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NMU Athletics Presents the 2020-21 Wildcat Awards

NMU Wildcat Awards
NMU Wildcat Awards(NMU Athletics)
Published: Jun. 28, 2021 at 4:06 PM EDT
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - The Northern Michigan University Athletic Department presents the 2020-21 Wildcat Awards. For the second straight year, the awards will be presented exclusively through the NMU Athletics website and social media accounts.

The awards will be presented over the next several days. The final day of announcements will feature the unveiling of the Gildo Canale Outstanding Seniors Award, Athletes of the Year Award, and Team of the Year honor.

HUMANITARIAN OF THE YEAR

Junior Kaffie Kurz of men’s soccer was named this year’s Humanitarian of the Year. Kurz established a charitable foundation in his native country of Liberia. The junior worked with former Wildcat men’s soccer assistant coach and current NMU women’s soccer head coach Jon Sandoval to send soccer cleats to young athletes in Liberia who were in need of them. Kurz collects the shoes in donation boxes in the men’s and women’s soccer locker rooms and cleans used pairs himself before sending them to those in need.

According to his head coach David Poggi, Kurz’s charitable and kind nature is known well outside of NMU and Marquette, “He has made an impression on not only my colleagues and his teammates but also throughout the conference.” Poggi also added, “We are very lucky to have a student-athlete at our university like Kaffie Kurz.”

For Kurz, his work collecting and sending the cleats is a way of filling a need he knows about first hand. “Being able to give one kid back home a pair of shoes so that he can play the sport he likes makes me feel like I’m giving back to my younger self,” said Kurz. “I always wanted someone to look up to and for me to be in the position to do that right now means the world to me.”

Kaffie Kurz discusses what his foundation strives for and what it means to him to receive this recognition. pic.twitter.com/P4Pn0fiBuA

— NMU Athletics (@NMU_Wildcats) June 28, 2021

BIGGEST UPSET OF THE YEAR

With their second championship appearance under head coach Grant Potulny on the line, the sixth-seeded Wildcats entered the rink of top-seeded Minnesota State University and handed the third-ranked team in the nation a stunning 5-1 upset. Senior captain Joseph Nardi led the team in points with a goal and two assists while rookie goaltender Rico DiMatteo stopped 28 of 29 shots.

The win sent the Wildcats to their sixth WCHA championship appearance in program history and second in four seasons with Coach Potulny at the helm.

BRIAN FRANKS “TOO STRONG” AWARD

Brian Franks was an all U.P. dream team, all-state and hall-of-fame offensive linemen from Escanaba, Michigan. Brian later became the leader of the NMU offensive line during some of the most prolific running attacks in Wildcat football history, earning him all GLIAC first team and most valuable lineman honors. Brian was a critical senior leader on the 1987 undefeated GLIAC champions and #1 ranked NCAA Division II football team in the nation. He was a truly great football player, leader and teammate.

However, this award has nothing to do with Brian’s athletic accomplishments. In 2009, Brian was first diagnosed with cancer and began a journey of battling this horrible disease. For the next nine years, Brian endured several major surgeries, years of chemotherapy, and countless efforts undergoing experimental procedures and medications to try and hold off the effects of this mysterious and deadly disease.

Throughout this time, as he physically deteriorated, Brian continued to be an amazing father, devoted husband and special friend. He somehow managed to continue to be a highly successful business person, despite the tremendous physical and emotional hardships he faced. And although he had every right to be down, angry, and focused on himself, he was the opposite — always sharing a smile or a joke, upbeat and more concerned about his beautiful wife Ann, his amazing children, Zach, Abby, and Grace, his parents, brothers and even his goofball Wildcat friends, than he was concerned about himself.

Brian was quite simply TOO STRONG to let anything prevent him from being the man he intended to be and to make those around him better by his presence.

On February 21, 2018, Brian left this earth. At his memorial, on a card bearing Brian’s picture with his usual smile, he left us with two quotes that summed up Brian’s attitude toward his 9-year battle:

First quoting the late great NC State Basketball Coach Jim Valvano: “Cancer can take away all my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.”

And from the late ESPN Announcer, Stuart Scott: “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer, you beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner which you live.”

This year’s winner of the Brian Franks “Too Strong” Award is volleyball student-athlete Lauren Caprini.

The junior was diagnosed with a rib injury in the winter that doctors warned could be career-ending. The injury made her unable to play in her typical role of defensive specialist and any surgery would be extensive and doctors warned could spell the end of her playing career.

Head coach Mike Lozier and Caprini agreed to move the student-athlete off the court into a mentor role to help other players on the team. While she enjoyed helping in a new capacity, she was not ready to give up her time contributing on the court. “It wore on her,” said Lozier. “She realized how much she missed the game.”

After around two weeks on the sidelines, Lozier and Caprini found a solution. The junior was moved into a serving specialist position which allowed her to continue her career on the court while minimizing the chance of making her injury worse.

“Being back on the team in the serving specialist position was awesome,” said Caprini. “I can’t put into words how thankful I am to my coach for giving me the opportunity to participate in that capacity and also how accepting my teammates were.”

At the end of the season, which began with her thinking her career was over, Caprini contributed two service aces, two digs, and an assist in the 2020-21 GLIAC Tournament Championship match that ended with the Wildcats taking home the title.

“I am so proud that she is able to receive this award and get credit for all the work she did,” concluded Lozier.

Hear from Caprini herself on her experience this year as a serving specialist and what it meant to her to compete again. pic.twitter.com/LADDWbMoFa

— NMU Athletics (@NMU_Wildcats) June 25, 2021

MOST INFLUENTIAL/SUPPORTIVE ACADEMIC COMMUNITY MEMBER

Carol Johnson, the Dean of the College of Business at NMU, has been named the Most Influential/Supportive Academic Community Member. Johnson is an ardent supporter of Wildcat teams and the student-athletes that make them up.

NMU men’s soccer head coach David Poggi says, “I think Carol does a phenomenal job. I’m sure lots of other teams had her name on their list for this award. Every student we have ever had go through the College of Business speaks very highly of Carol.”

Wildcat golf head coach Bob Bastian reflects on the impact Carol has had not only on his teams but NMU athletics as a whole. pic.twitter.com/uktAXBvcTd

— NMU Athletics (@NMU_Wildcats) June 25, 2021

INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES OF THE YEAR

The Wildcat women’s basketball team opened their season with a tough road series at the University of Wisconsin Parkside. Following a nail-biting first game in which NMU came out on top, the Wildcats went into the final quarter of night two looking for the sweep while trailing by 14. The women went on a 19-4 run to start the final period of play to take a 68-67 lead with three minutes left in regulation.

Makaylee Kuhn, this year’s women’s winner, had the performance of her career in the contest, leading the team with 38 points to lift her squad to a 77-76 victory and weekend sweep. She also picked up three rebounds and two assists in the game.

Kjetil Baanerud made the most of his appearance at the 2021 NCAA Ski Championships for the NMU Nordic skiing team. On the first day of the event, Baanerud placed 12th in the 10K classic race, the top finisher for the Wildcats, while fighting temperatures that rose above 50 degrees.

The senior from Oslo, Norway impressed on his second day with a third-place finish in the 20K freestyle in 48:49.4. His performance placed him on the podium and earned him an All-America honor and now the 2020-21 Men’s Individual Performance of the Year.

LINDSAY GRIFFITH & TODD “STIX” HONCH FAN OF THE YEAR

With events closed to fans for the majority of the winter semester, a lifelong Wildcat enthusiast still managed to make his presence felt inside the Berry Events Center and cheer on his favorite hockey team from afar. Greg Pond has been a hockey season ticket holder for several years and any Wildcat fan can attest to his vibrant spirit at all NMU games.

Prior to fans being allowed inside the venue for games, Pond would make the trek from Munising to Marquette each weekend to cheer the Wildcats on from outside the front doors of the Berry Events Center for every Wildcat home series. When doors opened to the public for the final three games of the season, Pond was one of the first to claim his tickets.

“He’s special to our team and our program. If you think of someone who is a fan of our team and a fan of our program that’s Greg Pond,” said NMU hockey head coach Grant Potulny.

With the Wildcats traveling for all rounds of the 2020-21 WCHA playoffs, Pond knew he had to be in attendance to cheer his team on and thus made the trips to both Bowling Green, Ohio and Mankato, Minnesota to represent the Green and Gold.

Greg Pond is this year’s winner of the Lindsay Griffith and Todd “Stix” Honch Fan of the Year.

No road trip is too far for Fan of the Year, Greg Pond, who cheered @NMUHockey on all over the midwest this season in the WCHA Playoffs.STORY: https://t.co/VE10qzr1V2#NMUwildcats #ShareNMU pic.twitter.com/SqqRo0Rvvl

— NMU Athletics (@NMU_Wildcats) June 24, 2021

RECORD-BREAKING PERFORMANCE

Ondrej Zach of NMU men’s swim and dive had a record-breaking trip to the 2021 NCAA Championships.

Zach, a senior, was the national runner-up in the 1650-yard freestyle with a time of 15:10.35. The performance broke the NMU record and the GLIAC record that had stood for 12 years. He also earned an All-America honor for his finish.

TEAM AWARDS

MEN’S BASKETBALL

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

Max Bjorklund

BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETE

Justin Kuehl

NEWCOMER

Tre Harvey

SCHOLAR ATHLETE

Max Bjorklund

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

Makaylee Kuhn

BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETE

Elena Alaix

NEWCOMER

Kayla Tierney

SCHOLAR ATHLETE

Elena Alaix

CROSS COUNTRY

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

Elise Longley

BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETE

Emily Sterling, Chrysanthe Patselas

NEWCOMER

Anni Skillicorn

SCHOLAR ATHLETE

Anna Kelley

TRACK & FIELD

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

Nina Augsten

BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETE

Maddie Campbell

NEWCOMER

Selena Johnson

SCHOLAR ATHLETE

Calli Rechsteiner

MEN’S GOLF

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

Carter Mason

BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETE

Jim Callahan

NEWCOMER

Nick Rowley

SCHOLAR ATHLETE

Carter Mason

WOMEN’S GOLF

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

Caro Els

BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETE

Paxton Johnson

NEWCOMER

Annie Pietila

SCHOLAR ATHLETE

Abbie Claire Boozer

HOCKEY

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

Joe Nardi

BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETE

Andre Ghantous

NEWCOMER

Rico DiMatteo

SCHOLAR ATHLETE

Joe Nardi

LACROSSE

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

Minnie Bittell

BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETE

Aliyah Smukala

NEWCOMER

Kaitlyn Bridger

SCHOLAR ATHLETE

Tess Kostelec

MEN’S NORDIC SKIING

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

Kjetil Baanerud

BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETE

Matthew Bourne

NEWCOMER

Kristoffer Karsrud

SCHOLAR ATHLETE

Tobias Moosmann

WOMEN’S NORDIC SKIING

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

Molly Miller

BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETE

Hilde Eide

NEWCOMER

Pearl Harvey

SCHOLAR ATHLETE

Malin Boerjesjoe

MEN’S SOCCER

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

Kaffie Kurz

BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETE

Alex Weaver

NEWCOMER

Pier Vito Cucciati

SCHOLAR ATHLETE

Ryan Palmbaum, Emanuelle Ancione

WOMEN’S SOCCER

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

Caroline Halonen

BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETE

Stephanie Trujillo

NEWCOMER

Brooke Pietila

SCHOLAR ATHLETE

Kiera Hau

MEN’S SWIM & DIVE

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

Ondrej Zach

BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETE

Erikas Kapocius

NEWCOMER

Thibault Auger

SCHOLAR ATHLETE

Grant Combs

WOMEN’S SWIM & DIVE

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

Mandy Baird

BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETE

Pilar Perello

NEWCOMER

Emilia Morris

SCHOLAR ATHLETE

Riyah Rudeen

VOLLEYBALL

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

Jacqueline Smith

BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETE

Maddie Crowley

NEWCOMER

Meghan Meyer

SCHOLAR ATHLETE

Lauren Caprini

NATIONAL TRAINING SITE WEIGHTLIFTING

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

Ryland Shriver

BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETE

Hannah Alvis

NEWCOMER

Gage Senty

SCHOLAR ATHLETE

Austin Gean

NATIONAL TRAINING SITE GRECO-ROMAN WRESTLING

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

Benji Peak

BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETE

Jesse Porter

NEWCOMER

Julian Beltran

SCHOLAR ATHLETE

Roy Nash

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