DiBernardo, Scheelhaase Earn Top Honor at Fighting Illini All-Sports Celebration
April 28, 2014
Urbana, Ill. - Soccer All-American Vanessa DiBernardo (Naperville, Ill.) and football star Nathan Scheelhaase (Kansas City, Mo.) garnered the prestigious Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor Monday night at the Fighting Illini All-Sports Celebration held at the Holiday Inn.
This year marks the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Big Ten Medal of Honor. 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-athlete 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 8,200 student-athletes, but only 24 earn this prestigious award on an annual basis.
A three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection, DiBernardo wrapped up her career third in school history with 43 goals after leading the Illini in goals during each of her first three years, including a career-high 17 goals as a sophomore. In her final season, she ranked second on the Illini with seven goals while helping Illinois reach the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament, the team's best finish in her four-year career. She also tallied a career-high seven assists in 2013, giving her the most career assists (22) in school history, and finished tied for the most career shots by an Illini with 325.
The Naperville, Ill., native also excelled in the classroom at Illinois, capping her career as a second-team CoSIDA Academic All-American and a two-time NSCAA Scholar All-American. A recreation, sport and tourism major with a sport management concentration, DiBernardo boasted a 3.70 GPA and was recognized with several other academic awards, including three Academic All-Big Ten honors and a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar laurel.
"I cannot think of a student-athlete who upholds the values and demonstrates the abilities of both student and athlete any better than Vanessa DiBernardo," soccer coach Janet Rayfield said. "Vanessa is one of the best players to put on an Illini uniform. The challenge when you watch her play is to realize just what she is capable of doing because she makes it look so easy. Her ability to settle any ball, to score goals, to play passes that most players don't see, much less make, and to cover an incredible amount of ground all at the same time is phenomenal. She did not just hold herself to an incredible standard on the field, but also in the classroom and world of academics as well. Despite travels around the world and consistent missed class time, she excelled in her academic discipline, which is evident in her GPA. Vanessa is very deserving of this honor and set the standard of excellence for those who will follow in her footsteps."
Off the field, Scheelhaase was an unquestioned leader during his five years on campus. He was a four-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree and earned two degrees from the University of Illinois - a bachelor's degree in communication and a master's in recreation, sport and tourism. He was a Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) representative, was very active in Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) and regularly took part in "Hometown Heroes" activities throughout his career, including countless visits to visits local schools, hospitals and correctional centers.
"Every so often, you are fortunate as a coach to have someone like Nathan in your program," football coach Tim Beckman said of Scheelhaase. "Nathan embodies everything that a student-athlete should be. He earned his bachelor's degree in a little over three years and completed his master's degree by the end of his playing career. His ability to interact with fellow students, administrators and community leaders from a wide range of backgrounds is an outstanding attribute and something that too often can be overlooked. As a four-year starting quarterback, he was looked to for leadership, direction and guidance, and was constantly asked to be the face of our program both in the media and the Champaign-Urbana community. He is one of those young men that left a positive mark on the football program and the entire Fighting Illini athletics family."
DiBernardo and Scheelhaase were just two of more than 500 Fighting Illini student-athletes, managers and cheerleaders honored at the All-Sports Celebration, a banquet that recognizes graduating student-athletes and others who have excelled both athletically and academically.
The Fighting Illini Spirit Awards, which are given to the male and female athlete who best exemplify the spirit, courage, effort and dedication of the Fighting Illini, also were handed out at the Holiday Inn. Senior Jennifer Beltran (Reseda, Calif.) of volleyball received the female Spirit Award, while junior Ross Guignon (Prairie Village, Kan.) of tennis took home the male Spirit Award this year.
The Leadership Academy Awards were presented to athletes who exemplify leadership skills and service in the community. DiBernardo, along with Katie Porada (Clarendon Hills, Ill.) and Britten Petrey (Schaumburg, Ill.) of track/cross country were awarded the Leader of Distinction honor, while track's Amanda Duvendack (Metamora, Ill.) received the Leader of Merit honor.
The men's cross country team and women's soccer and golf teams were recognized for having the top team GPAs among Illinois' 19 varsity sports over the last two semesters, and six individuals were honored for having the top GPA in their respective classes. Swimmer Lori Lynn (Swansea, Ill.), volleyball's Kathryn Polkoff (Wilmette, Ill.) and cross country's Will Brewster (Grayslake, Ill.) had the top GPAs among sophomores, cross country's Chloe Schmidt (State College, Pa.), swimmer Hailey Booth (Loveland, Ohio) and gymnast Michael Wilner (Buffalo Grove, Ill.) were the top juniors, while volleyball's Anna Dorn (Munster, Ind.) and baseball's Reid Roper (Harrisburg, Ill.) were honored as the top seniors.
The Big Ten Postgraduate Scholarships also were awarded. Seniors Anne Goering (Fairbanks, Alaska) of swimming and Bruno Abdelnour (Aleppo, Syria) of tennis received $7,500 scholarships to be utilized at their graduate schools.
In addition to the awards handed out, finalists for Dike Eddleman Male and Female Athlete of the Year and Newcomer of the Year also were announced. The Eddleman and Newcomer winners will not be announced until the conclusion of the spring sports seasons in June.
Fighting Illini Spirit Award
Leadership Academy Awards
Leader of Merit
Fighting Illini Outstanding Team GPA Awards
Outstanding Scholar-Athlete Award Winners
Life Skills Team Competition Award
Dike Eddleman Female Athlete of the Year Finalists
Dike Eddleman Male Athlete of the Year Finalists
Female Newcomer of the Year Finalists
Male Newcomer of the Year Finalists
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