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Fairchild, Kersgieter honored as senior scholar athletes of the year

Tried and true Jayhawks take home hardware in final act as KU athletes

3 min read

Two of the best Jayhawks I’ve ever covered capped their KU careers with one of the most meaningful awards a student-athlete can win at Kansas — the Dr. Robert E. Frederick Senior Scholar Athlete of the Year Award.

Named in honor of the late, great former KU AD, who was nothing if not the picture of class and character, this year’s honorees — one male and one female — were KU football tight end Mason Fairchild and women’s basketball star Holly Kersgieter.

In an era when players jump from one school to the next two and sometimes even three or four times during their careers, these veteran Jayhawks were here for the long haul, playing their entire careers for the schools and programs they loved.

Their trajectory was similar. Both came in at a time when their respective programs were at the bottom of the Big 12 standings. And their passion for their craft, determination to improve, love of all things Jayhawks and commitment to the grind — along with those traits delivered by many of their teammates, as well — helped elevate football back to regular bowl contention and women’s hoops back to postseason play.

Their stats on the field and court were a big part of that. Fairchild was an all-Big 12 tight end and touchdown machine during the 2022 season, and he remained an equally important part of the offense — as well as a team leader — during KU’s 9-4 season in 2023.

Kersgieter also earned all-Big 12 honors while helping lead the Jayhawks to new heights and taking down a handful of records in the process, including the school’s all-time 3-point crown and the KU women’s program’s first win over mighty Baylor in the Brandon Schneider era.

But both athletes were so much more than the stats they put up.

To their teammates, they were a constant source of pride, poise and inspiration. To their coaches, they were consistent, reliable and always ready to work.

And, to me, they were among the best KU athletes to interview because you always knew you were going to get a straight answer and hear exactly how each of them felt.

In good times and in bad, Fairchild and Kersgieter were, in a word, real. And there’s nothing better than that when you’re trying to tell the story of a team or a season or any particular athlete.

I talked to both of them after plenty of smiles and good moments and big wins, and, because of what they had battled through, that was always the best. But I'll always remember how their character shined just as bright in those tough times, when no one wanted to talk to them and they didn't have much positive to say.

Both will be missed. And both will be remembered. Not just for the next couple of years or by the people they played with. But by the entire university and athletic department.

And their lasting legacy will be as much for their love of KU as anything they did on the stat sheet. Both were proud Jayhawks, even during the worst stretches of their careers. And it was awesome to see each of them finish with a smile on their faces – both in their last game as Jayhawks and while speaking to their classmates at the department’s recent K Ring presentation.

Kersgieter was the chosen senior speaker, and, according to a release, she addressed the room by sharing just how similar her journey to and through KU was to so many people’s who attended the ceremony.

Fairchild, who recently was invited to camp as an undrafted free agent with the Buffalo Bills, also spoke after receiving his award, first thanking the organizers of the event and then his academic advisors.

Talk about a guy who gets it.

“I’m just so appreciative for (all of the) support in my life and my academic career and athletic career here at KU,” he said. “It’s just easy to succeed when you have so many great people around you.”

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