Michigan State Announces Major Athletic Award Winners
June 21, 2008
EAST LANSING, Mich. -Six Michigan State University student-athletes have been recognized for excellence both on the playing field and in the classroom as they have earned the school's highest athletic awards for 2007-08.
The awards include the George Alderton Male and Female Athletes of the Year, the Big Ten Conference Medals of Honor, the Chester Brewer Leadership Award and the Dr. James Feurig Achievement and Service Award. A panel of administrators and head coaches selected the winners.
Junior goaltender Jeff Lerg (Livonia, Mich.) was named the George Alderton Male Athlete of the Year, while senior women's golfer Sara Brown (Tucson, Ariz.) earned George Alderton Female Athlete of the Year honors. Both earn the award for the second straight year, marking the first time in the history of the Alderton Award that the men's and women's winners are the same for two consecutive years.
Lerg becomes the first back-to-back Alderton male winner since Mateen Cleaves (1999-2000), and just the third in the award's 27-year history. After leading the Spartans to the 2007 national title as a sophomore, Lerg was stellar was once his junior season, ranking among the nation's leaders in saves percentage and goals-against average. He earned All-America and Academic All-America honors, and was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker and Sullivan Awards.
Brown, a first-team All-Big Ten selection for the third straight year, recorded the best stroke average in school history with a 74.07 and won three individual tournaments. The honorable mention All-American selection finished her career as the school's all-time scoring leader with a 75.27 stroke average. Brown is only the third women's athlete to earn the Alderton Award in back-to-back seasons, and just the second women's golfer to win the award twice (Emily Bastel, 2000 and 2002).
Men's basketball guard Drew Neitzel (Wyoming, Mich.) received the Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor along with rower Kate Burdick (Ann Arbor, Mich.). The Conference Medal of Honor is presented to a male and female senior student-athlete at each conference institution for outstanding athletic and academic achievement.
Men's golfer Ryan Brehm (Mount Pleasant, Mich.) received the Chester Brewer Leadership Award, while swimmer Matthew McNichols (Naperville, Ill.) earned the Dr. James Feurig Service and Achievement Award.
AWARD - WINNER
GEORGE ALDERTON MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
WINNER: Jeff Lerg (Hockey)
Jeff Lerg has not only established himself as one of the elite goaltenders in college hockey, but is also putting together one of the most accomplished careers of any Spartan athlete. In 2007-08, he put together one of the most decorated campaigns in school history; the netminder was a Hobey Baker finalist, a Second-Team All-America selection, the CCHA First-Team goaltender, and the CCHA Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He was a finalist for CCHA Player of the Year honors, was named the Michigan College Athlete of the Year and was one of five finalists for the AAU's Sullivan Award, honoring the top amateur athlete in the United States. In addition, he was voted "Michigan's Best," the top sports figure in the state in a reader vote by the Detroit Free Press.
"Winning this award was such an honor last year - and winning it twice, to me, is unbelievable," said Lerg. "There are so many athletes here at Michigan State who accomplish great things each year. To be recognized is such a tremendous honor for me."
"Jeff Lerg embodies all that we want to see in our student-athletes," noted head coach Rick Comley. "He is an outstanding student, he is one of the best college hockey players in the country, is a fantastic leader on our team, and he is engaged in community activities. Jeff excels in whatever he undertakes. He has been a standout for us for three seasons, and he is poised to have an outstanding senior campaign."
Lerg earned team MVP honors for the second consecutive season, finishing the season ninth in the country in saves percentage (.926), which tied for sixth-best all-time in the MSU annals, and a 2.22 GAA, which ranked 18th nationally and ninth-best in the Spartan record book. His 24 victories was the fourth-highest total in the country this season, and puts him tied for eighth in the MSU records. He set his career-best in shutouts (four, eighth all-time at MSU) and saves (1,136, which ranks third in the MSU annals). Lerg's career numbers also rank among the top five all-time at Michigan State in several categories: save percentage (.922), second; saves (2,956), second; goals-against average (2.22), third; career shutouts (10), fourth; wins (67), fifth; games played (114), fourth; and consecutive games played (63), first.
Lerg is a three-year starter who has guided the hockey program into at least the second round of the NCAA Tournament for three straight seasons, making Michigan State one of just three schools to accomplish that feat along with Boston College and North Dakota. He backstopped the Spartans to the 2007 NCAA title, and was named the University's George Alderton Award winner as the top male athlete of the year. In addition, he was named the USA Hockey College Player of the Year. As a freshman, Lerg emerged as the starter in January and went on an impressive run that saw him earn CCHA Rookie of the Year honors, then emerged as the CCHA Tournament MVP when he helped the Spartans capture the 2006 CCHA title.
Lerg's academic standing is as impressive as his hockey resume. He maintains a 3.77 grade-point average as a finance major, and has twice been the Spartan's nominee as the CCHA Scholar-Athlete, which honors one athlete per team. In addition to earning first-team Academic All-America honors, he was named the CCHA Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
Meanwhile, he has also involved himself with several community service initiatives. Lerg participates in the Big Brothers program, and is a big brother to 10-year-old Malik from Lansing. He has participated in Teams for Toys, an MSU initiative for all athletic teams which "adopts" a family at the holidays. In addition, he has worked with Trick or Treat for kids with cancer, the "Make A Change" program which raises money for cancer research, the Asthma Association, Children's Miracle Network, Project Read at local elementary schools, "Jump Start Your Heart", Junior Spartan Tailgate, "Fall into Fitness" (promoting health and wellness), the Spartan Junior Tailgate, and "Fall into Fitness" (promoting health and wellness).
PAST WINNERS - ALDERTON MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR:
GEORGE ALDERTON FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
WINNER: Sara Brown (Women's Golf)
For the second-consecutive season, senior Sara Brown has stood out as the top female student-athlete at Michigan State. Arguably the greatest women's golfer in Spartan history, Brown was the leader, both on the off the course, for the nationally ranked squad that advanced to its ninth-straight NCAA Regional and placed second at the Big Ten Championship. The Spartans had seven top-three finishes in 11 events this season, including three team titles, which tied for second in the nation and was most in a single-season since the 2001-02 Spartans.
Aside from the team success, Brown continued to fill her build upon her impressive collegiate resume, becoming the ninth All-American in Michigan State women's golf history at season's end, in addition to being an All-Big Ten First Team selection for the third-straight season. Brown finished her career as the school's all-time scoring leader with a 75.27 stroke average. She also holds the top-two single-season averages, including a school-record 74.08 this season.
"Our program is so thrilled that Sara has won the George Alderton Athlete of the Year award for a second year in a row," said MSU head women's golf coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll. "She is so deserving as she is now on the record books as the best player in the history of our team. Sara was a leader, both in the classroom and on the golf course, and will be missed dearly. We are excited as she has now embarked on her professional career and will be the next Spartan representing us on the LPGA Tour."
Her play this season ranked her No. 21 in the nation by Golfstat and No. 24 by Golfweek/Sagarin, as she had seven top-10 finishes in the team's 12 events. Among those outings, she has three individual tournament titles, which tied for second all-time in a MSU single-season. In the fall, she posted two top-10 finishes including a tie for second in the season opening Fossum Invitational. However, as the spring season began, Brown started a string of five-straight tournaments in which she was the Spartans' top finisher. In the second tournament of the spring, the Tucson, Ariz., native posted a seven-stroke win at the Central District Invitational, earning her Golfweek, Golf World and Big Ten Player of the Week accolades. Brown followed it up with an eight-stroke victory at the "Mo"Morial Invitational, to repeat as Golfweek National Player of the Week. After a tie for eighth at the Bryan National Collegiate, she responded with her third title of the season at the Lady Buckeye Invitational, which again earned her weekly recognition from the Big Ten. Brown ended her career by tying for seventh at the Big Ten Championship and 30th at the NCAA West Regional.
Brown also excelled in the classroom, having been an Academic All-Big Ten Team choice three times and this year was named to the ESPN The Magazine/CoSIDA Women's At-Large Academic All-District IV Second Team. In addition, she was the team's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) representative the last two years and has been active in various community service activities, including Team for Toys and Athletes for Kids.
PAST WINNERS - ALDERTON FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR:
BIG TEN CONFERENCE MEDAL OF HONOR
MALE WINNER: Drew Neitzel (Basketball)
Drew Neitzel played many different roles during his career at Michigan State, so it should come as no surprise that he was able to handle the many different responsibilities needed to excel in both the classroom and on the basketball court.
In 2008, Neitzel became just the fifth player in Michigan State men's basketball history to earn Academic All-America honors, earning a spot on the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America second team. On the court, he earned First-Team All-Big Ten honors from the league's coaches, becoming the first Spartan to earn first-team honors in back-to-back years since Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson in 2000. Among Neitzel's other honors, he was named a USBWA and NABC All-District honoree, voted team MVP by his teammates and the media, earned Academic All-Big Ten honors for the third straight season, and was a tri-recipient of the team's Scholar-Athlete Award.
"When I entered Michigan State as a freshman, I had lofty dreams of excelling as a student and as an athlete," said Neitzel. "To win the Conference Medal of Honor as a senior is a great way to cap off a career. I feel very fortunate to win, given the number of talented student-athletes in every sport that achieve excellence in competition and the classroom. It's important to note, that I couldn't have achieved success without the help of many people, from my teammates and coaches pushing me and supporting me, to the great academic support at the Clara Bell Smith Student-Athlete Academic Center, and many other people who helped me along the way during my time at Michigan State."
Neitzel averaged 13.9 points and 4.1 assists as a senior, finishing his career with 1,534 points and 582 assists, becoming just the third Spartan and 12th player in Big Ten history with 1,500 points and 500 assists. In addition to finishing his career 14th in MSU career scoring and fourth in career assists, he also ranks among the school's all-time leaders in 3-pointers made (3rd, 273), 3-pointers attempted (3rd, 684), games played (2nd, 138) and games started (5th, 117). He finished as Michigan State's career leader in free-throw percentage (.866).
This past season, Neitzel made 97 3-pointers, good for the third-best single-season total in MSU history. He ranked among the Big Ten leaders in assists (4th), 3-point field goals made (4th), free-throw percentage (4th) and scoring (7th). Neitzel led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.84), ranking seventh in the nation. He finished his career ranked 10th in Big Ten history in career assists.
Serving as co-captain for the second season, Neitzel led the Spartans to a 27-9 record and a 10th-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, advancing to the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in the last 11 years. It was the second trip to the Sweet 16 for Neitzel, who guided MSU to the 2005 Final Four as a freshman starting point guard.
"Drew has demonstrated over a four-year period what we should call the ultimate student-athlete," said men's basketball coach Tom Izzo. "He took care of business on the court, off the court and in the classroom, and approached each area of his life with passion. He has been an ideal representative of Michigan State in the community, and he is very deserving of this honor."
Neitzel becomes the first men's basketball player to win the Conference Medal of Honor since Chris Hill in 2005, and just the sixth overall, joining Hill, Jay Vincent (1981), Greg Kelser (1979), Pete Gent (1964) and Robert Anderegg (1959).
In May, Neitzel received his undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary humanities.
PAST WINNERS - BIG TEN CONFERENCE MEDAL OF HONOR MALE WINNERS:
FEMALE WINNER: Kate Burdick (Rowing)
Kate Burdick was a three-year mainstay in the Spartan varsity eight, made three NCAA National Championship Regatta appearances (2005, 2006, 2008), and helped the Spartans to their best-ever finishes in both 2006 and 2008. In 2008, Burdick was selected to the All-Big Ten second team, and earned first-team All-Region honors after MSU captured the Central Sprints title.
A 3.99 GPA as a kinesiology major, Burdick was an Academic All-Big Ten pick, earned CRCA All-Academic kudos, and also won MSU's President's Award at the Student-Athlete Support Service's Academic Gala. The President's Award is given annually to the graduating male and female with the highest GPA in the graduating senior class. It was the second straight year that Burdick earned Academic All-America honors.
"We're very proud of Kate," noted Michigan State head coach Matt Weise. "She has been a major contributor to our success over her career, and helped us to the best season in program history with a Big Ten and Central Region title this year. So much of that success came from the leadership in our senior class. She is the ideal of a student-athlete as she achieves such great successes both in the classroom and on the water."
PAST WINNERS - BIG TEN CONFERENCE MEDAL OF HONOR FEMALE WINNERS:
CHESTER BREWER LEADERSHIP AWARD
WINNER: Ryan Brehm (Men's Golf)
If you speak to anyone who has met Michigan State senior men's golfer Ryan Brehm, you will only hear the most positive things about the All-American student-athlete. Brehm, the team captain for the Spartan team that was nationally ranked all season, won its second-straight Big Ten Championship and advanced to the NCAA Regional, is stereotypical of what a collegiate captain should be. He is always willing to take time to mentor, not only his peers, but local youths, and help develop everyone around him into better golfers, and even more importantly, better people.
"I am really excited about Ryan receiving the award," said Michigan State men's golf head coach Sam Puryear. "He was a true leader on our team and I think he exemplifies everything that the award was created to support. He was our backbone in a bevy of ways. These leadership qualities are going to allow all of his dreams to come true."
This season was his most successful as a Spartan. Brehm's season was capped by being named the 13th All-American in Michigan State men's golf history. He won four tournaments, setting a new program single-season record, in addition to placing in the top-four in seven of the team's 12 events. The Mount Pleasant, Mich., native also ranked No. 38 nationally by Golfweek/Sagarin and posted a season stroke average of 72.59, which is third best in a MSU single-season. Also, this season, he shot a 64 in the second round of the Fighting Irish Invitational (Oct. 1), tying his own record for low 18-hole score in MSU history.
"The leadership award is a credit to my teammates and coaches for allowing me to help such a young and talented group of guys throughout this season," said Brehm. "I also credit the way that they conducted themselves through the peaks and valleys of an entire schedule. I am proud and humbled to have been a part of such a great program, and will carry many of the experiences with me for the rest of my life."
Brehm is a four-time member of the All-Big Ten teams, having been a first team selection as a sophomore and senior, and a second team choice as a freshman and junior. This season, he placed second at the Big Ten Championships, the third time Brehm has garnered runner-up honors at the conference championship. In addition, he is a three-time selection to the Division I PING All-Midwest Region Team and was a Mid-Season All-American by Golf World this winter. Brehm ends his Michigan State career with five individual titles and a scoring average of 73.30, both program records.
His accolades did not end on the golf course, as he was the team's Big Ten Sportsmanship Award winner this year and was named to the Academic All-Big Ten for the third season. Brehm has been the team's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) representative since 2006 and has participated in countless community service activities over his four years in East Lansing, including Make A Change, Athletes 4 Kids and Mid-Michigan Leadership Academy.
PAST WINNERS - CHESTER BREWER LEADERSHIP AWARD:
DR. JAMES FEURIG ACHIEVEMENT & SERVICE AWARD
WINNER: Matthew McNichols (Men's Swimming and Diving)
Through the Student-Athlete Support Services Department (SASS), Michigan State student-athletes are active in the community with the Multicultural and PACT (Putting Athletes and Community Together) programs. Few student-athletes gave as much as Spartan swimmer Matt McNichols.
"Matt is one of the greatest student-athletes I have ever coached. He's a fantastic person," MSU swimming & diving head coach Matt Gianiodis said. "He comes from a great family and he's a hard worker. He is one of the most selfless students I have ever seen and he truly deserves everything he earns."
As a senior, McNichols served as MSU's SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee) president. In that role, he represented Michigan State at the Big Ten meetings in Chicago and the athletic council meetings.
In the summer of 2007, McNichols was one of 325 student-athletes in the nation to attend the NCAA Leadership Conference in Orlando, Fla. He also served on a coordinating committee for the Children's Miracle Network and he assisted the MSU hockey team with the Shoot For The Cure events for the Cure Kids Cancer Foundation.
In addition, he spent three years as a Pen Pal, corresponding and visiting local elementary school students. He also spoke as a role model at various D.A.R.E. graduation ceremonies.
As a team, the Michigan State swimming & diving program is very active in the community, with McNichols always in the front of the line. He helped with the team's Christmas Toy Drive at the Lansing Salvation Army in December, and also with the team's Relay For Life efforts at Michigan State this past year.
"He was always someone that responded when help was needed," said Angela Howard, associate director of SASS and director of the Life Skills program. "He led by example as well as words. He was always a role model to younger children and a very positive representative of Michigan State University."
In the pool, McNichols was a key member of the swimming & diving team. The Illinois native was a team captain as a senior and a two- time winner of the program's Jack Seibold Award for Leadership. McNichols, who carried a 3.56 GPA, graduated in May with a packaging degree.
FEURIG ACHIEVEMENT & SERVICE AWARD PAST WINNERS: