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SOU's Sayre is conference's top AD

LA GRANDE — For the second year in a row, after leading the Southern Oregon University athletic department to another landmark season in 2015-16, Matt Sayre has been voted by his peers as the Cascade Conference Athletic Director of the Year, the conference office announced Monday.

The announcement comes a few weeks after SOU earned its first Cascade Conference All-Sports Trophy based on finishes in CCC regular-season standings and (in the cases of cross country and track and field) championship meets. Sayre, who became SOU's director of athletics in May 2010 after holding the position on an interim basis for 18 months, will be put forth as the conference's nominee for NAIA Athletic Director of the Year.

In March, he also received a National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics 2015-16 Under Armour AD of the Year Award, making him one of 28 winners at every level across the country. He'll be recognized for that honor this week at the NACDA's annual convention in Dallas, Texas.

"Many people thought that the 2014-15 campaign would be a hard act to follow for SOU Athletics, but, under Matt's guidance, the Raiders have put together a year that may be just as or more impressive," SOU President Roy Saigo said in a letter to CCC Commissioner Rob Cashell. "Matt has changed the culture at SOU from trying to create a top-notch and dynamic athletic department to maintaining a top-notch and dynamic athletic department."

As a department, the Raiders are currently seventh of 245 affiliated schools in the NAIA's 2015-16 Learfield Sports Directors' Cup standings, points for which are awarded based on individual teams' finishes at NAIA championship events. Last year, SOU was sixth in the standings, marking the highest finish ever for a CCC school, and six of the top seven finishes in school history have been under Sayre's watch.

This season has been marked by conference championships in men's cross country, men's track and field, softball and women's basketball, and 11 of the department's 13 programs being represented at their respective national tournaments.

In the fall, the Raider football team advanced to its second straight NAIA championship game. And in the winter, the Raider women's basketball team became the first from the CCC to reach the title game in 15 years.

SOU also introduced two new sports — women's wrestling and men's soccer — for the first time since 2000. In their inaugural seasons, the women's wrestling team produced two All-Americans and finished 11th at the Women's College Wrestling Association Championships. The men's soccer team exceeded expectations with a 10-8 record despite a majority of its production coming from true freshmen.

As the success continued on the court and on the field, Sayre's programs maintained a high academic benchmark; 21 Raiders were named Daktronics-NAIA Scholar Athletes and 88 were named to the CCC and Frontier academic all-conference teams.

Sayre's administrative role expanded as he served on the NAIA Athletic Directors Association's Board of Directors while continuing to work hand-in-hand with SOU's faculty senate, admissions department and foundation.

"I'm honored," Sayre said. "It proves that if you hire great coaches who emphasize character and academics as much as athleticism in their student-athletes, you win championships, and awards like this. I'm grateful to them and also to my AD colleagues in the Cascade Conference who embody the same values.