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 2016-17 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 track and field standouts Drew Wiseman and Tierra Williams captured two of Nebraska’s most coveted awards as the Male and Female Student-Athletes of the Year. The presentation of those awards capped the 27th annual event and marked the fourth time that men’s and women’s athletes from the same sport have swept the award, voted on by a committee of UNL faculty. Track and field have swept the award three previous times (2006, 2011 and 2012) while gymnastics swept both honors in 1997.
Wiseman is the seventh track and field performer from Coach Gary Pepin’s program to earn the honor since the award began in 1992. On the track, the Bismark, N.D., native is a four-time All-American, earning three first-team honors as part of the Huskers’ 4x400 relay and second-team honors in 2015 in the 400-meter hurdles. Wiseman is also a two-time All-Big Ten honoree. In the classroom, Wiseman earned first-team Academic All-America honors in 2015 and was the NCAA Elite 89 Winner for having the highest GPA at the 2015 NCAA Indoor Track Championships. He is a two-time Big Ten Distinguished Scholar and was also recognized as an Outstanding Scholar, awarded to a graduating senior with a GPA of 3.90 or higher. Wiseman will graduate in December with a degree in electrical engineering.
Williams has been a four-year conference place winner for Coach Gary Pepin and the Husker track and field team. The Auburn, Neb., native is a six-time All-America jumper who excels in both the long and triple jump events. A finalist for NU’s Female Athlete of the Year in 2017, Williams swept both long and triple jump titles at the 2016 Big Ten Outdoor Championships before earning runner-up honors in both events during the 2017 Big Ten Indoor Championships. She earned first-team All-America honors with a fifth-place finish in the triple jump at the 2016 NCAA Outdoor Championships. A five-time All-Big Ten honoree, Williams has been a high achiever off the track as well. She earned Academic All-Big Ten honors in both 2015 and 2016 and was a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar in 2016. She was also chosen as Nebraska’s Big Ten Sportsmanship Award winner across all sports during the 2015-16 academic year. Williams is a child, youth and family studies major and will graduate this December.
Wiseman and Williams will be Nebraska’s Big Ten Medal of Honor recipients in 2017. 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.
Justine Wong-Orantes, who led the Nebraska volleyball team to the 2016 Big Ten title, captured the Best Female Athlete Award. A two-time All-American, Wong-Orantes was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight year, recording 4.23 digs per set while holding opponents to a .147 hitting percentage. She became the first libero since 2013 to earn first-team All-America honors, as the Huskers went 31-3 and reached the Final Four. Wong-Orantes had 20-or-more digs seven times and finished her career as the school’s all-time leader in digs.
Track and field standout Nick Percy claimed Nebraska’s Best Male Athlete Award. Percy earned the NCAA title in the discus with a throw of 201-0 at the 2016 NCAA Outdoor Championships, as the award timeframe encompasses sports which concluded following the 2016 Night at the Lied through the start of April. The junior from Ventnor, England, also played a major role in the Huskers’ Big Ten Outdoor Track title in 2016, earning top-three finishes in both the discus and hammer throw, and set a pair of school marks in the hammer throw last spring. Percy was a point scorer at the 2017 Big Ten Indoor Championships and earned Big Ten Athlete of the Week during the opening week of the outdoor campaign.
For the second year, Nebraska honored two of its top newcomer student-athletes for their on-field performance. Abigail Knapton was named the Outstanding Female Newcomer, as she earned All-America honors by finishing fourth on the platform diving event at the 2017 NCAA Championships. Knapton’s finish was the best individual finish by a Husker diver in school history, as she led the Huskers to their best NCAA Championship showing in 16 years. Chad Luensmann was named the Outstanding Male Newcomer after helping the Husker baseball team to the 2016 NCAA Tournament. As a freshman, he earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Freshman All-America accolades after recording 13 saves and a 1.18 ERA in 28 appearances.
A total of five 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, Drew Wiseman earned the honor. On the women’s side, soccer players Caroline Flynn and Kelly Schatz were joined by Jennie Laeng (gymnastics) and Emily Wood (basketball).
The Herman Team GPA Awards were swept by winter sport programs having exceptional seasons in 2016-17. Coach Pablo Morales’ women’s swimming and diving team captured the Herman Team GPA Award for the third-straight year with a combined GPA of 3.578 for 2016. Coach Chuck Chmelka and the men’s gymnastics team claimed their first Herman Team GPA Award since 1999, posting a combined 3.480 GPA in 2016.
Life Skills presented the first-ever Sam Foltz Hero 27 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.
Coach Mike Riley’s football team and Coach Dan Kendig’s women’s gymnastics team captured the prestigious Life Skills Awards of Excellence, for their exceptional commitment to NU’s award-winning Life Skills program. The win marked the fourth time that Husker football has won the honor and the first time that women’s gymnastics has captured the award since it began in 2004. The Life Skills program also named three winners across all sports of its most prestigious individual award - the Heart & Soul Award. The Heart & Soul winners were Trey Foster (football), Collin Jensen (wrestling) and Jennie Laeng (gymnastics).
Life Skills also honored the members of the Tom Osborne Citizenship Team, as a total of 378 student-athletes were recognized. Husker student-athletes volunteered to impact more than 25,000 people throughout the state of Nebraska in 2016-17.
Longtime athletic administrator Al Papik was presented with the Dick Herman Lifetime Achievement Award. Papik served Husker Athletics for nearly three decades and was Senior Associate Athletic Director in charge of Compliance as well as Academic Student Services and Athletic Medicine. In his honor, the Papik Compliance Center is part of the Herman Student Life Complex.
Overall, a total of 293 Huskers earned academic medallions at the banquet. Gold medallions (85) were presented to those for highest academic honors (3.75-4.00 grade-point average). Silver medallions (67) were awarded to those for high honors (3.50-3.749 GPA), while bronze medallions (141) were presented to student-athletes with honors (3.00-3.499 GPA).
2017 University Nebraska Athletic/Academic/Life Skills Awards
Male Student-Athlete of the Year & Big Ten Medal of Honor: Drew Wiseman (Track and Field)
Female Student-Athlete of the Year & Big Ten Medal of Honor: Tierra Williams (Track and Field)
Best Male Athlete: Nick Percy (Track and Field)
Best Female Athlete: Justine Wong-Orantes (Volleyball)
Male Outstanding Newcomer: Chad Luensmann (Baseball)
Female Outstanding Newcomer: Abigail Knapton (Swimming and Diving)
Dick Herman Lifetime Achievement Award: Al Papik
Outstanding Scholar Awards (5): Caroline Flynn (Soccer); Jennie Laeng (Women’s Gymnastics); Kelly Schatz (Soccer); Drew Wiseman (Men’s Track and Field); Emily Wood (Women’s Basketball).
Heart & Soul Awards (3): Trey Foster (Football); Collin Jensen (Wrestling); Jennie Laeng (Women’s Gymnastics)
Men’s Herman Team GPA Award: Gymnastics (3.480 GPA)
Women’s Herman Team GPA Award: Swimming and Diving (3.578 GPA)
Men’s Life Skills Award of Excellence: Football
Women’s Life Skills Award of Excellence: Gymnastics
Sam Foltz Hero 27 Leadership Awards (27): Connor Adamsick, Men’s Gymnastics; Danielle Breen, Women’s Gymnastics; Karlye Cygan, Women’s Track and Field; Zack Darlington, Football; Kristen Dowell, Women’s Track and Field; Jordan Ehly, Swimming and Diving; Tanner Farmer, Football/Wrestling; Nate Fisher, Baseball; Jerald Foster, Football; Emily Gillman, Women’s Golf; Briana Holman, Volleyball; Taylor Kadavy, Softball; Megan Kuo, Women’s Gymnastics; Daniel Leal, Men’s Gymnastics; Jake McSteen, Baseball; Angela Mercurio, Women’s Track and Field; Allison Morris, Bowling; Alli Peterson, Soccer; Austin Post, Men’s Cross Country/Track and Field; Nina Radulovic, Rifle; Sanjaya Roy, Men’s Gymnastics; Aris Shino, Wrestling; Katt Sickle, Swimming and Diving; Maddie Simon, Women’s Basketball; Bonnie Smith, Women’s Cross Country/Track and Field; Madi Unzicker, Softball; Chase Wolinski, Women’s Track and Field.