Spring, Hunt earn Dike Eddleman awards
June 14, 2006
Junior All-American distance runner Cassie Hunt and the nation's top senior gymnast Justin Spring have been named winners of the Dike Eddleman Female and Male Athletes of the Year, respectively, at the University of Illinois
Both Hunt and Spring earn the award for the second time. Spring, who also won the award in 2004, is just the sixth male athlete to be a repeat winner joining Andy Phillip (basketball & baseball, 1942 &'43), Eddleman (football, basketball, track, 1948 & '49), Dick Butkus (football, 1964 & '65), Dave Scholz (basketball 1968 & '69) and Tony Eason (1982 & '83). Hunt also won the award last year.
Hunt completed the track season by placing second in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the NCAA Outdoor Championships last week. Her track exploits also included winning the 5,000 meters at the Drake Relays. Hunt made noise in the fall as one of the top cross country runners in the country. She placed 11th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, leading Illinois to its best finish as a team (fifth). Hunt was the medalist at the Big Ten Cross Country meet and was named Big Ten Cross Country Athlete of the Year, becoming the first woman in Illini history to claim that honor. She was also medalist in four other meets and her time of 16:52 at the Notre Dame Invite ranks third on Illinois' all-time list for a cross country 5K.
"I know there were several others who were deserving of the honor, so this is special," Hunt said. "For me, there were a lot of ups and downs. Fortunately, the ones that were good fell on the right days. That says a lot for the job that my coach (Karen Harvey) has done. She gets us prepared, and then it's up to us to go out to the track or the trails and perform."
Spring leaves Illinois, a school rich in tradition in gymnastics, as one of the most decorated performers in the sport to compete at the school. The senior was named the Nissen Emery Award winner as the top senior gymnast in the nation - the "Heisman" of collegiate gymnastics. He won the national title in both the parallel bars and the high bar and finished runner-up in the all-around competition. His performances nearly helped propel the Illini to the national title as a team, but the Illini fell just a fraction of a point shy of Oklahoma for the top spot.
Spring's five All-America honors this year (all-around, floor exercise, vault, parallel bars and high bars) bring his total to 12, the most since Abe Grossfeld, who earned 12 All-America honors from 1957-59. Spring holds the school record in four events, including in the parallel bars, where he scored a 9.825 at the event finals at the NCAA meet to win the national title. Spring has made a name for himself on the national and international scene outside of the collegiate ranks as well. He placed 10th on the high bar and 12th on the parallel bars at the 2005 World Championships as a member of Team USA and won the high bar at the 2005 Visa U.S. Championships.
"This award ranks right up there with winning the Nissen Emery Award for me because it's given out by the University," Spring said. "The NCAA and USAG awards are great, but I have a strong sense of pride for the University of Illinois, so it means a great deal to me to recognized by the University that I love. It's also quite an honor to win this award twice. When you look at the names of the other two-time winners, it's pretty easy to see that there have been some incredible athletes at the U of I, and it's an honor to be a part of that tradition."
The University of Illinois Athlete of the Year was first awarded in 1940. The award was given annually until it was discontinued in 1973. Since 1982, the University of Illinois has recognized a Male and Female Athlete of the Year. In 1993, the awards were renamed the Dike Eddleman Athlete of the Year awards in honor of the 11-time UI letterman and former Olympian.
Other University awards were handed out at the annual Scholar-Athlete banquet on May 3. Basketball senior Dee Brown and soccer All-American Christen Karniski earned the Big Ten Medal of Honor. Julie Crall from gymnastics and Kyle Hudson from football were named Newcomers of the Year, and Rasa Virsilaite (volleyball) and Alex Tirapelle (wrestling) were Spirit Award recipients. As has been done previously, the Eddleman Award winners were not selected until the completion of the spring sports seasons, which wrapped-up last weekend with the NCAA Track and Field Championships.
All-Time Illinois Athletes of the Year
1940 William J. Hapac, basketball & baseball