From day one, Malte Kramer knew he wanted to be Cuesta College’s athlete of the year.
Devon Kelsey had a less direct route.
No matter the path, they each converged at the same place when Kramer, a sophomore men’s basketball standout, and Kelsey, a women’s distance runner, were named the Cougars’ male and female athlete of the year at an awards banquet on campus Tuesday.
For Kramer, the award capped an idea planted when he saw former Cuesta athlete of the year Roger Guardia’s name emblazoned on the door to the men’s basketball office when Kramer first got to San Luis Obispo from his native Germany.
“I said to myself, that’d be a dream come true,” the 22-year-old, 6-foot-7 wing player said. “If you could make it up on that board and have your name up there, then you know you’ve made it, you’ve achieved your goal.”
Guardia parlayed his junior college career into a scholarship at Cal State Fullerton. Two years later, Kramer, who Cougars head coach Rusty Blair labeled the best player in program history, is headed to Pepperdine.
Kelsey will go to NCAA Division II Humboldt State on scholarship, not bad for a runner who originally gave up athletics when she graduated from Atascadero High. Cross country and track and field head coach Brian Locher also puts Kelsey among the best to ever run at Cuesta, though it was a twist of fate that landed her there.
Kelsey originally enrolled as an ordinary student at Hawaii. But she transferred home to Cuesta and had to overcome academic eligibility problems before becoming one of the top runners in the state.
“Focus is a big thing,” Kelsey said. “I didn’t really have it before. When I came back from Hawaii, I didn’t really have anything planned. Everything that I thought I had all planned out from high school kind of fell apart.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I really had no direction. I started running with Brian, and it opened a lot of doors for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.”
Also at the awards banquet, Blair, Locher and men’s water polo coach John Marsh were recognized for their conference coach of the year awards, former women’s tennis coach Mike Napoli had his retirement honored with a presentation and former college president Frank Martinez was named Alberta Deutsche fan of the year.
Women’s water polo program career steals leader Ally Bernard was given the George Silveria Student Athlete Career Award, and Kramer and women’s volleyball setter Ensley Almmon were the Warren Hansen Scholar Athletes of the Year.
Kramer earned a perfect 4.0 grade-point average in his two years at Cuesta. Unlike many community college athletes who do not meet NCAA qualifying standards out of high school, Kramer could have transfered to a four-year program after only one season.
He had the scholarship offers.
But in his acceptance speech Wednesday, Kramer thanked his parents for having enough faith in him to continue their financial support of his decision to play a second season with the Cougars.
“To face a crowd of strangers and to give a speech like that takes a lot of maturity,” Blair said. “How many people would react to getting a Division I scholarship, pay the extra expense, take out loans to come back and improve his status for the second year?
“He’s s a pretty miraculous individual. I’lll be lucky to ever see someone like that again that’s the total package: Maturity, citizenship, academics, athletics.
“You really have to say that he’s the best basketball player to ever play at Cuesta College. I’m not trying to insult any of the other players, but I can’t remember anyone in the last 20 years that’s achieved that success.”
A two-time team captain and team MVP, Kramer was also named to the all-Western State Conference first team in 2011 and was conference player of the year in 2012. After leading Cuesta to the Southern California Regional Finals this past season, he was a first-team all-state selection.
Kramer averaged 16.5 points per game and shot 47.2 percent from 3-point range. His 41.9 percent career mark on 3-pointers ranks No. 1 in program history and his 81.2 percent on free throws is second.
Only three Cougars have scored more than his career 17.9 points per game.
Kelsey, a two-time Cuesta athlete of the month and statewide athlete of the month for April, also owns program-best marks in track.
Kelsey’s personal record 17 minutes, 34.18 seconds in the 5,000 meters is also a Cougars record, as is her 40:03.66 in the 10,000. She ranks second in the 3,000 (10:27.65) and even ranks in the top five all-time in two middle distance races.
She was second in the state in cross country this past season, was named to the all-state cross country team and remains a candidate for this season’s all-state track and field team.
Running success has given her life direction that had been lacking.
“Her grades are just really getting on track,” Locher said. “She’s got some really big goals moving forward at Humboldt State. Devon’s just really willing to put in the work. She’s probably the most talented girl that we’ve ever had run here.
“She’s the kind of young lady who could develop into someone who we see run at the Division II national championships or possibly the Olympic Trials one day. She’s got that kind of talent.”