Eastern Mennonite University held its Athletic Honors Banquet on April 20 in a time of reflection and honoring the journeys of the Royals’ student-athletes. Seniors Tyler Denlinger (Perkasie, Pa./Dock Mennonite Academy) and Becca Hardy (Port Republic, Va./Eastern Mennonite) won the President’s Awards, the highest athletic award given out by EMU.
As the culmination of the evening, Dr. Susan Schultz Huxman presented the awards, based on academic achievement, athletic contribution, Christian commitment, leadership, campus involvement and service.
Denlinger, a biology (pre-med) major, carried a 3.97 GPA as a four-year contributor to the track & field and cross country teams. Specializing in the middle distance track races, he was a 12-time All-ODAC honoree, including being the ODAC Champion in the 2017 outdoor 800m and the 2017 indoor 4x400m relay. He broke the EMU record for the indoor mile at this year’s Old Dominion Athletic Conference Championships. In five different seasons, Denlinger was voted as the ODAC/Farm Bureau Insurance Scholar-Athlete for indoor or outdoor track & field. His academic work earned him recognition as CoSIDA Academic All-District and VaSID Academic All-State. Earlier this spring, Denlinger was also named the male Outstanding Senior Biology student by EMU’s Biology Department. On campus, he served as a community advisor, a member of the Honors Council and as the treasurer of the Student Government Association.
“The thing I value most about my time at EMU is the way I have been exposed to real life situations in a controlled and caring environment,” Denlinger said in his nomination essay. “I’ve learned what it is like to be on a board (SGA), to worship in more diverse ways (chapel), financial frugality and wisdom (investment club), and the love of sport from coaches and teammates. I have mastered none of these things, but feel enabled to succeed in these areas in the years following graduation.”
Hardy, a business administration and accounting double major with a 3.94 GPA, was a four-year starter for the EMU women’s volleyball team. She began her collegiate career playing all-around as an outside hitter before turning into a dominant middle. Hardy averaged 2.11 kills per set over her four seasons, adding 138 blocks. As a senior, she averaged 2.50 kills and was third in the ODAC with a .335 hitting percentage. Hardy earned CoSIDA Academic All-District honors and twice was named to the EMU Invitational All-Tournament Team. On campus, Hardy was a student representative for the Business and Economics Department and invested in diversity as a member of the Latino Student Alliance.
“EMU has provided me such a great education that I am now equipped to work in the accounting field and I feel incredibly ready for grad school,” said Hardy. “It meant the world to me that my own coach would be so understanding and supportive of my accounting endeavors.”
The Athletic Department staff also voted for Athlete of the Year winners. Senior Alec Thibodeaux (Mount Sidney, Va./Fort Defiance) claimed the men’s honor while freshman Hannah Nichols (Fredericksburg, Va./Chancellor) was named the top female.
Thibodeaux had a great finish to his collegiate running career despite lingering injuries. He was at his healthiest during the indoor track season where he broke EMU records in both the 3000m and the 5000m. At the ODAC Championships, he won the 3000m and broke the meet record, while also earning All-ODAC status in the 5000m. Despite an injury midway through the cross country season, Thibodeaux gritted out an All-ODAC finish, giving him an overall total of nine for his career, before earning his third straight All-Region Team spot in the sport.
Nichols also made her highlight in indoor track, earning All-America honors at the NCAA National Championships. The middle distance runner had an incredible first year in Harrisonburg, bettering her career best 800m time in six of her seven indoor meets, including her best time of 2:13.83 in the preliminaries at the national meet. Nichols was fourth after the prelims before coming in sixth as the highest-finishing underclassmen in the finals. She ran a 2:13.47 in the 800m early in the outdoor season before an injury derailed her momentum. Despite not running in more than a month, that outdoor time is still No. 29 in the nation.
Also at the banquet, Josh Elmore (Chester, Va./Matoaca) of men’s volleyball was named the Male Newcomer of the Year while Nichols earned an unprecedented sweep by claiming the Female Newcomer of the Year.
Elmore was an opening day starter for the Royals before ending his year with the Continental Volleyball Conference Freshman of the Year award. He led the team with 2.75 kills per set, and was top nine in the CVC in kills (316), solo blocks (18), block assists (63), total blocks (81) and digs (207). Elmore had 10 or more kills in 15 of his 32 matches and played a key role in the men’s first-ever run to the CVC Championship match.
Nichols highlighted a very impressive pool of EMU first-year men and women. She became the second women’s track & field athlete in Eastern Mennonite history to earn All-America status as a freshman, joining Hall of Honor inductee Laura Rosenberger, who was the national champion in both the indoor and outdoor pole vault as a freshman in 2000.
As part of the dinner and banquet, four seniors gave short reflections on their time playing sports at Eastern Mennonite: Oksana Kittrell (Bedford, Va./Liberty) from women’s track & field, Ryan Thomas (Telford, Pa./Dock Mennonite Academy) from men’s soccer, Jonae Guest (Dumfries, Va./Potomac) from women’s basketball and Jake Brown (Gloucester, Va./Gloucester) from baseball.
Dr. Matthew Siderhurst, Faculty Athletic Representative, and Dr. Deirdre Longacher Smeltzer, Undergraduate Academic Dean, presented the Academic Achievement Awards to each team’s individual junior or senior with the highest GPA. Those awards went to: Joe Hall (Gladys, Va./Rustburg) in baseball, Tyler Denlinger (Perkasie, Pa./Dock Mennonite Academy) in men’s cross country, Kat Lehman (Dover, Ohio/Dover) in women’s cross country, Mariah Martin (Greencastle, Pa./Greencastle-Antrim) in field hockey, David Nester (Bluffton, Ohio/Bluffton) in men’s soccer, Marcy Smucker (Woodward, Pa./Penns Valley) in women’s soccer, Mariah Foltz (Broadway, Va./Broadway) in softball, Tyler Denlinger (Perkasie, Pa./Dock Mennonite Academy) in men’s track & field, Rachel Sturm (Denton, Md./North Caroline) in women’s track & field, Colton Frey (Lancaster, Pa./Hempfield) in men’s volleyball, and Becca Hardy (Port Republic, Va./Eastern Mennonite) in women’s volleyball.