Nebraska Announces 2017-18 Award Winners
Lincoln -- The University of Nebraska Athletics Department honored some of its best and brightest student-athletes with a special red carpet recognition event at the Lied Center for Performing Arts Sunday evening. The event included the naming of 2017-18 Male and Female Student-Athletes of the Year and other annual team and individual accomplishments, as Husker Athletics highlighted stellar performances in competition, the classroom and the community.
Senior gymnasts Chris Stephenson and Danielle Breen garnered two of Nebraska’s most coveted awards as the Male and Female Student-Athletes of the Year. The presentation of those awards capped the 28th annual event and marked the first time since 1997 that gymnasts swept the top awards.
Breen is the third Husker women’s gymnast in five years to be recognized as UNL Female Student-Athlete of the Year and the sixth winner since the student-athletes of the year were selected beginning in 1991. Breen has been a stalwart for Coach Dan Kendig’s program for the last four years, as the No. 14 Huskers finished second at the NCAA Raleigh Regional Saturday evening. Breen has been in the balance beam lineup this season, scoring 9.80 or better nine times, including a season-best 9.925 at Florida on March 9 and a 9.90 at regionals. Breen is a returning second-team All-American on the balance beam, and a two-time All-Big Ten selection. She was the Big Ten runner-up as a sophomore in 2016, earning a place on the Big Ten All-Championships Team in the all-around and on the uneven bars. Breen has shown the ability to balance academics, athletics and community service throughout her time at Nebraska. A second-team CoSIDA Academic All-American in 2017, the Ames, Iowa, product is a two-time Big Ten Distinguished Scholar and a seven-time Nebraska Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll recipient. She was also recognized as one of the Sam Foltz 27 Hero Leadership Award winners in 2017 for her work in NU’s Life Skills program. Breen will graduate with a degree in accounting this December.
Stephenson is the fifth men’s gymnast to receive the honor and first since Stephen Tetrault in 2008. He has been a leader for Chuck Chmelka’s program, as the Huskers prepare for the NCAA Championships later this month. A native of Fishers, Ind., Stephenson competes on three events (floor exercise, pommel horse and parallel bars) for the Huskers, who were ranked No. 1 nationally earlier this year. In 2017, he helped the Huskers earn their best national finish since 1999, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors for his performance in the all-around. He was a two-time Big Ten Gymnast of the Week as he performed a team-best 63 routines in 2017. He is also a two-time finalist at the USA Gymnastics Winter Cup Challenge. Stephenson has shined in the classroom, earning Big Ten Distinguished Scholar accolades in 2016 and 2017 and is a three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree. He is also a four-time CGA All-America Scholar Athlete. A seven-time member of the NU Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll, Stephenson will graduate with a degree in biological sciences next month.
Stephenson and Breen will be Nebraska’s Big Ten Medal of Honor recipients in 2018. The conference's most exclusive award was the first of its kind in intercollegiate athletics to recognize academic and athletic excellence. The Big Ten Medal of Honor was first awarded in 1915 to one student from the graduating class of each university who had "attained the greatest proficiency in athletics and scholastic work." Big Ten schools currently feature more than 9,500 students competing in intercollegiate athletics, but only 28 earn this prestigious award on an annual basis. In more than 100 years of the Big Ten Medal of Honor, almost 1,400 students have earned this distinction.
Kelly Hunter captured the Best Female Athlete Award after leading the Nebraska volleyball team to Big Ten and NCAA titles in 2017. A two-time All-American, the Papillion, Neb., product averaged 10.72 assists and 2.73 digs per set as Nebraska went 32-4 and won the Big Ten with a 19-4 record. She was the Big Ten Setter of the Year and shared Most Outstanding Player honors with Mikaela Foecke at the NCAA Championships in Kansas City. Hunter finished her career second on NU’s career assists list with 4,125, as she guided the Huskers to three straight NCAA Semifinal appearances, including national titles in 2015 and 2017.
Antoine Lloyd ran away with the Best Male Athlete Award for his performances over the past year, earning All-America honors in both outdoor and indoor track and field. The senior from Kentwood, Mich., earned runner-up honors in the 60-meter hurdles at the 2018 NCAA Indoor Championships with a school-record time of 7.60 seconds. Lloyd was named Big Ten Male Track Athlete of the Year, capping an indoor season which saw him be the top collegian at all seven meets he competed in. Lloyd set a then-personal best at the Big Ten Championships, winning the 60-meter hurdles in 7.68 seconds. Last spring, he earned second-team All-America honors in the 110-meter hurdles. For his career, he is a four-time All-American.
Two impact performers were lauded as the top newcomer student-athletes. Jazz Sweet was named the Outstanding Female Newcomer, as she earned a spot on the All-Big Ten freshman team and was an honorable-mention All-American by PrepVolleyball.com. Sweet averaged 2.22 kills per set on .273 hitting, including 12 kills on .375 hitting in the national semifinals against Penn State. James Palmer Jr. was named the Outstanding Male Newcomer after helping the Husker basketball team to 22 wins, including a school-record 13 conference wins. He ranked fifth in the Big Ten in scoring with17.2 points per game and totaled eight 20-point games, including a career-high 34 points at Ohio State.
A total of eight student-athletes received the Outstanding Scholar Award, which is presented to student-athletes in their final season of eligibility or who are graduating next month while carrying a 3.90 or better GPA. On the men’s side, Football players Chris Weber and Thomas Connely earned the honor. On the women’s side, Soccer players Alli Peterson and Alexis Reinks were joined by Bonnie Smith (Track and Field/Cross Country), Angela Mercurio (Track and Field), Gina Metzler (Softball) and Danielle Breen (Women’s Gymnastics).
The Herman Team GPA Awards were won by spring teams who are enjoying exceptional 2017-18 campaigns. Scott Jacobson’s women’s tennis team captured its seventh Herman Trophy GPA Award and first since 2014 with a combined GPA of 3.543 for 2017, as they are 14-5 on the season and ranked 38th nationally Coach Chuck Chmelka and the men’s gymnastics team repeated as Herman Team GPA Award Winners, posting a combined 3.513 GPA in 2017, and are ranked sixth in the country.
Life Skills presented the second-annual Sam Foltz 27 Hero Leadership Awards on Sunday. This award, named in honor of late former Husker punter Sam Foltz, was presented to 27 student-athletes across all sports who exhibit strong leadership qualities, commitment to service and ability to encourage/empower peers. The Life Skills program also named seven winners across all sports of its most prestigious individual award - the Heart & Soul Award. The Heart & Soul winners were Connor Adamsick (Men’s Gymnastics), Danielle Breen (Women’s Gymnastics), Jake McSteen (Baseball), Gina Metzler (Softball), Erin Oeltjen (Swimming & Diving), Alli Peterson (Soccer) and Katt Sickle (Swimming & Diving).
Life Skills also honored the members of the Tom Osborne Citizenship Team, as a total of 319 student-athletes were recognized. Husker student-athletes volunteered to impact more than 30,000 people throughout the state of Nebraska in 2017-18.
Longtime University of Nebraska administrator Linda Olson was presented with the Dick Herman Lifetime Achievement Award. Olson was the coordinator of Registration and Records at the University of Nebraska for 35 years and served as UNL's first athletic certification coordinator until her retirement in 2013.
Overall, a total of 313 Huskers earned academic medallions at A Night at the Lied. Gold medallions (95) were presented to those for highest academic honors (3.75-4.00 grade-point average). Silver medallions (76) were awarded to those for high honors (3.50-3.749 GPA), while bronze medallions (142) were presented to student-athletes with honors (3.00-3.499 GPA).
2017-18 University of Nebraska Athletic/Academic/Life Skills Awards
Female Student-Athlete of the Year & Big Ten Medal of Honor: Danielle Breen, Women's Gymnastics
Male Student-Athlete of the Year & Big Ten Medal of Honor: Chris Stephenson, Men's Gymnastics
Best Female Athlete: Kelly Hunter, Volleyball/Beach Volleyball
Best Male Athlete: Antoine Lloyd, Men's Track & Field
Outstanding Female Newcomer: Jazz Sweet, Volleyball/Beach Volleyball
Outstanding Male Newcomer: James Palmer Jr., Men's Basketball
Dick Herman Lifetime Achievement Award: Linda Olson
Outstanding Scholar Awards (8): Danielle Breen, Women’s Gymnastics; Thomas Connely, Football; Angela Mercurio, Women’s Track & Field; Gina Metzler, Softball; Alli Peterson, Soccer; Alexis Rienks, Soccer; Bonnie Smith, Track & Field/Cross Country; Chris Weber, Football
Heart & Soul Awards (7): Connor Adamsick, Men's Gymnastics; Danielle Breen, Women's Gymnastics; Jake McSteen, Baseball; Gina Metzler, Softball; Erin Oeltjen, Swimming & Diving; Alli Peterson, Soccer; Katt Sickle, Swimming & Diving
Women’s Herman Team GPA Award: Tennis (3.543 GPA)
Men’s Herman Team GPA Award: Gymnastics (3.513 GPA)
Sam Foltz 27 Hero Leadership Awards (27): Caitlin Bartsch, Softball; Bri Cassidy, Softball; Elsa Forsberg, Women's Cross Country/Track & Field; Luke Gifford, Football; Hayley Haakenstad, Women's Tennis; Allie Havers, Women's Basketball/Volleyball; Amanda Hilton, Soccer; Todd Honas, Football; Andy Jacobs, Women's Track & Field; Matt Jarzynka, Football; David Jensen, Wrestling; Jacqueline Jeschke, Swimming & Diving; Eric Karl II, Men's Cross Country/Track & Field; Jon Meyer – Men's Tennis; Catelyn Orel, Women's Gymnastics; Bridget Pacilio, Swimming & Diving; Robbie Palkert, Baseball; Sami Reinhard, Soccer; Megan Schweihofer, Women's Gymnastics; Jordan Shearer, Wrestling; Anton Stephenson, Gymnastics; Mick Stoltenberg, Football; Meghan Straub, Bowling; Haley Thiele, Women's Golf; Simon Wiedel, Men's Track & Field; Rachel Yager, Rifle; Madison Yerigan, Women's Track & Field