Seventy-eight senior student-athletes were honored on Saturday at The University of Scranton's 28th annual Senior Student-Athlete brunch, held in the McIlhenny Ballroom in the DeNaples Center.
The event featured the presentation of a plaque to each senior student-athlete as well as the presentation of Merit Awards to each student-athlete with a cumulative grade-point average of 3.5 or higher. The luncheon also featured the presentation of the Beining Award and culminated with seven special awards presented to student-athletes.
The Beining Award, which is presented annually to an individual for special contributions to the athletics department, was given to Dr. Willis Conover, professor emeritus of history, who has been a long-time faculty mentor for the men's lacrosse team. Dr. Conover, who worked with the men's lacrosse team since the Royals' faculty mentor program began nearly a decade ago, went above and beyond, attending regular academic meetings with the team and coaches, joining the team on the sideline at all home games and being a tremendous resource for the student-athletes on the men's lacrosse team. While officially retired since 2009, he remains active with the University and still teaches in the history department.
The luncheon was highlighted by the presentation of the Ron Willensky, Father Fitzpatrick, Peter A. Carlesimo and Frank O'Hara Awards.
Ron Willensky Award – Claire Eberle, women's lacrosse
The Ron Willensky Award is presented to a member of the senior class who has overcome extreme hardship in his or her athletic career and personal life to excel in both athletics and in personal life. The award has been presented since 1993.
Eberle overcame a life-threatening health issue just before the start of her senior year to excel on the field and in the classroom while inspiring the women's lacrosse team to a record-breaking season. While vacation with her family in August, she was rushed to the hospital after suffering from severe pain and being unable to stand while having difficulty breathing. Her doctors, who said that she might not have woken up had she gone to sleep instead of coming to the hospital, diagnosed her with multiple pulmonary embolisms in both of her lungs, along with anemia and iron deficiency.
Eberle spent four days in the hospital and returned to Scranton a week later for the start of her senior year, which was also filled with numerous trips to New Jersey for doctor's appointments and more testing. Determined to return to the field, she first began to walk, do range of motion exercises, and supported her teammates who were in full swing in their fall ball season.
Eberle's determination and effort were realized on February 16, 2019, when she took the field in Scranton's season-opening win over No. 16 Messiah at Weiss Field. She would go on to play in 17 games this season and made eight starts while leading the women's lacrosse team to a program record 16 wins, a Landmark Conference runner-up finish, and the team's highest-ever national ranking (18th). Eberle was also named to the Landmark Conference All-Sportsmanship Team and earned Landmark Conference Academic Honor Roll accolades for the third year in a row.
Father Fitzpatrick Awards – Susan Neggia, women's swimming & diving; Elyse Smilnak, women's tennis; and Chris Whalen, men's swimming & diving
Named in honor of the late Reverend John J. Fitzpatrick, S.J., long-time friend and counselor of Royal student-athletes, this award is given to a student-athlete who has demonstrated outstanding leadership and given extraordinary service and contributions to The University of Scranton community and society in general.
Neggia, a four-year member of the women's swimming & diving team made her mark not only in the pool, but also in the on-campus and in the local community. Locally, she has devoted her free time to several organizations throughout Northeastern PA, including the Regional Hospital of Scranton, St. Joseph's Center, Compassionate Care Hospice, the United Neighborhood Centers of NEPA, the Jewish Community Center, and St. Francis of Assisi Food Kitchen.
On the Scranton campus, Neggia has helped her fellow students as both a CTLE tutor and as an undergraduate teaching and research assistant. She even helped an ASL professor on campus throw a surprise birthday party for a deaf child living in the Scranton community. She has also been active the Special Olympics, Make a Splash Swim lessons, safe trick-or-treat, Scranton Street Sweep and Relay for Life.
In the pool, she was the team's captain this past season and is a member of a program record holding 400-medley relay team, earning four letters in swimming in her career. She is a three-time Landmark Conference Academic Honor Roll honoree.
Smilnak, a four-year member of the women's tennis team, made her impact all over the world in addition to her efforts on the court for the Royals. Over her four years at Scranton, she has made three international mission trips, going to Haiti in January of this year as a medical volunteer and earlier this month to Haiti as a construction volunteer. In 2017, she made her first mission trip, going to Bolivia as a hospital volunteer.
On-campus, Smilnak has served as an orientation assistant for three years, has been a retreat leader for three years, and served a PACT Presenter, Promotion Awareness of the College Transition. She's also volunteered her time at the Edward R. Leahy Center as a Spanish Interpreter, and as a tutor in the Center for Teaching & Learning Excellence, where she has helped fellow students in the sciences, statistics, psychology and Spanish.
In the athletics department, Smilnak has been a two-year officer for the Royals' student-athlete advisory committee, while also serving as the women's tennis team representative for the last three years. On the court, she's served as one of the women's tennis team captains for the last two years. Smilnak is a three-time Landmark Conference Academic Honor Roll selection and has twice been named to the Landmark Conference All-Sportsmanship Team.
Whalen has also distinguished himself when it comes to helping others while competing for the men's swimming & diving team for three seasons. Outside of the swimming pool, he has volunteered for such organizations such as Make-A-Wish, the Ronald Donald House and Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip, N.Y.
On the Scranton campus, Whale has served as an RA since 2018 and is a member of the American Sign Language Club. He has served The University at the Scranton Street Sweep, Safe Trick or Treat and has been a P.S. I Love you Day Student Ambassador for three years. Whalen has also served as a tutor for the Center of Teaching and Learning Excellence, helping his fellow students in general studies, as well as organic and nursing chemistry, general physiology and genetics.
In the pool, he served as Scranton's team captain this past year and earned three letters in the sport. He was a Second Team All-Landmark Conference selection in three relay events and one individual event during his sophomore year and is a three-time Landmark Conference Academic Honor Roll selection.
Peter A. Carlesimo Awards – Erica Licari, women's soccer, and Dan D'Agostini, wrestling
The award, which is named in honor of the late Pete Carlesimo, former director of athletics, and head football, basketball and cross country coach at the University, is given annually to a male and female student-athlete who has excelled both athletically and academically. Carlesimo, along with his entire family, represent the ideals of a Jesuit education. We are proud to name these awards in his honor.
Licari excelled on the field and in the classroom as a four year member of the women's soccer team, totaling 59 points on 21 goals and 17 assists to rank in the top-20 in all three categories in program history. She led the Royals to two Landmark Conference championships and three NCAA Tournament appearances.
A three-time All-Landmark Conference selection earning First Team accolades in 2017, Licari also earned United Soccer Coaches All-Region First Team accolades in '17 and second team All-Region honors in 2018. Overall, she helped Scranton collect a 61-11-9 record in her career, including a 28-0-0 ledger in Landmark Conference regular season play. The Royals won the Landmark Conference twice in her career in 2016 and 2017 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament three times, winning a First Round match twice.
Licari has shined in the classroom as well, boasting a 3.94 cumulative grade point average as a double major in biology and philosophy double major, earning a spot on the dean's list in her first seven semesters. In 2018, she was named to CoSIDA Academic All-District First Team and the United Soccer Coaches Scholar All-Region Third Team. In 2017, she was named a USC Scholar All-American, garnering a Third Team selection, to go along with a Scholar All-Region First Team pick. The Landmark Conference's Senior Scholar Athlete for women's soccer in 2018, she was named to the conference's academic honor roll three times in her career, as well.
D'Agostini enjoyed a stellar four-year career on the wrestling mat and in the classroom for Scranton. During his career, he won 108 matches, the third-most in program history while ranking eighth with 20 pins in his four-year career. He also won nearly 80 percent of his bouts, the 13th best all-time winning percentage.
In his senior season, D'Agostini broke a school-record with his 39 win of the season at the NCAA National Championships after he became just the 12th Royal to reach the national tournament. He was the runner-up at NCAA Mideast Regional Championships, falling only to the top-ranked wrestler in the nation in overtime. He finished his historic senior season with a 39-5 overall record and was a perfect 19-0 in dual meet competitions.
The winner of four invitational tournament championships and the Most Outstanding Wrestler at this season's Electric City Duals, D'Agostini has been equally impressive in the classroom. He is the first Scranton competitor to earn National Wrestling Coaches Association Scholar All-American honors three years in a row. A Dean's List honoree during five semesters at Scranton, he is a member of the Sigma Pi Sigma physics honor society and is president of the Lambda Nu chapter of the HKN engineering honor society. An Electrical Engineering majoring, he holds an impressive, 3.74 cumulative grade point average.
Frank O'Hara Awards – Bridgette Mann, women's basketball, and Dan D'Agostini, wrestling
The O'Hara Awards are given to the top male and female student-athletes in the senior class. They are named after Frank O'Hara, a 1925 graduate who diligently served the needs of students, faculty and staff for more than 52 years in his roles as registrar, director of alumni relations and acting president until his passing in 1977.
Affectionately known as Mr. University of Scranton, O'Hara has a building named after him on campus and the office of alumni relations' most distinguished awards are also named in his honor. The athletics department has been granting the O'Hara Award to its top male athlete of the senior class since 1970 and to its top female athlete since 1979.
Mann etched her name in the Scranton record books as one of the most decorated players in women's basketball history, earning WBCA Honorable Mention All-American honors in both her junior and senior seasons. She also achieved both Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year at both the conference and regional levels, earning D3hoops.com Mid-Atlantic Region and Landmark Conference Rookie of the Year honors as a freshman, and Regional and Conference Player of the Year honors from both organizations as a junior.
Mann, who captured three All-Landmark Conference honors following her Rookie of the Year campaign in the 2015-16 season, claiming Second Team honors as a sophomore and First Team accolades her junior and senior years. On the court, she led her team to Landmark Conference titles in all four of her seasons, garnering championship MVP during her junior year. Mann holds the program's single-season record for three-pointers made. She also ranks second in career free throw percentage, tied for third in three point percentage, eighth in points and free throws made, 13th in points per game, assists, and field goals made.
In addition to the four Landmark Conference championships, Mann led Scranton to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances with at least two wins each postseason with two Sweet 16 trips, an Elite 8 run during her freshman year, and an appearance in the Final Four this past season.
D'Agostini put together one of the most accomplished careers at Scranton with eye-popping accomplishments that place him among the most elite athletes in Royals wrestling history. During his four-year career, he won 108 matches, the third-most in program history while ranking eighth with 20 pins in his four-year career. He also won nearly 80 percent of his bouts, the 13th best all-time winning percentage.
In a record-setting senior season this past winter, won a school-record 39 matches and became Scranton's first NCAA national qualifier in more than a decade by finishing as the runner-up at 197 pounds at NCAA Mideast Regional Championships. His record-breaking win came at the national championships, where he finished one win shy of All-American status. His 39-5 record on the year marked the program's 11th best winning percentage and he also finished the year a perfect 19-0 in dual meet competition.
The winner of at least 21 matches in all four of his seasons at Scranton, he has three of the program's top-25 single season win totals. He won individual championships at four invitational tournaments during his career and was named the Electric City Duals Most Outstanding Wrestler this past season.