Kupets wins Honda-Broderick Cup

NEW YORK -- Courtney Kupets didn't let another torn Achilles tendon stop her from competing in gymnastics in her senior season at Georgia.

Kupets not only returned, but dominated the sport. She led Georgia to its fifth straight NCAA crown in April, amassing individual titles in the all-around, bars, beam and floor competition.

On Monday, Kupets won the Honda-Broderick Cup, given to the nation's top female college athlete. She received the award at Columbia University.

"One person cannot win a team sport alone," Kupets said. "It was because of the great team camaraderie."

The other finalists for the Honda-Broderick Cup were Connecticut's Renee Montgomery (basketball), Colorado's Jennifer Barringer (track and field), Penn State's Nicole Fawcett (volleyball) and Washington's Danielle Lawrie (softball).

In 2003, Kupets tore her left Achilles tendon, but recovered in time to compete in the 2004 Athens Olympics. On the world stage, she won the Olympic silver medal in the team all-around and captured individual bronze in the uneven bars.

In her junior year, Kupets tore her other Achilles tendon while performing the floor routine and needed surgery in March 2008. She gained strength from her older sister, Ashley, who also competed in gymnastics despite numerous injuries.

"She had broke her ankles like four times," Kupets said. "Every time, she'd get back out there. I got to see that and I modeled after her. So through two Achilles tears, I've been able to come back strong."

At the NCAA championships in Lincoln, Neb., Kupets' four titles in April tied the record for a single national meet. She earned three 10s the first two days of the meet and came close to another one on the balance beam.

Coupled with a win in the vault in 2007, Kupets became the first gymnast to win a national title in each event. She clinched it by winning the floor exercise.

"I call her a mental giant," said Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan, who retired after the season with 10 NCAA titles in 26 years. "She thrives on pressure. She's singing karaoke 10 seconds before the floor exercise. Her tenacity got it done.

"She was a senior on a mission to come back better than ever."

Kupets ended her career with a record nine individual titles in just three seasons, beating the mark of eight by Kentucky's Jenny Hansen over four seasons in 1995.

Was it any easier returning from a second Achilles injury?

"Tearing your Achilles used to be something that you didn't return [from]," Kupets said. "They have medical advances now to help you get through and get you back in shape in six months.

"Tearing it again, I think it might have been harder. I knew what I had to go through. I had to be patient again, and that wasn't fun."

Softball great Lisa Fernandez presented the Honda-Broderick Cup to Kupets, who became just the second gymnast to win since the award was first handed out in 1977. Missy Marlowe of Utah won the cup in 1992.

Kupets is talented in the classroom as well, where she's majoring in housing and consumer economics. She won Georgia's Marilyn Vincent Award as the senior female athlete with the highest GPA (3.78).

Also honored Monday were Lock Haven softball pitcher Kristin Erb and Hardin-Simmons track champion Ashley Huston, selected as athletes of the year in II and Division III.

Drexel basketball player Nicole Hester earned the Honda Inspiration Award. She overcame Hodgkin's Lymphoma to lead her team to the best season in school history (24-9).

Kupets is a two-time winner of the Honda Award as the nation's top gymnast (2007, '09). The awards are given to the top female athletes in 12 NCAA sports, based on national balloting among 1,000 NCAA member schools.

The Honda-Broderick Cup winner was chosen by the Collegiate Women's Sports Awards executive board.