On a night set aside to recognize "Most Valuable Player" award-winners and other All-Sports honorees, amazingly enough the loudest applause was saved for the last group of student-athletes to be saluted. Heavy on the student part.
Learning Enhancement Specialist Tara Sullivan doled out academic praise to teams and individuals alike, eliciting cheers from their boisterous peers leading up to the announcement of softball player Angela Berry and baseball player Chris Rich as recipients of the coveted Female and Male "Scholar / Athlete of the Year Awards."
The popular choices capped an evening saluting achievement by Warrior and Lady Warrior performers at the annual All-Sports Athletic Banquet, held in The Great Room at the nearby Rend Lake Resort and Conference Center.
It was pointed out Berry, a sophomore from Murphysboro, "is definitely a scholar and an athlete." Owner of a 3.6 grade-point average (4.0-point scale) for her first three semesters, Female Scholar/Athlete Berry also was her team "MVP" despite carrying a pre-med major class load filled with high-level math and science courses.
The naming of Rich (Anderson, IN) as her male counterpart in the brains department brought his teammates and others to their feet for a standing ovation. Along the way, Rich actually dropped a Physical Education class in favor of an academic class he knew would benefit him more Rich also was All-Great Rivers Athletic Conference on the diamond.
The baseball team likewise swept team academic laurels for the men. Rich & Friends claimed the "Greatest Improvement Award" from fall to spring for the second year in a row as well as the award for the Highest Overall GPA.
The Women’s Golf Team showed the most dramatic improvement - by .73 of a point - while the Women’s Tennis Team showed it could do it all. The Region XXIV Champion/national-qualifying Lady Warrior netters boasted a 3.53 GPA for its six-member squad comprised of sophomores Leslie Hanson (Mt. ernon), Stephanie Hays (Mt. Vernon) and Andrea Marcum (Centralia) and freshmen Ashley Belcher (Olney), Stephanie Ferris (Salem) and Carissa Hallam (Mt. Vernon). Marcum would go on to win an NJCAA Finals Consolation Championship at No. 5 Singles.
A team-by-team look at individual honors . . .
SOFTBALL - The Lady Warriors overcame the loss of two of its pitchers to advance once again to the Region XXIV Final Four, finishing runner-up. Success to a large extent could be attributed to University of Tennessee-Martin signee Nira Robbins (Champaign), "MVP" Berry, "Leadership Award" recipient Amber Fark (Nashville) and "Most Improved" Jennifer Broy (West Frankfort).
BASEBALL - Catcher Kyle Geiger (Greenwood, IN) was named Warrior "Offensive MVP" and was rewarded a few weeks later when he was drafted and signed by the Minnesota Twins organization. His "MVP" Pitching counterpart was Western Kentucky University-bound Greg Durr (Crescent Springs, KY), "probably one of the best competitors I ever coached," according to his skipper. Sharing the "Defensive Award" were Rich (Arkansas State signee) and Bryan Davis (West Chester, OH), while freshman Brian Wilson (Cobden) was a near-unanimous choice for the "Hustle Award."
VOLLEYBALL - By far the best volleyball season in college history - 36-19 overall; first in 12-team Danville Area Invite; second in league; third in region under first-year Coach Rhonda Carlton - produced an "MVP" in Lyndsey Hillyard (Sparta) with 1,609 assists; "Best Server" Hillyard, at 98% accuracy; "Best Hitter" and two-time All-GRAC pick Erin Crocker (Sesser), with 466 kills (737 career); and "Best Defensive Player" Sarah Kubiak (Waltonville), with 458 digs, plus record 113 serving aces.
MEN’S GOLF - Sophs Bryan Warren (McLeansboro) and Chad Cooper (Lafayette, IN) were presented with plaques as National Qualifiers for the second season in a row, the first as members of a contending team and this spring as individuals.
WOMEN’S GOLF - Coach Cindy Corn mentioned soph Jamie Emery (St. Louis, MO) for a great fall campaign and classmate Kerri Wrobel (Warsaw, IN) for all-tournament showings at two late spring events. But freshman walk-on Alicia Hutchings (Pinckneyville) and freshman recruit Carrie Paul (Flora) were both presented "Most Dedicated Awards." Paul later claimed "MVP" distinction in a big way with her 17th-place finish in the NJCAA Championships. Paul "is one of the best ball-strikers I’ve seen come through this school," added her coach.
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL - Sophomore Chelsea Harrison (Mt. Vernon) added Co-Captain status and the Lady Warrior "MVP" Award to go along with her All-GRAC and All-Region XXIV honors earned earlier. Classmate Kate Schwartzkopf (Sesser-Valier) was named Co-Captain with Harrison. Taking home the "Most Improved" hardwood was Freshman Brooklyn Dunihoo (Coulterville). Noting "defense is a big part of my coaching philosophy," first-year Coach Jason Thrash presented the "Defensive Award" to another freshman, Courtney Vickery (Cape Girardeau, MO).
MEN’S BASKETBALL - Lawrence Barnes (Mascoutah) "would have been ‘Most Improved,’ if we gave that award," according to Coach Tim Wills. Instead, he settled for two of the three plaques voted on by team members, "Outstanding Defensive Player" and "MVP." The quiet Barnes surprised everyone, too, when he hugged academic advisor Sullivan as a "thank-you" for her caring assistance.
Fellow Sophomore Drew Porter (DuQuoin) was given the "Hustle Award." Joel Jaye’reward was an athletic grant-in-aid to play next season for SIU-Edwardsville.
"In 11 years, this was the most fun I’ve had coaching a basketball team," Wills commented.
CHEERLEADING - Asked for the first time to name an "Outstanding Cheerleader" from the group, the 10-member squad singled out Sophomore Sarah Metcalf (Sesser-Valier).
OTHERS - Individual recognition in Women’s Tennis and Men’s Track and Field was delayed due to their participation in national championships at the time of the banquet.
MORE ACADEMICS - Sullivan cited five student-athletes for a "remarkable statement balancing your time" while posting perfect 4.0 GPAs - Rebekah Bandy (Herrin) and Lacey Williams (Mt. Vernon) in softball; Ferris in tennis; Rusty Millenbine (McLeansboro) in track and field, and Cheerleader Annessa Presley (Mt. Vernon).
"In my opinion, just as impressive as a perfect GPA was seeing many of you learn how to be better learners," Sullivan added. "Last year we had 21 improved over the semester. This year, we had 36." Student-athletes who consistently improved from the first of the semester until the end were Davis, Jake Shore (Hagerstown, IN) and Matt Whitlow (Christopher) in baseball; Barnes and Justin Hill (Marion, KY) in men’s basketball; Kate Schwartzkopf (Sesser) in women’s basketball and volleyball; Fark in softball; Hays in tennis, and Cheerleader Stacia Bruce (Benton).
Freshmen earning "Individual Improvement Awards: were Brett Mullins (Erlanger, KY), Jon Newton (Slaughters, KY), Darius Blye (Marion) in men’s basketball; golfer Blaith Belangee (Fairfield), and tracksters Corey Dowden (Rich South), Howard Harper (Evansville, IN), Marcus Lesley (Thornwood) and Jerry Mims (Waukegan).