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NCAA to honor top student-athletes at Convention

A group of extraordinary student-athletes will be honored in January as the NCAA Today’s Top 10 Award winners.

The award recognizes former student-athletes for their successes on the field, in the classroom and in the community. Recipients completed their athletics eligibility during the 2013-14 academic year and will be recognized at the Honors Celebration during the NCAA Convention in the Washington, D.C. area.

The NCAA Honors Committee selects the honorees and is comprised of representatives of member schools and conferences, as well as nationally distinguished former student-athletes.

Before 2013, the award recognized eight student-athletes and was known as Today’s Top VIII. The NCAA Honors Committee then expanded the award to include 10 honorees to recognize the increased number of student-athletes, sports and championship opportunities.

The 2015 Today’s Top 10 awardees are:

Lauren Battista

School: Bentley University

Conference: Northeast-10

Majors: Marketing, Liberal Studies

GPA: 3.96

Sport: Women’s Basketball

In her senior season with Bentley’s women’s basketball team, Lauren Battista led her team to a Division II national championship with a 35-0 record. The two-year team captain graduated in 2014 as the all-time leading scorer of the winningest women’s basketball program in Division II history, while also holding school records for career games, games started, field goals and field goal attempts. In 2014, Battista was named the Honda Division II Athlete of the Year, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Division II Player of the Year and the Women’s Division II Bulletin National Player of the Year. Battista earned multiple All-America accolades during her collegiate career, becoming a three-time WBCA All-American and two-time Daktronics All-American. She won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2013 Maccabiah Games. Battista also excelled in the classroom, ending her eligibility as the 2013-14 Capital One Division II Academic All-America of the Year for all sports and for women’s basketball.

Abbey D’Agostino

School: Dartmouth College

Conference: Ivy League

Major: Psychology

GPA: 3.75

Sports: Women’s Cross Country, Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field

Abbey D’Agostino dominated women’s cross country and track and field during her collegiate career, winning seven NCAA individual championships across the two sports and ranking as one of the winningest NCAA student-athletes ever. D’Agostino was the first female Dartmouth student-athlete to earn an individual NCAA national title when she won the 2012 Division I outdoor track and field 5,000-meter race. She is now the most decorated individual student-athlete — male or female — in Ivy League history. She is also the only woman in NCAA history to win both the 3,000 and the 5,000 twice at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, accomplishing the feat in 2013 and 2014. The 13-time United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) All-American won 16 Ivy League championships in her career, and in 2014 became the first Ivy League woman to win the 3,000, the 5,000 and the 10,000 in a career, let alone the same Ivy League championship meet. She finished fifth in the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 5,000 in 2012, narrowly missing qualifying for a trip to London by two-tenths of a second. D’Agostino also dominated in the classroom, earning multiple USTFCCCA Scholar Athlete of the Year awards, and was named the Division I 2014 Capital One Female Academic All-American of the Year for track and field. She capped off her time at Dartmouth by winning the Kenneth Archibald Prize, Dartmouth’s highest athletics honor presented to a member of the graduating class who was the best all-around athlete while also demonstrating moral worth and high standing in scholarship.

Joe Fletcher

School: Loyola University Maryland

Conference: Patriot League

Major: Accounting

GPA: 3.83

Sport: Men’s Lacrosse

A three-time All-American and member of the 2012 Division I men’s lacrosse national championship team at Loyola Maryland, Joe Fletcher established himself as a national powerhouse on the field. In 2014, the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association honored him with the William Schmeisser Award as the top defensive player in the nation, and he also competed as the only collegiate lacrosse player on the 30-man U.S. men’s lacrosse national team leading up to this summer’s world championships. Fletcher earned multiple conference athletics accolades, in 2013 as the ECAC Lacrosse League Defensive Player of the Year and in 2014 as Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year. His achievements in the classroom were as impressive as those on the field. He was named the 2014 Patriot League Men’s Lacrosse Scholar-Athlete of the Year, and later the 2014 Patriot League Male Scholar-Athlete of the year. Fletcher also dedicated significant portions of his time to serve his campus community, as a member of the Green & Grey society (which serves as a liaison between students and faculty and administration), volunteer high school lacrosse coach and coordinator of the campus SAAC’s record-breaking food drive for the Baltimore Food Bank. For his service and leadership, he received Loyola’s Magis Award, which is presented annually to the top student leader.

Kristen Hixson

School: Grand Valley State University

Conference: Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference

Major: Finance

GPA: 3.97

Sports: Women’s Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field

During her time at Grand Valley State, Kristen Hixson won three individual national titles in the pole vault, setting a new record at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships by clearing 4.5meters, a feat that placed her eighth best in the world at the time and automatically qualified her for the USA Outdoor Track and Field national championships. The seven-time NCAA Division II All-American led her team to a finish in the top three at the 2014 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships, in addition to four national championships (in both indoor and outdoor track and field) during the 2011 and 2012 seasons.  She also earned several individual accolades at the conference level, capped by being named the 2014 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Women’s Indoor Field Athlete of the Year. Hixson succeeded in the classroom as well, graduating magna cum laude with a finance degree. She was twice named the Capital One Academic All-America of the Year for Division II Women’s Track and Field/Cross Country (2013 and 2014). In 2013-14, she was named the Seidman College of Business Outstanding Finance Student of the Year.

Gabe Ikard

School: University of Oklahoma

Conference: Big 12

Major: Multidisciplinary Studies – Biological Sciences

GPA: 4.00

Sport: Football

Gabe Ikard graduated with his undergraduate degree in May 2012 with a 4.0 GPA and had already begun work on his graduate degree leading into the 2013 football season. The offensive lineman and five-year letterman was named a team captain for his junior and senior years, and led the Sooners to two Big 12 titles and wins in three bowl games: the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl, the 2012 Insight Bowl and the 2011 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Ikard was the first Sooner football player to earn Capital One Academic All-America honors three times and became the first Sooner to be named Capital One Academic All-America of the Year for football. In 2013, the Big 12 recognized him as the 2013 Scholar Athlete of the Year in football, and later he was named the 2014 Big 12 Conference Medal recipient. For his academic success, Ikard earned an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship in the fall 2013 cycle and a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete award and scholarship. Ikard also demonstrated outstanding leadership off the field, volunteering in tornado relief work in 2013 and on a mission trip to Haiti in 2012. He was named the 2013-14 Big 12 Male Sportsman of the Year for his extraordinary display of sportsmanship, community service and academic achievement. Ikard also won the 2013 Wuerffel Award and the 2013 Selmon Spirit Award, each recognizing his excellence in academics, athletics and community service.

Kim Jacob

School: University of Alabama

Conference: Southeastern Conference

Major: Exercise Science

GPA: 4.0

Sport: Women’s Gymnastics

Kim Jacob, a gymnastics student-athlete at Alabama, was the 2014 NCAA All-Around Champion. The 2014 Honda Cup winner as the National Woman Collegiate Athlete of the Year, she was also the 2014 Honda Award winner as the National Gymnast of the Year. Jacob led her team to back-to-back national championships in 2012 and 2011 and was an 11-time All-American gymnast, earning first-team honors in the all-around, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise. Jacob excelled in the classroom as well, winning the NCAA Elite 89 Award at the 2013 national championships as the participating student-athlete boasting the highest GPA. She was named the Capital One Division I Academic All-America of the Year for 2013-14, was a two-time member of the Capital One Academic All-American At-Large Team and was the first and to date only student-athlete to be voted the SEC Gymnastics Scholar-Athlete of the Year three times (2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14). She was recognized by the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches as a four-time Scholastic All-American, and earned both an NCAA and SEC Postgraduate Scholarship. A member of the campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, serving as vice president as a senior, Jacob dedicated time to numerous community service projects such as providing holiday gifts for children with incarcerated parents and building homes following the devastating tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Megan Light

School: Emory University

Conference: University Athletic Association

Majors: Anthropology, Human Biology

GPA: 3.95

Sport: Softball

A two-year softball team captain for Emory, Megan Light established herself as a campus leader both on and off the field. Light was a four-time conference champion and earned three All-America honors from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association, including two first-team nods.  Light is Emory’s career leader in home runs, slugging percentage, runs batted in, doubles and total bases. She also holds seasonal records for Emory in home runs, slugging percentage and runs scored. In 2013, she competed for Team USA at the Maccabiah Games, and she received Emory’s 2013-14 Partin Award, which recognizes a student-athlete for an outstanding career or season performance in a team-based sport. She served four years as the softball team’s representative on Emory’s campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. She also volunteered at a homeless shelter and Global Health Action, where she worked with donors on the Left-Behind Children program in China. In 2014, she was named the Capital One Division III Academic All-America of the Year for softball. Light was a recipient of Emory’s Brittain Award, Emory’s highest student honor, which recognizes a graduate who has demonstrated exemplary service to the university and the greater community. She was also named the 2010 Atlanta Sports Award Female Scholar Athlete of the Year. She went on to earn the 2014 Charles Shepard Scholarship as she pursues her graduate degree, in addition to an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship. Light was also one of nine finalists for the 2014 Woman of the Year Award.

Nicole Michmerhuizen

School: Calvin College

Conference: Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association

Majors: Biochemistry, Engineering

GPA: 3.99

Sports: Women’s Cross Country, Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field

Nicole Michmerhuizen, a five-time All-American in track and field, ran cross country and track and field for Calvin College and won the Division III individual national championship 10,000 meter in 2013. The former team captain led her team to four Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association conference championships in track and field and three MIAA conference championships in cross country. Michmerhuizen holds the school record in the 5,000 meter and 10,000 meter, and her 10,000 meter personal best time is the seventh fastest in NCAA Division III history. She received three Capital One Academic All-America honors and multiple academic scholarship awards, including the 2014 NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship and the 2013-14 Goldwater Research Scholarship, for pursuing DNA research on diabetes as an undergraduate student. She presented research at the Annual Biophysical Society Meetings in Philadelphia in 2013 and San Francisco in 2014, and has published research articles in the Journal of Physical Chemistry, Journal of Virology and Biophysical Journal. Michmerhuizen also spent time working in her community, teaching Sunday school and volunteering with a homeless shelter, the Special Olympics and the West Michigan food bank.

Mark Thomas

School: Livingstone College

Conference: Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association

Major: Business Administration

GPA: 3.71

Sport: Men’s Basketball

Mark Thomas, a student-athlete who played basketball at Livingstone, led his team to its first NCAA Division II national championship tournament appearance in 2013, 134 years after Livingstone was founded.  Thomas led Livingstone to the NCAA Division II tournament again in 2014, the same year Livingstone captured its first Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Championship. While leading Livingstone to the CIAA title, Thomas was named Tournament MVP and CIAA Player of the Year – a first in school history. Also in 2014, he was selected as CIAA Scholar Male Athlete of the Year and named the Boxtorow Division II National Player of the Year. Thomas scored more than 1,000 points during three seasons at Livingstone and holds CIAA records in steals, points per game, points and 3-pointers. He graduated summa cum laude, contributing to his team’s off-the-court recognition as the 2014 CIAA men’s basketball team with the highest cumulative GPA. He served on Livingstone’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and also performed community service for several local organizations, including Habitat for Humanity of Rowan County and the Rowan County Department of Social Services. Additionally, Thomas was the winner of Coca Cola’s Outstanding Student-Athlete award, and he was chosen as an HBCU Grand Prize winner to attend the Black Entertainment Television Experience at LA Live.

Shannon Vreeland

School: University of Georgia

Conference: Southeastern Conference

Majors: Economics, International Affairs

GPA: 3.85

Sport: Women’s Swimming and Diving

Shannon Vreeland competed as a member of the Georgia swimming and diving team, where she was a member of two NCAA championship teams (2013 and 2014). A 19-time All-American, Vreeland swam on four NCAA-winning relays: the 800-yard freestyle relays in 2011, 2012 and 2013, and the 400-yard freestyle relay in 2013. She also earned two individual and five relay titles during her career at the Southeastern Conference Championships. Vreeland helped the 800-yard freestyle relay squad set the U.S. record, while the 400- and 800-yard freestyle relays eclipsed the U.S. Open and NCAA marks. Vreeland has enjoyed tremendous international success as well. She won a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics as a member of the Games’ record-setting 800-freestyle relay and claimed a gold medal at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships; three gold medals at the 2013 World Championships; and a gold at the 2012 Short Course World Championships. Following her senior season, Vreeland was chosen as the 2014 Kansas City Sports Commission’s Sportswoman of the Year. She also collected multiple academic honors, including the SEC H. Boyd McWhorter Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award for all sports; NCAA and SEC postgraduate scholarships; the CSCAA Scholar-Athlete Award; the SEC and Georgia Honor Rolls; and the Ramsey Scholarship for Academic and Athletic Excellence. Vreeland additionally was named to the 2014 SEC Community Service Team for her volunteer work with Georgia’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and organizations such as Special Olympics, Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic and the Athens Food Bank.