Athletics News
DiBernardo, Scheelhaase Earn Top Honor at Fighting Illini All-Sports Celebration

April 28, 2014

All-Sports Celebration Photos | Big Ten Medal of Honor Winners | Spirit Award Winners | DIA Awards Home

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.

DiBernardo became the highest-drafted player in school history when she was picked fourth overall by the Chicago Red Stars in the 2014 National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) College Draft. Ranking as one of the most decorated Illinois soccer players in school history, DiBernardo was a two-time All-American, collecting NSCAA second-team honors in 2011 and third-team accolades in 2012, and was named to the MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List three times. She excelled immediately on the field as an Illini, beginning her career as the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2010. She followed up a stellar rookie season by earning Big Ten Midfielder of the Year honors in 2011 while leading the Illini to their second Big Ten Tournament title in program history.

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."

Scheelhaase had one of the best offensive seasons in Illinois football history in 2013 and finished his career as the Illini's all-time total offense leader with 10,634 yards, a total that ranks seventh in Big Ten history. He led the conference in passing yardage (272.7 ypg), total offense (295.2 ypg) and completion percentage (66.7) during his senior campaign, while also breaking the school record for passing efficiency (140.7) to earn All-Big Ten honors. A four-year starter and two-time team captain, Scheelhaase is the only quarterback in UI history to lead the Illini to bowl victories in back-to-back seasons and is one of just two players in Big Ten history to amass over 8,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards in his career. He finished among the Illinois career leaders in almost every quarterback category, ranking first in starts (48), second in completion percentage (63.0), completions (775) and rushing yards by a QB (2,066), and third in passing yardage (8,568), touchdown passes (55) and passing efficiency (130.2).

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
(Athletes who exemplify the spirit, courage, effort and dedication of the Fighting Illini)
Female Winner: Senior Jennifer Beltran (Reseda, Calif.), Volleyball
Male Winner: Junior Ross Guignon (Prairie Village, Kan.), Tennis

Leadership Academy Awards
(Athletes who exemplify leadership skills and service in the community)
Leader of Distinction
Senior Vanessa DiBernardo (Naperville, Ill.), Soccer
Senior Katie Porada (Clarendon Hills, Ill.), Track & Cross Country
Sophomore Britten Petrey (Schaumburg, Ill.), Track & Cross Country

Leader of Merit
Senior Amanda Duvendack (Metamora, Ill.), Track & Field

Fighting Illini Outstanding Team GPA Awards
(Highest cumulative grade point average for a team over the last two semesters)
Women's Soccer & Women's Golf - 3.49 Cumulative GPA, Coaches Janet Rayfield & Renee Slone
Men's Cross Country - 3.33 Cumulative GPA, Coach Jake Stewart

Outstanding Scholar-Athlete Award Winners
(Male and Female letterwinners with the highest grade-point average in each class of school)
Sophomore Lori Lynn (Swansea, Ill.), Swimming & Diving, 3.95 GPA, health
Sophomore Kathryn Polkoff (Wilmette, Ill.), Volleyball, 3.93 GPA, animal science
Sophomore Will Brewster (Grayslake, Ill.), Cross Country, 3.80 GPA, integrative biology
Junior Hailey Booth (Loveland, Ohio), Swimming & Diving, 3.95 GPA, psychology
Junior Chloe Schmidt (State College, Pa.), Cross Country, 3.99 GPA, civil engineering
Junior Michael Wilner (Buffalo Grove, Ill.), Gymnastics, 3.73 GPA, computer engineering
Senior Anna Dorn (Munster, Ind.), Volleyball, 3.96 GPA, kinesiology
Senior Reid Roper (Harrisburg, Ill.), Baseball, 3.45 GPA, elementary education

Postgraduate Scholarship Awards
Senior Anne Goering, Swimming & Diving
Senior Bruno Abdelnour, Tennis

Life Skills Team Competition Award
Women's Gymnastics - Coach Kim Landrus

Dike Eddleman Female Athlete of the Year Finalists
(Winner announced in June after the completion of all spring sports)
Sophomore Jocelynn Birks (Willow Springs, Ill.), Volleyball
Senior Alex Booker (Gurnee, Ill.), Softball
Junior Jannelle Flaws (Glenview, Ill.), Soccer
Sophomore Alyssa Schneider (Bartlett, Ill.), Cross Country
Senior Amber See (Minnetonka, Minn.), Gymnastics
Senior Ahlivia Spencer (Indianapolis, Ind.), Track & Field

Dike Eddleman Male Athlete of the Year Finalists
(Winner announced in June after the completion of all spring sports)
Junior Brian Campbell (Irvine, Calif.), Golf
Junior Jesse Delgado (Gilroy, Calif.) Wrestling
Junior Farris Gosea (Cardiff, Wales, UK), Tennis
Junior Drasen Johnson (Chillicothe, Ill.), Baseball
Senior Vanier Joseph (Redford, Mich.), Track & Field
Senior Nathan Scheelhaase (Kansas City, Mo.), Football
Senior Jannis Toepfer (Bochum, Germany), Cross Country
Junior Jordan Valdez (Louisville, Colo.), Gymnastics

Female Newcomer of the Year Finalists
(Winner announced in June after the completion of all spring sports)
Freshman Kandie Bloch-Jones (Oreana, Ill.), Track & Field
Freshman Erin Buchanan (Haymarket, Va.), Gymnastics
Freshman Alexis Casati (Deerfield, Ill.), Tennis
Freshman Jacqui Grant (Park Ridge, Ill.), Basketball
Freshman Stephanie Miller (Elgin, Ill.), Golf
Freshman Ruby Rivera (Glendale, Calif.), Softball

Male Newcomer of the Year Finalists
(Winner announced in June after the completion of all spring sports)
Freshman Chandler Eggleston (Jamestown, N.C.), Gymnastics
Junior Rayvonte Rice (Champaign, Ill.), Basketball
Freshman Zane Richards (Carbondale, Ill.), Wrestling
Freshman Ryne Roper (Harrisburg, Ill.), Baseball