A pair of NCAA All-America track and field athletes and team captains were named Nebraska's 2012 Student-Athletes of the Year Sunday night at the school's 22nd annual Student-Athlete Recognition Banquet before 650 attendees at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
Ashley Miller, a senior distance and cross country runner from Tipton, Iowa, and Tyler Hitchler, a senior shot put and discus thrower from Fremont, Neb., swept the Athletic Department's top two individual honors, giving Nebraska Coach Gary Pepin's track and field program an unprecedented back-to-back sweep. Track and field All-Americans Nicholas Gordon and Natalie Willer won the same awards in 2011.
"As my academic and athletic careers at Nebraska come to a close, I will cherish this point in my life - from the memories made, the knowledge learned and the friendships built," Miller said. "I vividly remember my entrance interview coming into Nebraska as a freshman. Two of my goals were to become an Academic All-American and an All-American on the track. Both have been achieved, and now that I've reached those goals, I'm anticipating good fortune as I train for my final outdoor season. Nebraska has played a big part in the person I've become."
Hitchler expressed similar gratitude for the opportunity he's used to become an All-American both academically as well as athletically. "When you grow up in Nebraska, every little kid dreams of being a Husker someday, and having been born and raised here, I was no exception," he said. "Instead of viewing my time here as a right that I had earned and that I could use for my own achievement, I now think of being a Husker as an unbelievable privilege that has allowed me to become a disciplined student, a competitive athlete and a valuable member of the Lincoln community through outreach and service to others."
Jo Potuto, Nebraska's Faculty Athletic Representative (FAR) and the CEO of the national FAR organization, presented Sunday night's top individual awards that are voted upon by UNL faculty members. Selections are based primarily on athletic and academic performance with community service consideration. Competition for this annual award is so fierce, Potuto said, "that this is one of the most difficult things we do all year as an intercollegiate athletics committee."
Miller won the 3,000-meter run and scored 26 points to lead the Huskers the Big Ten Conference Indoor Championships at the Devaney Sports Center. She also won the Big Ten's annual Sportsmanship Award. Last year, Miller was the Big 12 Conference champion in the 1,500-meter run. In her most recent outdoor performance, Miller's 800-meter time met the automatic qualifying standard for the U.S. Olympic Trials.
A member of two Big 12 Conference Championship teams, Hitchler recently earned the 2012 Huskers' Most Outstanding Men's Track and Field Athlete from the coaching staff, Hitchler is a two-time All-American in the discus, a two-time team captain and a two-time HERO Leadership Award. He is also a 4-year member of the Nebraska Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), the Russ White Spirit Award Recipient for Outstanding Leadership and an officer for the Mortar Board Senior Honor Society. In addition, Hitchler has been accepted into the University of Nebraska's College of Medicine.
Nebraska Senior Associate Athletic Director Dennis Leblanc honored Dick Herman with the first Big Ten honorary gold medallion at Nebraska's first-ever recognition banquet as a member of the nation's oldest intercollegiate athletic conference. Because of Dick and his late brother Dale Herman's generous contribution, Nebraska's student-athlete banquet is one of the nation's best. More than 300 Husker student-athletes were honored Sunday night.
With a combined 3.115 Grade Point Average for more than 600 Husker student-athletes, the 2011 class "has excelled academically more than any other class we've had here," NU Athletic Director Tom Osborne said. "We think there's a strong correlation between academic and athletic performance. When you're sufficiently disciplined, we usually know you're going to do the right thing at the right time."
Leblanc presented the Herman Team Awards for overall academic excellence, and two programs repeated titles from the previous season. The men's golf team, coached by Bill Spangler, won one Herman Award with a 3.509 overall GPA. The women's tennis team, coached by Scott Jacobson, won the other Herman Award with a 3.644 overall GPA.
Nebraska's Associate Athletic Director Keith Zimmer presented the Life Skills Awards for Excellence. Bo Pelini's football program repeated its Life Skills championship from the previous season, and Pablo Morales' swimming and diving program supplanted softball for the women's Life Skills Award.
Nearly 4,500 student-athletes have been honored at Nebraska's student-athlete recognition banquet. That includes a nation-leading total of 294 Academic All-Americans and a nation-leading 16 NCAA Top Eight Award recipients. In 2011-12, teams of Nebraska student-athletes have participated in more than 200 service projects. This past fall, 351 student-athletes achieved a 3.0 GPA or higher and 39 recorded a perfect 4.0. Leblanc pointed to 55 Huskers earning Academic All-Big Ten recognition in the first semester. Leblanc said Nebraska has a 95 percent exhausted eligibility graduation rate.