good character and conduct on and off the playing field. Each honoree will receive a $2,500 postgraduate scholarship.

Iftikhar, who earned his Master of Business Administration degree this past May, is the fourth male New Mexico student-athlete to win the Scholar-Athlete of the Year award, and sixth Lobo overall. He is the third UNM tennis player to earn the honor, following men's winner Matthieu Amgwerd in 1999-2000 and women's winner Maja Kovacek in 2005-06. A four-time Mountain West Scholar-Athlete, Iftikhar was a Capital One Academic All-District at-large team member in 2015. The native of Surrey, United Kingdom was named to New Mexico's Dean's List and received Academic All-Mountain West honors each of his four years. He graduated with a 3.97 undergraduate cumulative grade point average as a philosophy major in 2014 and recorded a 3.98 in his one year of graduate school. Iftikhar was a three-time All-Mountain West honoree in tennis (2013-15) and led the Lobos to the 2015 Mountain West men's tennis regular season championship. He finished his collegiate career with an 81-45 singles record, tying for eighth on the UNM career singles wins list, and his highest rank among NCAA Division I singles players was No. 33. Iftikhar, the Lobos' 2014-15 team captain, qualified for the NCAA Individual Championships in 2015 in Waco, Texas. In addition to his academic and athletic commitments, Iftikhar was involved in teaching and coaching tennis clinics for local schools at the Lobo Tennis Club and was a speaker to the UNM freshmen in University 101 classes.

Esselstein, now a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force and the 2015 Capital One Academic All-American of the Year for NCAA Division I women's track and field and cross country, graduated in May with a cumulative GPA of 3.98 in astronautical engineering. The native of Dayton, Ohio was named the top overall cadet at the Academy for the Class of 2015, an honor that recognizes excellence in academic, military and athletic performance. A Rhodes Scholar and Marshall Scholarship recipient, she was also named the top cadet, academically, among Air Force's 840 graduates. Esselstein made her third appearance on the Capital One Academic All-America Division I women's track and field and cross country team, claiming first team honors as a senior after being named to the second team as a junior and the third team as a sophomore. A four-year letterwinner, who did her 2014 Cadet Summer Research session at MIT, was an Academic All-Mountain West Team member and Mountain West Scholar-Athlete for four consecutive years. As a member of the Falcons' cross country and track teams, she ran the 800-Meter leg of the distance medley relay team that recorded the second-fastest time in Academy history (11:49.14, altitude-adjusted) this past season. Esselstein earned All-Conference honors for the Falcons in the 1,500 Meter race at the 2013 MW Outdoor Championships and in the mile at the 2014 MW Indoor Championships. Her campus leadership included semesters as a Basic Cadet Training Leader, Group Drill and Ceremonies Officer, Operations Group Deputy Commander and Flight Commander. She also volunteered with the Boy Scouts teaching engineering, the Wounded Warriors training camp and collecting money for Donor's Choice charities. Esselstein is the fourth Air Force woman and seventh Falcon student-athlete to earn the Mountain West's highest honor.