A walk-on wrestler who defied odds to become a three-time NCAA All-American, and the University of Nebraska's first ever Lowe's Senior CLASS Award recipient in any sport earned top honors Sunday night at Nebraska's 2010 Student-Athlete Recognition Banquet that drew a record crowd of 832 to the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
Craig Brester, a Mechanized Systems Management major who will graduate next month, was named Nebraska's 2010 Senior Male Student-Athlete of the Year.
Kelsey Griffin, a Biological Sciences major who also will graduate next month, was named Nebraska's 2010 Senior Female Student-Athlete of the Year.
Jo Potuto, a professor in the College of Law and NU's Faculty Athletic
Representative, presented the Student-Athlete-of-the-Year Awards to
Brester, who attended the banquet, and to Griffin, who accepted her
award via video because of practice obligations with the USA Women's
National Basketball Team.
Potuto praised the award winners' ability to balance athletic
achievement with academic accomplishment and still find time to serve
the community and represent the university inspirationally.
"Kelsey and Craig are both quiet, unassuming, humble, team-oriented proven leaders with exceptional work-ethic and determination to be the best in all endeavors," said Dennis Leblanc, Nebraska's Senior Associate Athletic Director of Academics.
"Kelsey has done a tremendous job of balancing the demands of basketball travel, postseason play, the WNBA draft and countless other community service and volunteer commitments," said Keith Zimmer, Nebraska's Associate Athletic Director for Life Skills. "Craig has been equally phenomenal in managing his time. He's volunteered for everything from Madonna Hospital and Tabitha Health Care to Peoples City Mission and Juvenile Diabetes."
Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne was the evening's keynote speaker and joined deans and college representatives from various schools to co-present 278 individual Medallion Awards to student-athletes who achieved bronze, silver or gold distinction for scholastic excellence. This year's record number of Medallion winners increased the total to 4,100 Medallion Awards since NU's first recognition banquet in 1991.
Blake Lawrence and Megan Wheatley, co-presidents of the Nebraska Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, launched the program with a combination year-in-review commentary.
Men's Gymnastics, Women's Swimming and Diving Honored
Zimmer presented the Life Skills Awards of Excellence, a competition that tracks community outreach and is the department's top service award. For the first time, the award was split into two divisions. Chuck Chmelka's Gymnastics Team won the men's Life Skills Award, and Pablo Morales' Husker Swimming and Diving Team won the women's competition.
Leblanc presented the Herman Awards for athletic teams that carried the highest grade-point-averages on campus. Jay Dirksen's men's and women's cross country teams swept the award, named in honor of Dick and the late Dale Herman, who established an endowed fund to recognize student-athlete achievements. The women's cross country team achieved a 3.709 GPA and the men's team a 3.34 GPA.
Even though Brester and Griffin took different paths to Nebraska, both were beneficiaries of the Huskers' unparalleled support.
"When you get here as a freshman walk-on from a small town, it's almost like getting thrown to the wolves," Brester said in his acceptance remarks. "But then you realize you have all this support, and winning an award like this is really a testament to all of that support more than anything."
Griffin, Nebraska's first-ever First-Team AP All-American in basketball - men's or women's - made history as Nebraska's first-ever Lowe's Senior CLASS Award winner across all sports.
A 6-2 forward from Eagle River, Alaska, she was chosen by a nationwide vote of Division I women's coaches, national basketball media and fans. The Lowe's Senior CLASS Award is presented annually to the most outstanding senior student-athlete in NCAA Division I women's basketball. The announcement and trophy presentation were made by Lowe's, an official Corporate Partner of the NCAA, during at the 2010 NCAA Women's Final Four in San Antonio.
CLASS Award Honors the Total Student-Athlete
An acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in SchoolTM, the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award focuses on the total student-athlete and encourages students to use their platform in athletics to make a positive impact as leaders in their communities. The award identifies personal qualities that define a complete student-athlete, with criteria including community service, excellence in the classroom, outstanding character and competition on the court.
Griffin was also a finalist for National Player of the Year, the V Foundation Comeback Spirit Award and the National Consortium Student-Athlete Courage Award. The three-time Nebraska team captain also has been honored with the Hero Leadership Award.
Brester grew up dreaming of following in the footsteps of Brad Vering, a fellow Howells, Neb., native and NCAA wrestling champion at Nebraska and Olympic Silver Medalist. A two-time Husker team captain, Brester finished as NCAA runner-up twice in the 197-pound weight class en route to his three All-America honors.
"Craig has meant so much to our program," Nebraska Coach Mark Manning said. "He's a tremendous student with a 3.9 GPA. He's very humble and has tremendous values. If there's a two-hour practice, he will be there 2 ½ hours. You would like to have 40 guys like Craig Brester. Because of his tremendous work ethic, he's developed himself as a champion athlete and a champion in the classroom. He's a class act in everything he does. He's every coach's dream."
Brester finished his NU career with a 109-21 record, including a 30-3 mark in 2009-10. He leaves his name in the school record books with the eighth-best winning percentage (.838) and is one of only 18 Huskers to reach 100 wins. He is the 12th Husker to earn three All-America awards. The 2009 Outstanding Wrestler in the 2009 Big 12 Championships, Brester also was a three-time NWCA All-Academic Team honoree and a four-time Academic All-Big 12 First-Team recipient.
Nebraska Women's Basketball Coach Connie Yori said Griffin is the best player she has ever coached. "Even more importantly, she is a great person," Yori said. "Kelsey understands that there is more to life than basketball. She is an outstanding student, and she has spent countless hours giving back to the community."
Griffin Led NU to Its Best Season Ever
Griffin, a three-time All-Big 12 Conference player, was also the league's 2010 Player of the Year after leading Nebraska to its best record ever (32-2) and to its best finish in the national polls (third) and in the NCAA Tournament (regional semifinals).
"Kelsey set the tone as the leader of our team this year," Yori said. "She is truly deserving of all of the awards she has received."
Even though they excelled at the highest levels individually, Brester and Griffin are known for the strength they draw from their families, friends, teachers, coaches and teammates. Both have been models for their perseverance as much as their hard work.
"They are great examples of what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it and focus on what needs to be done," Zimmer said. "They know how to deal with adversity, and they are champions in life every bit as much as they are champions athletically and academically."