Eastern Mennonite University held its Athletic Honors Banquet on April 17 in a time of reflecting upon and honoring the journeys of the Royals’ student-athletes. Seniors Andy Richter (Perkasie, PA/Christopher Dock) and Marla Young (Fishersville, VA/Wilson Memorial) won the President’s Awards, the highest athletic award given out by EMU.
Dr. Loren Swartzendruber presented the awards, which are based on academic achievement, athletic contribution, Christian commitment, leadership, campus involvement and service, as the culmination of the evening.
Richter, a business administration major with a 3.64 GPA, was a four-year pitcher for the baseball team and plans to work in a sales or marketing position. He was consistently on the Old Dominion Athletic Conference All-Academic Team and EMU’s Dean’s List. Besides baseball, his campus life was filled with leadership on Fellowship of Christian Athletes, EMU Royals Society and the Chamber Singers. He also volunteered at numerous places off campus.
“You are not an athlete just when you’re in season – you’re an athlete year round,” Richter explained in how he balanced his demanding schedule at EMU. “Baseball provided me with the discipline I needed to enjoy a busy, but incredibly rewarding college career.”
Young, a captain with the women’s basketball team, was also on the Dean’s List and ODAC All-Academic Team, holding a 3.71 GPA with a major in biology and minor in exercise science. She was a four-year member of Royals Society, helping with prospective students, as well as being a member of the Pre-Professional Health Science Society. Young was also a youth leader at her church and volunteered with a local food bank and the fall back-to-school backpack drive.
“Being a student-athlete has taught me to be mentally and physically strong in seemingly impossible situations,” said Young, who suffered a long-lasting shoulder injury her freshman season. “God used basketball as the framework that I could grow in my relationship with Him, share my talents with others, and now go on to pursue a career in physical therapy.”
The Athletic Department staff also voted for Athlete of the Year winners. Mitchell Leap (Harrisonburg, VA/Eastern Mennonite) claimed the men’s honor with Bianca Ygarza (Conestoga, PA/Penn Manor) taking the women’s.
Leap led the men’s soccer team in scoring for the fourth straight season, netting ten goals, which was also third-best in the conference. He had five game-winning goals and was named All-ODAC First Team. Leap graduates fourth in EMU history with 35 career goals and fifth with 80 career points. Ygarza was a dynamic presence as a power forward for the basketball women, earning a spot on the All-ODAC First Team as a sophomore. She led EMU with 14.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game and was second in the ODAC in field goal percentage and free throws.
Also at the banquet, Newcomer of the Year Awards were given to Jenessa Derstine (Harleysville, PA/Christopher Dock) in field hockey and Justin Rodriguez (Miramar, FL/Pace) in baseball.
Derstine, an attacker for the Lady Royals, led the team with 29 points this year. She scored ten goals and assisted on nine others. Her speed helped ignite EMU’s offense and landed her on the All-ODAC Third Team. Rodriguez batted .374 with 28 runs and team highs of four homeruns and 41 RBIs. His RBI total was third in the ODAC during the regular season and the third baseman was named All-ODAC Second Team.
As part of the dinner and banquet, four seniors gave short reflections on their time playing a sport at Eastern Mennonite: Valerie Landis (Quakertown, PA/Quakertown) from field hockey, Justin King (Lititz, PA/Warwick) from baseball, Pete Nelson (Harrisonburg, VA/Christopher Dock) from track and cross country, and Brent Yoder (Sarasota, FL/Sarasota Christian) from soccer.
King uniquely talked about playing four years of a collegiate sport even though the experience was not living up to the ideas he had beforehand.
“I have learned a lesson I would have not chosen to learn on my own, because it was painful,” said King. “Through the ups and downs, the wins and losses, I have had to rely on God as my source of hope and strength when I was weak, discouraged, or overwhelmed. The Apostle Paul says it best in 2 Corinthians 12:8-9, ‘Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’’”
Landis was the lone senior on the field hockey team this fall and stepped into a leadership role which was not natural to her. She said that will help her as she leaves college.
“I recognize that I am going to be a new member of a completely different team after graduation,” Landis explained. “What I have learned over the past four years is that I can’t let my age or lack of experience hinder me from being responsible or taking initiative. God has granted each of us the experience of being part of a team and it is my hope that we are able to leave this community as an athlete and a graduate and apply those interpersonal skills learned on either the court or field and apply them in the next stage of life, appropriately and meaningfully.”
Dr. Ronald Stoltzfus, Faculty Athletic Representative, and Dr. Nancy Heisey, Undergraduate Academic Dean, presented the Academic Achievement Awards to each team’s individual with the highest GPA. Those awards went to: Richter and Brad Billings (Selinsgrove, PA/Selinsgrove) in baseball, Jennifer Blankenship (Bassett, VA/Bassett) in women’s basketball, Owen Longacre (Telford, PA/Christopher Dock) in men’s basketball, Nels Akerson (Harrisonburg, VA/Eastern Mennonite) in men’s cross country, Alli Eanes (Harrisonburg, VA/Westmont Hilltop) in women’s cross country and track, Jenna Longenecker (Lancaster, PA/Conestoga Valley) in field hockey, Bryce Shank (Harrisonburg, VA/Eastern Mennonite) in men’s soccer, Erica Detweiler (Hickory, NC/Fred T. Foard) in women’s soccer, Aaron Sloan (Ooltewah, TN/McCallie School) in men’s track, and Kendall Garber (Lancaster, PA/Lancaster Mennonite) in men’s volleyball.
The evening included a special mention of Theo Yoder, a senior student worker with the athletic events staff, who had passed away from cancer just a week prior to the banquet.