BOONE — Several student-athletes from Avery, Ashe and Watauga high schools were honored June 2 in the Best of Preps ceremony at Watauga High School’s auditorium.
Student-athletes representing 23 sports judged on athletic and academic achievement, service to the community and overcoming adversity in their lives and athletic careers.
Extra awards were given to those who the three anonymous judges felt went above the rest of the crowd. Avery’s Ellie Kitchin was given the Comeback Award and Avery’s Faith Daniels was given the Community Excellence Award.
Watauga’s Ben Critcher was named the Men’s Athlete of the Year, while Ashe County’s Samantha Woods was named the Woman’s Athlete of the Year.
Watauga’s football coach Ryan Habich was given the Extra Mile Coach of the Year Award.
The keynote speaker was former Ashe County High and Watauga High athletic director and boys’ basketball coach Marc Payne. Payne told the audience of student-athletes to let their actions speak louder than their words.
“Under promise and over deliver,” Payne said. “Don’t talk about what you’re going to do. Prove what you’re going to do in how you play.”
Daniels, who played women’s basketball, women’s soccer and volleyball, carried a weighted 4.464 grade point average. She averaged 9.4 and 5.5 rebounds for Avery’s 21-7 girls’ basketball team that made it to the fourth round of the state 1-A playoffs.
Daniels was also the co-president of the Beta Club and the President of the Future Leaders of America. She was a junior marshal at the Avery graduation and has also trained in CPR and has served as a camp counselor at the Williams YMCA.
Kitchin earned the Comeback Award for helping keep her family going since her sophomore year when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She is the eldest child in her family and had to be strong for her sisters and father.
Kitchin was the captain of the Avery women’s tennis team her junior and senior seasons. She was also on the Avery’s track and field team her sophomore year and on the Vikings’ girls’ soccer team her senior year.
“Every once in a while, there comes a student-athlete who you know is outstanding,” Avery girls’ tennis coach Serena Smith said. “Ellie Kitchin is one such person. She is not necessarily the best at anything she does, but she is very good at many, many things and she works hard at all she does. She has maintained an extremely high GPA and ranks second in her class, while keeping incredibly involved in the school and her community.”
Despite being busy, Kitchin carried a 4.6 weighted GPA. She is a member of the National Technical Honor Society and was a junior marshal for Avery’s graduation in 2018.
Critcher has done his share of delivering both in competition and in the classroom. He was the Best of Preps winner in men’s golf and in men’s wrestling. Critcher, who carried a 4.33 weighted grade point average, was an All-Northwestern Conference wrestler and an All-NWC football player.
Academically, Critcher is a nominee for the Roan Scholars Leadership Program. He also is a member of Athletes for Good Club and is part of the Howards Creek Church youth group.
“I really didn’t expect to win all of these awards,” Critcher said. “It’s great to know all the hard work and dedication I put into it paid off and it’s got benefits.”
Woods is a four-year winner in girls basketball. She is a 1,000-point scorer, a four-year All-Mountain Valley Conference basketball player and a three-year all-conference soccer player.
“It’s awesome,” Woods said. “It’s good to see the hard work pay off. You can see it in the season when you win games, but in a ceremony like this it really sinks in.”
Habich was named coach of the year after leading Watauga to a 13-1 overall record and the Pioneers’ first NWC championship since 2007, which it shared the title with AC Reynolds. Watauga also won its first outright NWC championship in 2018 for the first time since 1980.
“It was a great year,” Habich said. “We had a great senior class with a very talented junior class. It all came together. Five years prior, we had some really good seasons and we built on every year. Last year, it all came together.”