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Hanks joins the ranks of the elite few

Kerri Hanks' playing days at Notre Dame may have ended in December, but she managed to pull off one final win at the NCAA level on Friday night.

The senior forward won her second MAC Hermann Trophy, awarded annually to the game's top college player. She becomes the fourth women's player to win the award twice and the first player (men's or women's) to win the award in nonconsecutive years.

"She's always been somebody that can score goals," Irish coach Randy Waldrum said. "She's been able to do that since Day 1, but to keep that up for all four years, when everybody is gunning for you, that's an amazing feat."

Her ability to reach the top level of the women's college game, and not only maintain that level of success -- as a Hermann winner for the 2006 and 2008 seasons and as a semifinalist in 2007 -- but continue to excel sets Hanks apart.

"I think what has helped me so much from 2006 is just being so competitive and always wanting to win in whatever I do," Hanks said.

That competitiveness is evident to everyone around her. Whether it's postseason game or a small-sided scrimmage, Hanks is determined to win.

"I am just so excited to get out there and play," she said. "I think a lot of that has to do with my competitiveness and just waning to stay at the top. I'm willing to do anything it takes to get better, and I'm still in the process of doing that."

The Allen, Texas, native was the only player this season to finish in the top five in points (second with 55), goals (fifth with 20) and assists (third with 15). She becomes just the third women's player to finish her career with at least 70 goals and 70 assists. Hanks finishes in the top 10 on six NCAA career record lists.

"We're kind of a country that's enamored with statistics," Waldrum said. "Even though this is a player of the year award, I think her body of work over all four years is what separates her from the rest."

Hermann Trophy winners
Two-time recipients:

Mia Hamm, UNC ('92-'93)
Cindy Parlow, UNC ('97-'98)
Christine Sinclair, Portland ('04-'05)
Kerri Hanks, Notre Dame ('06, '08)

Hanks hopes to have the opportunity to continue that role as long as she can -- be it by getting drafted into the newly-formed Women's Professional Soccer next week, playing at the elite international level in the future or in the role of coach after her playing days are done.

A four-time All-American (three-time first-team player), Hanks was the 2008 Big East Offensive Player of the Year and spent much of her collegiate career rewriting the Notre Dame record books, finishing with 63 Irish records.

However, the biggest mark Hanks leaves on the program never showed up in the box scores.

"Not only was she a great player here at Notre Dame, but she's a great ambassador for the women's game," Waldrum said. "When I really sit back and think about it, that's probably what I'm most proud of."

North Carolina's Casey Nogueira, who led the nation in goals (25) and points (58), finished as the award's runner-up.

The junior forward was an integral part of the Tar Heels' national championship, scoring both UNC goals in the NCAA final.

"What's wonderful about Casey's season is here's a girl that managed to score that many goals while she's defending like a wild animal," North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance said. "Looking back on the season, all of us realized the kind of season we had was because of Casey."

UCLA senior Christina DiMartino rounded out the finalists, finishing third.

Although DiMartino didn't win the award, Bruins coach Jillian Ellis commended the midfielder for setting herself apart in 2008 and throughout her career in Westwood.

"There's no one quite like her in the college game right now," Ellis said. "She's obviously not great in stature [at 5-foot-2], but people pay to come and watch Christina play because she's got such a flair and creativity."

Ellis also said the recognition of her player was an honor for the entire program, a sentiment shared by all three coaches.

Maria Burns Ortiz covers college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She can be reached at mariamburns@gmail.com.

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