The University of Nebraska Athletic Department celebrated its 25th anniversary of honoring its highest academic, athletic and community achievers with a special red carpet recognition event at the Lied Center for Performing Arts on Sunday evening.
Nebraska’s outstanding student-athletes were recognized for stellar performances in competition, the classroom and the community. In addition to naming its prestigious Student-Athlete-of-the-Year Awards and other annual team and individual accomplishments, Nebraska celebrated the addition of several new awards to honor top performances throughout the past calendar year.
John Welk and Jessie DeZiel captured two of Nebraska’s most coveted awards as the Male and Female Student-Athletes of the Year.
Welk, a two-time All-American as part of NU’s 4×100-meter relay team for Coach Gary Pepin’s men’s track and field squad, is also a two-time NCAA Elite 89 award winner. The senior nutrition science major from Bismarck, N.D., held the top grade-point average of any male student-athlete at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in both 2013 and 2014. Welk is also a two-time academic All-Big Ten selection.
Welk is the fifth consecutive Nebraska Male Student-Athlete of the Year from the Husker track and field squad, following Nicholas Gordon (2011), Tyler Hitchler (2012), Bjorn Barrefors (2013) and Seth Wiedel (2014). Overall the men’s track and field program has claimed six Male Student-Athlete-of-the-Year awards, including Aaron Plas (2006), since the award’s inception at Nebraska in 1991. Seven NU women’s track and field student-athletes also have captured the award, giving Coach Pepin’s program 13 of the 50 all-time awards.
DeZiel, a senior from Rogers, Minn., is a seven-time All-American entering next week’s NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships. A 2015 AAI Award nominee, DeZiel is also a three-time NCAA Regional vault champion. A three-time academic All-Big Ten selection as a nutrition and health sciences major, DeZiel became the sixth Husker women’s gymnast to win Nebraska’s Female Student-Athlete-of-the-Year award. She joins Nicole Duval (1995), Shelly Bartlett (1997), Richelle Simpson (2005), Stephanie Carter (2007) and Emily Wong (2014) among the elite women’s gymnasts in the history of Coach Dan Kendig’s program to win the highest honor presented by Nebraska to its student-athletes.
DeZiel and Welk also will win the conference’s most exclusive award as recipients of the Big Ten Medal of Honor in 2015. The 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 9,000 student-athletes, but only 28 earn this prestigious award on an annual basis. In the 100 years of the Medal of Honor, over 1,300 student-athletes have earned this distinction.
In an exciting addition to the annual awards event, Nebraska added a pair of new awards to recognize the top athletic achievements by its student-athletes. Miles Ukaoma, who won the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Championship in the 400-meter hurdles, claimed Nebraska’s Best Male Athlete Award. A four-time All-American in the event, Ukaoma added a pair of Big Ten crowns (2012, 2014) in the event while also capturing a Big Ten title as a member NU’s 4×400-meter relay (2013). The native of Maize, Kan., completed his athletic eligibility at Nebraska last season.
Liz Kuhlkin, who led the Nebraska bowling team to its second NCAA team title in the last three seasons over the weekend in St. Louis, captured the Best Female Athlete Award. Kuhlkin, who was the Most Outstanding Bowler at the 2013 NCAA Championships and a member of the 2015 NCAA All-Tournament Team, was named the National Tenpin Coaches Association Player of the Year in 2015. The senior from Schenectady, N.Y., is a three-time first-team NTCA All-American and a two-time academic All-Big Ten selection.
A new scholastic award was also presented with the addition of the Outstanding Scholar Award. Welk was joined in earning that honor by fellow men’s track and field team members Will Lohman and Mark Hilderbrand along with men’s golfer Josh Reinertson. On the women’s side, the Outstanding Scholar Award went to twins Amanda and Jennifer Lauer from the women’s gymnastics program.
Coach Pablo Morales’ Nebraska women’s swimming and diving team captured the Herman Team Grade-Point Average award with a combined GPA of 3.568 for 2014, ending a streak of four straight wins by the women’s tennis program. Coach Kerry McDermott’s Husker tennis team claimed the award on the men’s side with a 3.510 GPA in 2014. The victory by the tennis team also ended a streak of four consecutive wins by the men’s golf program.
The Herman Team Grade-Point Average awards began in 1994 thanks to a generous contribution from Dick and Dale Herman. Dick, who has been a generous contributor across many levels of Nebraska Athletics, especially to the Academic support facilities and Academic recognition events, was presented a special Lifetime Achievement Award at the event.
Coach Chuck Chmelka’s Nebraska men’s gymnastics team and Coach John Walker’s women’s soccer team captured the prestigious Life Skills Awards of Excellence, for their exceptional commitment to NU’s award-winning Life Skills program. The Life Skills program also named five winners across all sports of its most prestigious individual award – the Heart & Soul Award. The Heart & Soul winners were Samantha Areman (Soccer), Devandrew Johnson (Track & Field), Rebekah Land (Swimming & Diving), Ian Ousley (Wrestling) and Desire’ Stephens (Women’s Gymnastics).
In addition to the team awards and the Heart & Soul awards, Life Skills presented 35 of Nebraska’s top all-around student-athletes across all sports with Nebraska Student-Athlete Hero Leadership awards.
Overall, a total of 269 Huskers earned academic medallions at the banquet. Gold medallions (68) were presented to those for highest academic honors (3.75-4.0 grade-point average). Silver medallions (61) were awarded to those for high honors (3.5-3.749 GPA), while bronze medallions (140) were presented to student-athletes with honors (3.0-3.499 GPA).
2015 University Nebraska Athletic/Academic/Life Skills Awards
Male Student-Athlete of the Year – John Welk (Track & Field)
Female Student-Athlete of the Year – Jessie DeZiel (Gymnastics)
Best Male Athlete – Miles Ukaoma (Track & Field)
Best Female Athlete – Liz Kuhlkin (Bowling)
Outstanding Scholar Awards (6)
Mark Hilderbrand (Track & Field)
Will Lohman (Track & Field)
John Welk (Track & Field)
Josh Reinertson (Golf)
Amanda Lauer (Gymnastics)
Jennifer Lauer (Gymnastics)
Heart & Soul Awards (5)
Samantha Areman (Soccer)
Devandrew Johnson (Track & Field)
Rebekah Land (Swimming & Diving)
Ian Ousley (Wrestling)
Desire’ Stephens (Gymnastics)
Men’s Herman Team GPA Award – Tennis (3.510 GPA)
Women’s Herman Team GPA Award – Swimming & Diving (3.568 GPA)
Men’s Life Skills Award of Excellence – Gymnastics
Women’s Life Skills Award of Excellence – Soccer
Lifetime Achievement Award – Dick Herman
Nebraska Student-Athlete Hero Leadership Awards (35)
Freedom Akinmoladun, Football
Landon Bartel, Track & Field
Jourden Casey, Soccer
Davon Clark, Track & Field
Byerson Cockrell, Football
Cassie Deeg, Women’s Golf
Hannah Dittmar, Soccer
Joey Felici, Football
Kelsey Fien, Volleyball
Sarah Firestone, Track & Field
Trey Foster, Football
Levi Gipson, Track & Field
Blake Headley, Baseball
Ciara Jenkins, Swimming & Diving
Collin Jensen, Wrestling
Jacqueline Juffer, Swimming & Diving
Kye Kurkowski, Basketball
Jennie Laeng, Women’s Gymnastics
Will Lohman, Track & Field
Chris Long, Football
Alex Lorentz, Rifle
Ethan Lottman, Men’s Gymnastics
Mackenna Maddox, Women’s Tennis
Cameron Palmer, Men’s Golf
De’Mornay Pierson-El, Football
Esther Ramacieri, Women’s Basketball
Siera Rohde, Track & Field
Chris Schindler, Men’s Tennis
Tristen Sharp, Track & Field
Lotte Sjulin, Softball
Kiki Stokes, Softball
Alney Tobias, Cross Country
Coleman Tokar, Men’s Gymnastics
Jessica Wright, Cross Country
Briana Zabierek, Bowling