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Student-Athletes Honored at SAAC Banquet

April 24, 2014

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SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. - The Seton Hall University Department of Athletics held its annual Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) Awards Banquet on Thursday, April 24, recognizing student-athletes for their achievements in the classroom and on the field of play during the 2013-14 academic year.

The SAAC Awards Banquet honors both scholastic and competitive accomplishments. In addition, awards are presented to one outstanding male and female athlete from the freshman, sophomore and junior classes.

Senior female and male Athlete of the Year Awards will be handed out at the third-annual Senior Banquet; to be held on Tuesday, May 14 at Maplewood Country Club.

In the junior class, Ka-Deidre Simmons (Newark, N.J.) of the women's basketball team was selected as the Female Athlete of the Year while baseball's Sal Annunziata (Bronx, N.Y.) and diver Ben Mitchell (Milford, Pa.) were named co-recipients of the Male Athlete of the Year Award.

At the controls with the ball in her hands in the Pirates' first year under head coach Anthony Bozzella, Simmons unquestionably established herself as not only one of the top players in the BIG EAST but in program history as well. A starter in all 34 games for The Hall, the local product dished out a single-season program record 174 assists, breaking the old mark of 158 set by Kathy O'Reilly 26 years ago. The record-setting effort spurred a rapid ascension up the program's all-time assists list where Simmons currently ranks fifth with 368 for her career. A dual threat who consistently came through for Seton Hall in the clutch, she also set a new single-season record with 195 made free throws and averaged 16.7 points per game; the fourth-highest total in the league. Her exploits helped the Pirates advance to the BIG EAST Tournament quarterfinals and the third round of the WNIT as the team reached the 20-win mark for the first time since the 1994-95 campaign. The postseason brought a slew of accolades for Simmons as the lead guard became the first Pirate in nearly two decades to be named a First Team All-BIG EAST performer and was also Seton Hall's first representative on the BIG EAST All-Tournament squad since 1996. Earlier this week, she added a Second Team All-Metropolitan selection to her collection of awards.

As a mainstay at first base and in the middle of the lineup, Annunziata has been a focal point for a Seton Hall baseball squad that is approaching a fourth-consecutive 30-win season and has spent the last eight weeks ranked among the top-30 teams in the nation. A Third Team All-BIG EAST selection as a sophomore, the Bronx native entered the 2014 campaign as a Preseason First Team All-BIG EAST honoree. Annunziata currently ranks sixth in the conference with a .341 batting average and rates among the top players in the league in a host of other offensive categories. He is the BIG EAST leader with 14 doubles and 67 total bases, stands third with 32 RBIs and his .519 slugging percentage is the fourth-highest in the conference. Far from a one-dimensional player, the 5-foot-11 righty is as sure-handed as they come at first and has committed just one error in 328 chances; boasting a .997 fielding percentage that is tops among BIG EAST position players this season.

In this his third season diving for The Hall, Mitchell continued to turn in the kind of historic performances that have become routine for him throughout his career. The Milford product cemented his status as the premier diver in the conference with a dominant showing at the 2014 BIG EAST Championships, claiming the gold medal from both the one-meter and three-meter boards. As the first Seton Hall male diver to win a conference title, Mitchell's one-meter victory came by a 46-point margin while he completely outclassed the three-meter field with a score that was over 100 points clear of his next closest competitor. His performance earned him the conference's Most Outstanding Male Diver award and he also achieved All-BIG EAST distinction in both disciplines. In the scope of program history, his double-gold day vaulted him into an elite group of three members of the men's program ever to capture multiple conference titles. Mitchell went on to compete in the NCAA Zone A Diving Championships from both boards for the second-straight year, an opportunity he earned during a stellar regular season that was highlighted by a weekend in which he broke his own one-meter and three-meter school records during a tri-meet hosted by Rutgers. This marks the second-straight year that he has earned at least a share of the award for his class after being named Seton Hall's Sophomore Male Athlete of the Year at last spring's SAAC banquet.

This year's female and male Sophomore Athlete of the Year Awards were awarded to a pair of hardwood standouts in Tabatha Richardson-Smith (Bay City, Texas) and Sterling Gibbs (Scotch Plains, N.J.).

The sharp-shooting Richardson-Smith thrived in the Pirates' up-tempo attack, posting a team-best scoring average of 17.1 points per contest that also ranked third overall in the conference. The impressive mark was 12.2 ppg higher than her average output as a freshman; a jump that helped her take home the BIG EAST Most Improved Player Award. A starter in all 34 contests for The Hall, Richardson-Smith was named a Second Team All-BIG EAST performer following a season in which she was twice tabbed as the conference Player of the Week and selected to the weekly Honor Roll on five occasions. Arguably the most prolific scoring force in the league, she sank a single-season school record 85 3-pointers throughout the season and finished the year with 582 points; the third-highest single-season tally in program history. The Lone Star State product was also a key contributor on the defensive end where she led all BIG EAST players with 2.4 steals per game and totaled 82 steals to rank second on the program's all-time single season list.  She also joined teammate Ka-Deidre Simmons as a Second Team All-Metropolitan honoree for Division I earlier this week.

In his first season on the court, Gibbs stabilized the point guard position for head coach Kevin Willard and catapulted the Pirates into the national spotlight by authoring one of the most memorable moments in recent Seton Hall basketball history. While his season will most likely be remembered most for his historic buzzer-beater that took down then #3 Villanova and advanced The Hall to its first BIG EAST Tournament semifinal since 2000-01, Gibbs was a steadying presence at the helm of the Pirates' offense. He recorded a team-high 23 double-digit scoring performances in 32 appearances; topping the 20-point mark six times. Gibbs proved he was adept at finding his own points when needed, scoring at a 13.2 ppg clip that ranked second on the squad and among the top-20 in the league and knocking down 45.2 percent of his attempts from long range (3rd, BIG EAST). The former Seton Hall Prep star was perhaps at his best when creating for others however as he handed out an average of 4.4 assists per contest during league play to rank third in the conference while his 4.2 assists/game average for the entire season was fourth-best in the BIG EAST. 

In the freshman class, women's soccer's Cathy Chukuka (Marlboro, N.J.) was joined by men's golfer Lloyd Jefferson Go (Guadalupe Cebu, Philippines) in earning awards as the most outstanding female and male student-athletes respectively.

Chukuka stepped right into the Pirates' starting-11 during her first season in blue & white, anchoring a back line that helped The Hall record four clean sheets in the fall. A starter in all 17 appearances she made, the Marlboro native quickly asserted herself as one of the best defenders in the league and was recognized at year's end with a Third Team All-BIG EAST selection. In a league replete with competitive squads and talented individuals, she was also just one of two freshmen defenders to receive the honor and also became the first Seton Hall freshman to garner all-conference accolades since 1999. Chukuka was also named to the Virginia Nike Soccer Classic All-Tournament Team during the season and recorded her first collegiate point with an assist in the Pirates' resounding 5-0 victory over rival Villanova on Senior Day.

The remarkable rookie year of Lloyd Jefferson Go has featured five top-10 finishes, the most recent of which came at the Rutherford Intercollegiate where he led a final day surge that saw the Pirates climb to second on the team leaderboard. As an individual, Go fired a 3-under-par, 71-69-70-210 to finish three strokes behind the individual champion, Minnesota's Jose Mendez. The performance marked the fourth time that he has completed a tournament under par, ranking him third on Seton Hall's all-time list. Such efforts have included a third-place finish at the Barnabas Health Intercollegiate where he carded a 5-under-par 139 to match the lowest two round, par 72 score in program history. Between the fall and the spring, he boasts a team-best 72.71 scoring average and has finished as the team's top performer in nine out of 10 tournaments the squad has entered in 2013-14.

This year, Seton Hall Athletics also introduced the The Saint John Paul II Sport and Spirituality Award recognizing a senior who exemplifies the virtues lauded by the "Athlete Pope." The inaugural award was given to men's soccer goalkeeper Kevin Bonder (Whippany, N.J.) who among other ventures has been an active member of Varsity Catholic, a student-athlete centered division of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (F.O.C.U.S.).

The academic awards were presented by Matt Geibel, Director of Academic Support Services for Student-Athletes, and Faculty Athletic Representative, Dr. Laura Schopmmann.

As a group, Seton Hall University student-athletes currently hold a cumulative GPA of 3.279, a new all-time high. Thursday night's banquet provided the opportunity to highlight their collective commitment to academic excellence and reward those who have performed at an exceptional level in the classroom.

The team academic awards, given to the men's and women's squad with the highest cumulative GPAs after the fall 2013 semester, featured a pair of repeat winners as the honors went to men's cross country (3.67) and women's tennis (3.561) for the second-consecutive year. The men's cross country squad also took home the BIG EAST Team Excellence Award last spring for having the top collective GPA among the conference's cross country teams.

The Scholar Athlete of the Year Awards were presented to the senior student-athletes with the highest cumulative grade point averages after the fall 2013 semester. Hannah Basalone (Brea, Calif.), earned the award on the female side for her work as an English major while the male award went to cross country's Carl Johnston (Surrey, British Columbia); a biology major.

Academic standouts from the junior and sophomore classes were also recognized as women's soccer's Emily Hansinger (Mount Laurel, N.J.) and Zack Weigel (Oak Park, Ill.) of baseball earned the sophomore awards while women's golfer Ali Kruse (Overland Park, Kan.) and John Walsh (Deltaville, Va.) of cross country were honored from the junior class.

The Freshman Scholar Athletes, the freshmen with the highest GPA for the fall semester, were Annie Bucca (New Brunswick, N.J.) of the women's swimming & diving team and a pair of baseball players in Jackson Martin (Collegeville, Pa.) and Joe Poduslenko (Glen Mills, Pa.).

The Seton Hall Academic All-Star Team, comprised of the 12 student-athletes with the highest cumulative GPA through a minimum of two full semesters, included Basalone, Hansinger, Johnston, Kruse, Walsh, Katie Adams (Linwood, N.J.) of the women's swimming & diving team, volleyball's Sam Duncan (Tucson, Ariz.), Tyler Orner (Sinking Spring, Pa.) of the men's cross country team, Mary Migton (Ledgewood, N.J.) and Alex Ryan (Aurora, Colo.) from women's cross country, softball's Jen Metzger (Pine Hill, N.J.) and Chloe Sher (Tin Shui Wai, Hong Kong) from women's tennis.

Basalone, Duncan, Johnston, Kruse, Metzger, Migton, Orner, Sher and Walsh all collected the award for the second-straight year while Adams was the 2012-13 Freshman Female Scholar Athlete of the Year.

This year's spirit award was presented to Timothy Cullen, a senior member of the Seton Hall Pep Band.