HUNTSVILLE, Texas – Sam Houston State’s Ana Moreno has been named 2016 Southland Conference Women’s Cross Country Student Athlete of the Year, a first in Bearkat history, the league office announced Tuesday.

In October, Moreno took runner-up at the Southland Conference Championships with a mark of 21:14.9, marking the third time in team history a Bearkat has finished as high in the standings and sixth time an individual has been named First-Team All-Southland Conference.

“As I sit here, and I'm struggle to put into words how proud I am of Ana and all that she has accomplished during her five years in the program,” cross country coach Jesse Parker said. “The journey she has gone through is difficult to describe. She is a first generation college student and she has had to overcome a lot – more than most. She had a lot of struggles her first semester and there were times I didn't know if she would make it at all, much less be this successful.”

The Magnolia, Texas, native owns a 3.37 GPA in criminal justice and was one of 35 Sam Houston student-athletes to post a 4.0 GPA in the spring. As an officer with the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Moreno oversees and implements activities requests.

“Considering the number of great distance runners that have come out of our program, for her to be the first student-athlete to receive this honor lets you know just how big of a deal it really is,” Parker said. “She is the biggest reason our women's team had as much success this year as they did and she has been the epitome of leadership for this group.”

Moreno also played a pivotal role in the creation of Backpack Buddies, in conjunction with the Houston Food Bank, to deliver food packages to Sam Houston Elementary in an effort to end hunger.

“Beyond her athletic accomplishments, she is an even better person,” Parker said. “She is someone that has probably done more for me, in making me a better coach and a better person, than I have been able to do for her. It is impossible for me to put into words how honored and proud I am to have her as a member of our program.”

The Magnolia West product finished 33rd at the NCAA Division I South Region Cross Country Championships and posted four top-five finishes during the season. The graduate student has also registered three career top-10 finishes at the Southland Championships.

On the men’s side, Chris Speaks was one of two honorable mentions for Men’s Cross Country Student-Athlete of the Year. The senior paced action at the league championships, finishing in fifth – the best result for a Bearkat male athlete since 2008 at the event.

“You don't find many athletes with the focus and determination at the same level of Chris,” Parker said. “The drive he brings to better himself is something that even pushes me as a coach and he has made me a better coach because of this. Nothing is too hard or challenging for him and he is always open to the coaching cues I give him.”

Speaks was named to the All-South Central Region squad – an accolade designated to those who finish in the top 25 – after running a time of 30:52.2 in a 13th place finisher. In the classroom, the Coldspring, Texas, product was just as impressive, registering a 3.46 GPA in electronics & computer engineering.

“The competitiveness that he brings is unbelievable and the toughness he races with is something that many of the younger athletes and teammates have bought into,” Parker said. “I am incredibly proud of Chris and I know we are both looking forward to a great spring semester on the track.”

Moreno’s honor marks the 25th time a Sam Houston student-athlete has received the award. To support the Bearkats’ 400-plus student-athletes, fans are encouraged to donate to the Bearkat Champions Fund – the sole fundraising arm of Sam Houston athletics.