published Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

State hall honoring Lee’s Achten, team

At the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet where nationally renowned Chattanoogans Zan Guerry and Gibby Gilbert will be among those enshrined, Lee University soccer player Jamie Achten will be honored as one of two statewide female athletes of the year.

She’s part of a state amateur team of the year for the fourth time in a row. Vanderbilt’s baseball team will be likewise honored, and the Nashville Predators and Memphis Grizzlies are Tennessee’s professional teams of the year.

Vanderbilt basketball star John Jenkins from Hendersonville is the male amateur athlete of the year, and the pro athlete of the year is Atlanta Braves slugger Dan Uggla, who starred at Columbia Central High School and the University of Memphis. University of Tennessee swimmer Jenny Connolly, who has earned 16 All-America designations, is the other female athlete.

Moreover, Pat Summitt was announced as the Tennessean of the Year, the state hall’s supreme special honor, even before ending her unparalleled coaching career this past week.

All that means the May 19 event at the Renaissance Hotel in Nashville is especially exciting for Matt Yelton, who coaches the Lee soccer team that has won an unprecedented four NAIA national championships in a row and been honored at the Hall of Fame banquet each time.

“It never gets old,” Yelton said Friday. “Having Coach Summitt as a part of it makes it even better. When I got into coaching, I read everything she had written and tried to follow everything she said.”

Achten, he said, “is one of those once-in-a-lifetime kids, not just as a soccer player but everything about her life — her character.”

The Franklin resident was an integral part of all four national titles for the Lady Flames, and she was the NAIA national player of the year her last two seasons — something never done before. She set an NAIA record for most career assists, 91, and was a four-time first-team All-American. Also an Academic All-American, she graduated in December after just seven semesters at Lee with a 3.98 grade point average and is the Dr. Paul Conn Award honoree as the Cleveland school’s top overall female student-athlete.

“She has so many talents, so many abilities,” Yelton said, “and she gets the most out of all that ability.”

About the state hall’s honor, Achten said, “I’m honored and humbled to be chosen for this award. I know the recommendation is largely due to my team’s effort over the last four years and our success on the field. I was privileged to play at Lee with such talented teams and such a great coach.

“Though I feel undeserving, I am very thankful. To God be the glory.”

Said Yelton: “She sets high goals. She sets high standards for the team, and she pushes other players to achieve her lofty goals. After we won our first national championship her freshman year, she said she wanted to do it all four years. I said that would be hard, and she said if it wasn’t it wouldn’t be worth doing.

“For someone to have the character, the vision and the commitment to make that happen, it takes a very special individual.”

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