Olympic champion Mark Spitz once said, “Life is true to form; records are meant to be broken,” and his phrase sums up the 2015 athletic season for the Eagles. AU captured two Patriot League championships and sent two teams and two individual athletes to the NCAA tournament. Four Eagles won Patriot League Scholar Athletes of the Year awards, and Athletic Director Billy Walker earned a place in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. AU made history in 2015, and The Eagle has compiled the highlights.
Note: In selecting the award winners, the Eagle staff only considered current student-athletes. Seniors are honored in the last category (May 2015 Graduates of the Year).
The Eagle Athlete of the Year
Female: Monika Smidova (volleyball)
Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Patriot League Player of the Year. Patriot League Setter of the Year. Senior setter Monika Smidova’s personal accomplishments and strong leadership helped the Eagles achieve an undefeated conference record and earn a third consecutive NCAA tournament bid. Smidova tallied 37 assists in AU’s victory over No. 22 Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and she currently ranks third in school record books for her 4,055 career assists.
Male: Jesse Reed (men’s basketball)
A 6’5 guard from Pennsylvania, Jesse Reed stepped on to the court for Media Day in October with over a dozen accolades to his name. The two-time Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year helped lead the men’s basketball team to a second-place finish in the conference last year after averaging 14.3 points per game and five rebounds per game. He finished last season as an All-Patriot League Third Team selection and scored 24 points in AU’s win over Lehigh at the Patriot League Quarterfinal game. Reed, one of only two senior players on AU’s roster this year, averages 36.5 minutes per game so far this season, and head coach Mike Brennan expects him to continue to shine as both a leader and a point-scorer.
Record Breakers of the Year
Female: Paris Wood (women’s swimming) and Caylee Watson (women’s swimming)
The backstroke duo tied for The Eagle’s“Record Breakers of the Year” award after leading the women’s swim team to a strong finish at the Patriot Invite at George Mason University and earning victories at the Eastern College Athletic Conference Invitational meet in early December. Wood, a senior from California, set a school record in the women’s 100-yard backstroke with a time of 55.96 seconds, and she also joined teammates Watson, Olivia Wons and Julianna Cavano to break a school record in the women’s 400 freestyle relay with a time of 3:29.53.
Watson, a junior who hails from the Virgin Islands, clinched her spot on the U.S. Virgin Island Olympic Team for the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro with her performance in the 100 meter backstroke at the Navy Long Course Invitational on Dec. 11. The two athletes will train over the next several months for a chance to achieve even more success at the 2015 Patriot League Invitational in mid-February.
Male: Josh Ellis (men’s XC/track)
42 years ago, David Reinhart set the AU school record in the men’s 3000-meter steeplechase. In May 2015, Ellis took down the decades-old mark with his time of 8:59.44 to finish second at the Patriot League Outdoor track championships and help him earn The Eagle’s “Record Breaker of the Year.” Ellis followed his performance at the outdoor conference meet with a 27th place finish at the East Regional Prelims, improving his seed position by 19 places.
Team of the Year: Women’s basketball
The Eagles finished the regular season this spring with an incredible 21-8 record and a Patriot League Championship, despite starting with an 0-3 non-conference record. AU regained confidence with back-to-back wins against the power conference teams of Gonzaga University and University of Oregon and won their first seven conference games. The team also ended the regular season with an eight-game winning streak before clinching the conference title.
AU easily secured the No.1 seed in the Patriot League Tournament, guaranteeing home court advantage throughout the tournament, and soared past all its opponents by an average of 15 points. The Eagles, with the 66-50 win over Lehigh, won their first Patriot League championship and earned their first trip to the NCAA Tournament in school history. With a No. 14 NCAA seed, the Eagles traveled to Iowa City to take on the University of Iowa. The two teams entered halftime tied 36-36, but the Hawkeyes pulled away in the second half for a 75-67 win. Behind senior play of guards Jen Dumiak, Arron Zimmerman and Shaquilla Curtis, the Eagles set a new bar for the future of AU women’s basketball.
Leader of the Year
Female: Kate McBeath (field hockey) and Charlene Belanger (women’s soccer)
McBeath: Anchored behind the focus and determination of senior goalkeeper Kate McBeath, the AU field hockey team fought to a second-place finish in the conference and racked up a series of Patriot League awards on its way to a 12-7 overall record. McBeath earned two shutouts throughout the year and became the first athlete in school history to earn the Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Year award for her performance in the net. In addition to her accomplishments in the Patriot League, McBeath also earned distinction as an ECAC Field Hockey All-Star, along with teammate junior forward Natalie Konerth.
Belanger: The Eagles women’s soccer team won five games this year, and senior goalkeeper Charlene Belanger recorded shutouts in three, placing her on the list of “Leaders of the Year” for The Eagle. She helped her team rebound from its 0-9 Patriot League record from last season to a 2-4-3 league record this year, allowing the team to secure its second playoff berth in three years. Belanger’s brother, Lucas, also plays goalkeeper for the Eagles and recorded minutes against Howard University this year as part of the men’s team. Belanger’s experience and leadership helped the Eagles find success this year against Robert Morris University, Mount St. Mary’s, LIU Brooklyn, Delaware State and Lafayette, and her experience will be missed on the field next year.
Male: John Boyle (wrestling)
Honored as the MVP of the wrestling team for the 2014-2015 season, senior John Boyle earned the distinction as team captain from coach Teague Moore for the second year in a row. Boyle started this season with a pin in his first match against Campbell, and he also recorded a victory in his match with Davidson’s freshman Tony Palumbo. After finishing second in the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, Boyle currently holds a No. 11 national ranking in the 157-pound weight class.
Moment of the Year
Women: Women’s basketball Patriot League Championship victory
With over 1,000 fans packed into Bender Arena on March 14, head coach Megan Gebbia and the twelve members of the AU basketball team marched to the first ever Patriot League Championship title in program history. The Eagles defeated Lehigh 66-50 to complete their historic run before traveling to Iowa City to play Iowa in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Gebbia, who coached Marist University to nine MAAC Championships before arriving at AU, earned Patriot League Coach of the Year for her leadership and expertise, and she credits the team’s chemistry and work ethic as factors in the historic season.
“This group represented American University well, the Patriot League extremely well and we had three great seniors that have led us all year,” Gebbia said after the Eagles played Iowa.
Men: Men’s soccer beating ranked No. 17 Hofstra at home and Men’s basketball underdog run to Patriot League Championship game
Soccer: Led by goals from sophomore forward Joel Hart, the Eagles topped Hofstra2-0 and earned their fifth consecutive victory to start the 2015 season. Several days before the win, the National Soccer Coaches Association of American ranked AU 21st in the country, and the team lived up to its reputation, taking down the No. 17 Pride on Reeves Field. AU finished third in the Patriot League with a 5-2-2 record and advanced to the Patriot League Championship game where the team fell to Lehigh 2-1. Stacked with a strong defensive line, AU’s athleticism helped the team moved past several ranked opponents, and head coach Todd West said the strong roster allowed his players to create more opportunities.
“Our back four is good, our back four is athletic. Liam Robley and Dale Ludwig are a handful in there together,” West said in a interview with The Eagle after AU beat Hofstra. “We were playing defensive midfielders as forwards [last year] and were very smoke and mirrors. This year I’ve got two, if not three, real target forwards, and Joel Hart with two goals proves that today.”
Basketball: The Eagles finished the regular season with an underwhelming 15-15 record and headed on the road as the No. 6 seed for the Patriot League Tournament, but the team turned things around. Despite being plagued with big-man injuries and inconsistent offensive play throughout the season, the Eagles elevated their play in the conference tournament in every category. In the quarterfinals the Eagles upset No. 3 Lehigh 68-62, off a 24-point performance from then junior guard Jesse Reed. In the semifinals, the Eagles decisively defeated No. 2 Colgate 73-62 to reach the Patriot League Championship game. The Eagles became only the second sixth seed to ever reach the final in Patriot League history. AU was three points away from defending their Patriot League Championship title but dropped 65-63 to Lafayette. Under pressure to defend its title, the 2014-2015 men’s basketball team performed at its best.
Rookie of the Year
Female: Rafaela Rubas (field hockey) and Carmen Unzue (volleyball)
Rafaela Rubas didn’t take long to adjust to the rhythm of the AU field hockey team. The freshman, who hails from Vienna, Austria, notched her first collegiate goal in AU’s Aug. 30 game against No. 16 Old Dominion, and she continued to add ten more goals to her season total by the end of the year. Rubas concluded the year with a fourth place ranking in the Patriot League for points, with teammate junior Natalie Konerth finishing just one place ahead in third. Rubas also tied for third in conference for goals and earned Patriot League Rookie of the Year honors. The Patriot League recognized Rubas’ outstanding season by placing her on the All-Patriot League first team with Konerth and McBeath. With one college season under her belt, Rubas can be expected to shine even more in 2016.
Carmen Unzue also makes this year’s Eagle Rookie of the Year list after earning Patriot League Rookie of the Year honors and helping the women’s volleyball team to another NCAA tournament appearance. The freshman middle blocker recorded a season-high ten kills against Colgate on Nov. 7 and a season-high point total of 13.0 against Holy Cross on Oct. 30. Unzue ended the season with the second-highest hitting percentage at AU, trailing only behind teammate Monika Smidova, the Patriot League Player of the Year. If Unzue builds upon her success in 2015, she will continue to be a force to be reckoned with next year.
Male: Delante Jones (men’s basketball) and James Washington (men’s basketball)
Although the men’s basketball team has struggled to string together a series of wins this season, freshmen Delante Jones and James Washington stand out as Rookies of the Year due to their immediate contributions and strong performances on the court. Jones, a 6’5 guard/forward from Virginia, and Washington, a 6’1 guard from California, came to AU as highly acclaimed recruits, and their performances so far this year suggest that more greatness is likely to come as the young players continue to adapt to head coach Brennan’s Princeton Offense. Jones has already recorded double figures in half a dozen games so far this year, hitting a season-high of 20 points against Wagner on Dec. 6. Washington’s highest point-scoring game came in late November when he notched 19 points in AU’s 68-50 win over New Hampshire. He hit 7-9 from inside the paint and recorded an 80% three-point percentage, sinking 4 out of his five shots against the Wildcats. Both freshman have been consistent starters for Brennan and the Eagles and will take on more Patriot League foes as the team moves into its January schedule.
Coach of the Year: Barry Goldberg (volleyball)
AU womens head volleyball coach Barry Goldberg has spent his coaching career at AU accumulating accolades, and he added several more to his resume in 2015 after leading the Eagles to another Patriot League Championship and NCAA tournament appearance. The 2015 Patriot League Coach of the Year helped three of his athletes earn conference awards (Smidova, Unzue and sophomore Libero Hoakalei Dawson). Goldberg has been a part of AU volleyball since before the team joined the Patriot League, and while the coach said he enjoys watching his team win awards, he emphasized that the best part of his job was working with the athletes.
“It feels great to just look back at all these years and all these people that have gone through, and mostly it’s really about the people,” Goldberg said in a previous interview in December with The Eagle.
May 2015 Graduates of the Year
Female: Jen Dumiak (women’s basketball)
When Jen Dumiak graduated in May with her masters degree in Mathematics, she left her name etched in the AU women’s basketball record books. A Patriot League Scholar Athlete of the Year, 1-AAA ADA Scholar Athlete of the Year and ECAC All-Star in 2015, Dumiak led the Eagles with her skills on the court and in the classroom.
“She’s our leader, she’s the smartest player, but she loves the assist as much as she loves to score,” Gebbia said to The Eagle after AU won the Patriot League Championship in March.
Dumiak’s ability to create plays on the court and put the ball in the basketball will be missed by sports fans at AU as well as her teammates, coaches and professors.
Male: Darius “Pee Wee” Gardner (men’s basketball)
Darius “Pee-Wee” Gardner had a gift. Standing just 5-9, Gardner averaged 38.5 minutes and 10.5 points per game in 2015, hitting multiple buzzer-beaters throughout the regular season to help the Eagles accumulate a 17-16 overall record and finish second in the Patriot League behind Lafayette. Head coach Brennan cites his athleticism as a key reason for AU’s success last spring.
“We're small, but we battled. Pee Wee is an unbelievable player," Brennan said in an interview with The Eagle after AU’s win against Holy Cross on Feb. 2.
Honorable Mention seniors:
- John Schoof (men’s basketball)
- Shaquilla Curtis (women’s basketball)
- Melissa Parker (diving)
- Grace Wilson (field hockey)