Senior Melissa Fernandez becomes the third gymnast to take home the honor in the award's 34-year history, joining Illini greats Karen Brems (1984) and Nancy Thies, who garnered the first-ever award in 1977.
June 16, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - An All-American gymnast and national champion hurdler have been named the 2010-11 Dike Eddleman Award winners, given annually to the top male and female athletes at the University of Illinois during the school year. The Division of Intercollegiate Athletics named three-time All-American Melissa Fernandez and NCAA indoor 60-meter champion Andrew Riley as the Eddleman winners from this year.
Fernandez becomes the third gymnast to take home the honor in the award's 34-year history, joining Illini greats Karen Brems (1984) and Nancy Thies, who garnered the first-ever award in 1977. Fernandez also ends a run of six-straight seasons in which the award was presented to a women's track and field athlete, with Angela Bizzarri from 2008-10, Yvonne Mensah in 2007 and Cassie Hunt from 2005-06 winning the accolade. Riley is the 14th men's track athlete to earn the laurel and first since Anthony Jones in 2004.
Fernandez closed her stellar career with her best season to date. She earned All-America accolades on three different events in 2011, including first team honors in the all-around, a first at Illinois, after scoring a career-high 39.375 at the NCAA Championships. She also earned first team honors on beam for the second time in her career and second team honors on floor with outstanding performances at the NCAA Championships. Her fifth-place finish on the beam (9.838) at the NCAA event finals was the best showing by an Illini athlete in school history. She also became the first Illini to make the podium twice in her career at event finals and now owns the UI program's most career All-America accolades with four. The Eudora, Kan., native was a first-team All-Big Ten selection for the second year in a row and was also a second-team Academic All-American, the first in program history.
"It is just a huge honor to win this award," Fernandez said. "Being nominated in itself was so amazing, and it just feels incredible to be chosen from the outstanding group of other athletes that were up for it. There are really no words to explain how happy and proud I am to finish my career at Illinois as the athlete of the year."
Riley followed up a national champion season in 2010 with another stellar campaign in 2011. A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Riley won the NCAA 60m Indoor National Championship with a time of 7.58 seconds, breaking his previous school record and the facility record. The seven-time All-American also picked-up his third-straight Big Ten title in the event. During the outdoor season, Riley posted a time of 13.49 seconds to win his second consecutive Big Ten 110m hurdle title in the event and also ran the lead-off led of the Big Ten Champion 4x100m relay. At the NCAA Outdoor Championships, Riley nearly repeated as national champ in the 110m hurdles, finishing second with a blazing time of 13.33. His personal-best time of 13.32 in the NCAA quarterfinals reset his own school record and tied the ninth-fastest collegiate mark in history. He also led-off the Illinois 4x100m relay, which finished third in the nation and ran a Big Ten and school record time of 38.72 at the NCAA semifinals.
"I feel honored to be recognized among some of the greatest athletes in Illinois history," Riley said. "I have the book of the Illinois all-time greatest athletes at home, so I remember looking at Dike's career at Illinois. I never even dreamed of being athlete of the year. I just want to thank everyone who has supported me while at Illinois. I will continue to get stronger and compete to the best of my ability."
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 1977, the University of Illinois has recognized both a Male and Female Athlete of the Year. In 1993, the awards were named in honor of the 11-time UI letterman and former Olympian, Dwight "Dike" Eddleman.
The University of Illinois DIA hands out four major awards each academic year to honor the best and brightest Fighting Illini student-athletes. The Big Ten Medal of Honor is awarded annually to a male and female senior student-athlete who demonstrates proficiency in scholarship and athletics. The Dike Eddleman Awards are given to the student-athletes who distinguished themselves in athletic achievement. The Newcomer of the Year Awards go to the best athlete performing in his or her first year of competition at Illinois. Finally, the Fighting Illini Spirit Award honors athletes who exemplify the spirit, courage, effort and dedication of the Fighting Illini.
The 2011 Medal of Honor and Spirit Awards were handed out at the annual Scholar-Athlete Reception on May 3 along with several other academic honors. The Eddleman and Newcomer of the Year Awards are announced each year in June to allow for the spring sport seasons to conclude. The 2011 Illini Newcomers of the Year, announced on June 14, are Vanessa DiBernardo and Nathan Scheelhaase.