July 29, 2011

IRVING - Texas A&M senior Jessica Beard and Taylor Jungmann of Texas were named 2010-11 Big 12 Athlete of the Year by the conference office.

Nominees for the annual award are submitted by each Big 12 institution and selected, based on athletic performance, academic achievement and citizenship, by a media panel as well as fan voting conducted through the Big 12's social media sites.

Beard, a native of Euclid, Ohio, becomes the first Texas A&M nominee, male or female, to be honored as the Big 12 Athlete of the Year. A double NCAA champion in the 400 meters this season, Beard also anchored the Aggies to victory in the NCAA 4 x 400 relay as A&M established school records during the indoor and outdoor seasons. She became just the third sprinter to accomplish those four wins during the NCAA Indoor and NCAA Outdoor Championships in the same season.

"I've been fortunate in getting to know so many of the other athletes in the Big 12 and to hear that the conference chose me for this award it's a great honor and humbling experience," Beard said. "For this to be the first time a Texas A&M athlete has won this award, I feel very honored."

Among the women's nominees from the other conference schools there were five track and field athletes, three basketball players, along with one each from softball, tennis and volleyball. Representing their respective schools from track and field programs were Emma Coburn (Colorado), Diamond Dixon (Kansas), Natalie Willer (Nebraska), Natalja Piliusina (Oklahoma State) and Rose Tanui (Texas Tech).

Other candidates for the women's Big 12 Athlete of the Year included basketball players Brittney Griner (Baylor), Kelse Bolte (Iowa State) and Danielle Robinson (Oklahoma) along with Petra Niedermayerova (Kansas State tennis), Chelsea Thomas (Missouri softball) and Juliann Faucette (Texas volleyball).

"Everything has been a surprise for me with the honors I have been nominated for," noted Beard, who is among the three finalists for The Bowerman, an award that recognizes the top female collegiate track and field athlete, and was among four nominees for the Honda Sports Award in track and field.

"We are great athletes with a great program and now others are noticing and recognizing what we have achieved here. It's humbling that various award committees recognize my individual efforts along with the team accomplishments we achieved."

Beard has been an integral part of three team national championships (2009-2011) and seven Big 12 championship teams (four indoor, three indoor) during her four-year career with the Aggies. In her four-year career she totaled 76.25 points in NCAA competition, scoring 37.75 at NCAA Indoors and 38.5 at NCAA Outdoors while amassing a total of 127 points in Big 12 conference meets (73 indoors, 54 outdoors).

In winning the NCAA Indoor 400 meters, Beard became the first A&M female to claim individual gold at an indoor national championship meet. Her winning time of 50.79 seconds, to better the runner-up by 1.51 seconds, was the world leader for the 2011 indoor season as Beard became the second fastest collegian and third fastest American ever.

Outdoors Beard became just the second Aggie female to win the 400 NCAA title with a collegiate leading 51.10, which she lowered to 51.06 in placing fourth at the USA Championships to qualify for the relay pool for the United States team that will compete at the IAAF World Championships this summer in Daegu, South Korea.

"Everything has fallen into place for me this year," stated Beard. "I'm just really happy with the senior year I have experienced. You put so much effort into your team and school spirit and now I feel like Texas A&M is giving back to me by nominating me for this honor.

"I feel like my senior year was more than what I expected. I was able to prove to myself that I was capable of winning an individual title in the 400. I just feel it really exceeded everything I could imagine to be able to win the indoor and outdoor NCAA titles, realizing in my senior year I could come out on top.

"It may have been a little different if I came into this final collegiate season defending an individual national title. Instead I had to focus on what am I going to do with my last opportunity, which was really exciting for me."

Beard's signature moment during a very eventful senior campaign was her anchor leg in the NCAA Outdoor 4 x 400 in Des Moines, Iowa. With a searing split of 49.13 seconds, the fastest split ever in NCAA history, Beard moved the Aggies from third to first place to record a winning time of 3:26.31, making A&M the third fastest school in NCAA history. The previous best split of 49.6 had been held by two athletes, Lillie Leatherwood of Alabama (1986) and Monique Henderson of UCLA (2004).

The relay victory also secured Texas A&M's third consecutive national championship team title by four points over Oregon.

"I'm still hearing from people who have seen that race," said Beard, who was a trending topic on Twitter that Saturday afternoon. "I gained a lot of fans and friends after that performance, especially on Twitter and Facebook. Even when I competed at the USA Championships and in Europe during the summer other athletes were mentioning that relay leg.

"It's a neat experience to bring people closer to track and field. More than anything people who watched that race say they're not going to give up in whatever they are doing. They know they can achieve their goal if they stay focused and stay on course."

In her career at Texas A&M, Beard finished no lower than fourth in the eight NCAA Championships she contested in the 400 meters (indoor and outdoor). Her tally includes two gold medals, three silver, and two bronze. Her fourth-place finish occurred during her freshman outdoor season when she placed behind three seniors.

Beard dominated the 400 meters in Big 12 Championships, winning seven of eight finals she contested. After becoming the first female to win four consecutive titles in one event during the Big 12 Indoor meet, Beard just missed becoming only the second athlete (male or female) to win eight consecutive conference titles in one event when she placed second in the 400 at the Big 12 Championships in 2011.

Beard's Aggie career included 16 All-America honors, second best in school history to the 19 attained by Porscha Lucas. She also ran on four national champion relay teams, once in the 4x100 and three times in the 4x400. She was a member of a collegiate record set by A&M in the 4 x 200 relay while winning the 2010 Penn Relays title.

In rewriting the Aggie school records for the 400, Beard set career best marks of 50.79 (indoor) and 50.56 (outdoors). Among the top 10 performances in the 400 at A&M, Beard holds all 10 indoor marks and eight of the top outdoor marks. Her time of 51.15 to win the 2010 Big 12 Indoor 400 also established an American record in the event on an over-sized indoor track. Beard also ranks fourth on the A&M all-time list in the 200 meters indoors with a 22.95 and fifth on the outdoor list with a best of 23.02.