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Porter, Smith, DiMatteo, Kurz join list of NMU Athletic Award Winners

Courtesy: NMU
 (NMU Graphic)
(NMU Graphic) (WLUC)
Published: Jun. 29, 2021 at 5:03 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.

BEST PERFORMANCE ON THE NATIONAL SCENE

NMU graduate student Jesse Porter was the United States Olympic Trials Greco-Roman Wrestling Champion for the 77 kg weight class earlier this year. The victory earned him the No. 1 spot at the event and the Best Performance on the National Scene honor.

Porter picked up wins of 6-0, 10-0, and 5-3 on the way to the first-place series. In the best-of-three final, Porter defeated his opponent 8-1 in the first match and earned the Olympic Trials Championship with a 7-7 win on criteria in the second match.

NEWCOMERS OF THE YEAR

Jacqueline Smith of NMU volleyball, the female Newcomer of the Year, had a freshman year to remember. Her regular-season marks of 193 total kills and 4.02 kills per set were second in the GLIAC for the 2020-21 season. She was named the GLIAC North Player of the Week in March and the GLIAC Freshman of the Year at the end of the regular season. The Saint Germain, Wis. native was also named to the All-GLIAC First Team. Smith had eight kill and dig double-doubles and also had 20-kills or more three times last season. She led the team in kills (242), kills per set (4.10), points (270), and points per set (4.6). The freshman was instrumental in the Wildcats’ playoff run, with her best postseason performance coming in the semifinal match against Grand Valley State where she hit .314 with 21 kills, three services aces, 11 digs, and one block assist. She finished the year being named the GLIAC Tournament MVP.

Male Newcomer of the Year Rico DiMatteo joined the Wildcat hockey program at the start of the winter semester, having been called up from the North American Hockey League in January to backstop a young NMU squad. After sitting out the first month in Marquette, DiMatteo made his collegiate debut in a 4-3 overtime victory at Lake Superior State University on February 7. The rookie netminder made 34 stops in that contest before leading the Wildcats to a road sweep at 17th-ranked Bemidji State University the following weekend to solidify his starting position between the pipes. Arguably his most notable performance came in a 0-0 tie against then 13th-ranked Bowling Green State University. DiMatteo smothered all 36 shots faced in regulation on top of making six saves in a six-round shootout to propel his team to the extra conference point. In 14 games played, DiMatteo led all Wildcat goaltenders with a .909 save percentage and a 7-6-1 record.

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.

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