WALTHAM, Mass. – On May 4 and May 16, the Brandeis University Department of Athletics handed out their annual Departmental Awards at the 2023 Michael Coven Awards Banquet and the annual Charlie's Reception. This year's award honorees were:
Athletic Director's Awards were presented to Rani Balakrishna of Brookline, Massachusetts, and the softball team. In addition to being a vocal member of her team as a reserve catcher, Balakrishna has proven to be an equally vocal member of the Brandeis Athletics community. As a writer for The Justice, Rani wrote a compelling Op-Ed article in April arguing for gender equity, alerting the broader Brandeis Community to important issues relating to her team;
Benton Ferebee of Memphis, Tennessee, and the men's swimming and diving team. Ferebee is in his fifth year as a member of the swimming and diving team this year. In the pool, he is part of two school-record relays as a backstroke specialist, while holding the individual record in the 50-yard backstroke. Out of the pool, Ferebee has served as a two-time team captain, helping as a stabilizing force when the squad transitioned between assistant coaches. He has helped organize the team's strength and conditioning program while embracing the importance of taking mental health concerns seriously. In addition, Ferebee has been a reliable and valuable student-employee in the sports information department and as a lifeguard;
Gabe Haithcock of Macon, Georgia, and the men's soccer team. A two-year member of the men's soccer team, Haithcock has embraced his role in the Department of Athletics in his short time here. He serves as the Vice President of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and was a founding member of the department's Student-Athletes of Color affinity organization this year. He has worked hard in his position in those roles to address student-athlete issues related to inclusion in order to make the department an even better environment for everyone to thrive in the future;
Franchesca Marchese of Staten Island, New York, and the women's basketball team. On the court, Marchese's outside shooting has proven to be deadly, putting her among the Judges' career leaders in 3-pointers despite playing in just three seasons. Off the court, she has demonstrated a ton of versatility - earning College Sports Communicators Academic All-District honors; serving on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and as an intern in the University's Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; writing for The Hoot; refereeing intramurals; and serving as an executive board member of the Brandeis Student Union. Marchese will be returning to Brandeis as a graduate student next year;
And Emma Reavis of Miami, Oklahoma, also of the women's basketball team. Reavis has been one of the Judges' great all-around players over the past four years, ranking among Brandeis's career leaders in assists and steals per game and reaching seventh in total assists despite playing just three seasons because of COVID. She never missed a game in three seasons. Off the court, Reavis is the head of the Citi-Brandeis mentorship program and a member of the Brandeis Student-Athlete Leadership Committee. While she has been a reliable and valuable Athletic Dept employee throughout her Brandeis career, this semester she went above and beyond by coordinating several facility maintenance projects. She recruited, hired, scheduled, and trained other student staff and often worked long hours in adverse weather conditions. Reavis's efforts were essential in getting Brandeis's outdoor venues ready for the spring season.
The Morrie Stein '58 Award of Valor is presented to a student-athlete who has demonstrated courage both on and off the playing field and/or intervened to better the lives of others. It went to Arianna Jackson of Lewis Center, Ohio, of the volleyball team.
Jackson missed her first year on the court in 2021 because of injury, but she returned this year and played in every match but one, finishing fourth on the volleyball team in kills and points. Off the court, Jackson did not let her injury slow her down. She has been involved in Brandeis Athletics and campus life since stepping on campus, as a member of the Brandeis Black Student Organization and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. She volunteers with Big Siblings of Massachusetts through the Waltham Group and as a reader for the youngest Brandeisians at the Lemberg Children's Center. This year, Jackson was a founding member of the Student-Athletes of Color group, serving on the executive board as the Community Service Chair. This spring, she got her first exposure to politics as an intern for Massachusetts state representative Tram Nguyen.
The Martin Zelnik '61 Award was established last year and is presented annually to up to two "walk-on" or non-recruited student-athletes who make a significant contribution to a varsity team or teams through spirit, enthusiasm, and work ethic to improve their own skills and those of their teammates. This year's recipient was Dion Morris-Evans of Canal Fulton, Ohio, and the men's track and field team.
Morris-Evans contacted the T&F coaching staff in June of 2018 after he enrolled at Brandeis, hoping to join the track and field team as a jumper and hurdler, and they were thrilled to have such a versatile student-athlete join our team.
Morris-Evans has proven to be everything a coach could hope for, on and off the track. He has been a leader with his squads, whether with the hurdles, high jump or long jump. He has helped the Judges every year at the UAA Championships, scoring points in eight out of a possible eight conference champs. Morris-Evans missed the 2021 year, but when he returned with a new commitment to the team, he was as good as ever. Morris-Evans earned his first All-UAA honor in 2022 when he placed third in the long jump. Even while balancing his busy lab job, Dion has found a way to be a great friend, teammate and member of the Brandeis community.
The Morris Sepinuck Award is presented to the varsity athlete who not only displays outstanding sportsmanship but also makes a significant contribution to the athletic program and to campus life at Brandeis. This year's winner was Victoria Morrongiello of Staten Island, New York, and the women's track and field team.
Morrongiello was a captain of both track and cross country in 2022-23. She provided leadership that the cross country team needed as they finished in third place at the regional championships, missing out on a trip to the NCAAs for the second year in a row. On the track, Victoria was part of two All-UAA distance medley relay teams in her career, running the 800-meter leg on the team that finished second in 2020 and third in 2022. The 2022 squad ranked 14th in Division III, again just missing a berth to the NCAA Indoor championships.
Morrongiello has been as successful outside of track and field as she has been in it. In addition to carrying a 3.89 GPA as a double major in Health: Science, Society and Policy and Biology. She also served as the Editor in Chief of the Brandeis Hoot; as the event lead for Relay For Life; as the undergraduate departmental representative for the psychology department; as a crisis counselor for the Crisis Text Line; and as a track and cross country member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
The Charlie Napoli '58 Scholar-Athlete Award is given to outstanding student-athletes who have excelled in the classroom and in the athletic arena. For the first time in 2023, it was presented to a member of both a men's and women's team. The winner for the men was Ryan Power of Waltham, Massachusetts. Power is a Waltham native who joined the team before the COVID season in 2020-21, and has been a steady force for the Judges on the court ever since. Power came off the bench for us as a sophomore before getting hurt, then played and started in all but one game this year. Ryan was fourth on our team in scoring and second in assists while being voted one of the top defensive players in the league by opposing coaches.
In the classroom, Ryan carried a 3.83 GPA as an HSSP major with a minor in psychology. He has been on the Academic All-UAA team twice and this year earned College Sports Communicators Academic All-District honors.
The women's recipient was Bailey Gold of Livingston Heights, New Jersey, and the swimming and diving team. Our team would not be where it is today without Bailey Gold. In the pool, Gold has been our outstanding performer for the women for each of the past four years, earning the team's MVP honor each time. She's reached the finals at UAA championships every season, setting the school record in the 100-yard butterfly five times; in the 200 fly four times; and, as a testament to her versatility, in the 200 freestyle three times. She's also part of all five school-record relays, Gold has scored for us at UAAs each season and was named UAA Athlete of the Week for the first time in her career earlier this year.
Outside of the pool, Gold is just as impressive. She has a 3.97 GPA as a double major in psychology and neuroscience, earning Phi Beta Kappa honors. She's been on the Dean's List every semester, Academic All-UAA three times and College Sports Communicators Academic All-District once. She's a Provosts Undergraduate Research Fellow and a Blavatnik Family Fellow who will be attending graduate school next year at William Paterson University as part of the Ph.D. program in clinical psychology.
If that weren't enough, Gold works with the Waltham Group as part of Advocates for Health and Waltham Against Dementia. She's a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the Sexual Violence Student Advisory Committee and has served as a teaching assistant in abnormal psychology and in the physiology lab. Gold also received the Linsey Fellowship, presented to two student-athletes each year who have completed their eligibility and are attending graduate school.
For the first time, Brandeis presented a Rookie of the Year Award to the top first-year competitors, one each from a women's and a men's team. The women's team winner was Ragini Kannan of Westford, Massachusetts, and the softball team.
With one doubleheader left to play on Sunday, Kannan is second in the University Athletic Association in wins with 15 and strikeouts with 124, and her 2.02 ERA is fourth in the league. Kannan's season started off tough, as she gave up back-to-back solo home runs to the first batter she faced, and then walked the third batter. Those ended up being the only two hits and walk she gave up that game earning her first career win. She went on to win her first eight decisions and has now won seven in a row looking to make it eight this Sunday against UMass Dartmouth. Kannan has struck out 12 opposing batters in a game three times, thrown 13 complete games, and four shutouts. As a first-year, she has posted top 10 seasons in school history in wins (8th) and strikeouts (3rd). She's the ace of the team's pitching staff, and Kannan has also taken a leadership role in the department, serving as vice president of the Student-Athletes of Color student group.
The men's Rookie of the Year winner was Lev BenAvram of Bethesda, Maryland, and the fencing team. BenAvram got his season off to a terrific start, winning gold at his first collegiate tournament. His season only got better from there, as the sabre squad won 24 of its first 25 matches, and BenAvram led the men's team with 39 wins in dual matches.
BenAvram went on to place sixth at the NCAA Regional tournament to earn a berth at the NCAA Championships at Duke. At the championships, Lev finished 10 and 11, coming one win short of All-America honors for all divisions, but still getting first-team honors for Division III.
All while competing for the Judges, Lev also took a leap in national competitions, qualifying for the United States Fencing Junior World Championship team in Bulgaria. While there, Lev finished 13th in the individual competition and helped the men's sabre squad earn their first gold medal since 2001 with wins over third-ranked Egypt and top-ranked Italy, among other upsets.
The Max I. Silber Award was presented to the top student-athlete from a women's team in 2022-23. It went to Maggie Shealy of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, also of the fencing team.
An All-American and the Division III Sabre Fencer of the Year last year, Shealy never stopped working hard, never stopped improving, and never stopped supporting her teammates in their improvement, and her hard work paid off with probably the finest season in Brandeis women's fencing history. With only two sabre squad-mates, Maggie had no choice but to fence every NCAA bout available to her this season. In the process, she set a school record by winning 84 of her 95 matches - an 88-percent winning percentage. Maggie was named Northeast Fencing Conference Fencer of the Year, as she went 39 and 0.
Shealy locked up a berth at nationals with a ninth-place finish at regionals. Competing at Duke's venerable Cameron Indoor Arena, home of the Blue Devils, but it was Shealy who bedeviled nearly everyone on the sabre strip. She posted a 19 and 4 record in the preliminaries, never losing more than once per round in five rounds. In the end, she earned the top seed amongst a Final Four group that included fencers from Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia. Although her opponent from Harvard prevailed in the semifinals, it was a historic run, as Shealy's third-place finish was the highest in school history and clinched first-team All-America honors among all divisions.
In addition to competition for Brandeis, Shealy was also jetting around the world competing for USA fencing. While juggling her thesis, she was traveling to international meets in places like Athens, Dourdan and Seoul, finishing as high as 44th among the top women's saber fencers in the world. The week before she flew off to Seoul she also earned a bronze medal at US National Championships.
The Harry, Joseph and Ida Stein Award, presented to the outstanding athlete from a men's team in 2022-23, went to Sam Dienstag of Wilmette, Illinois, and the men's swimming and diving team.
Dienstag earned All-America honors in 2021 when the awards were based on times, not a championship meet, thanks to COVID. He competed at NCAAs in 2022, the first Judge since 2009 – but his outstanding junior season started the second he climbed out of the pool at nationals as a sophomore. When he didn't earn All-America honors last season, Dienstag went to work making sure it didn't happen again in 2023.
The work paid off, as he went undefeated in 500-, 1000- and 1,650-yard freestyle races during the regular season. In total, he set team records in five individual events and three relays this season. At UAAs, he had the team's first All-Conference performance since 2005, finishing third in the mile. He took the fourth seed into the NCAA Championships in that event.
Swimming on the first day of competition in the 500, Dienstag earned All-America honors in the pool for the first time with a 13th-place finish. He then delivered one of his best swims all season to place fourth in the mile, Brandeis' highest-ever finish at the NCAA Swimming Championships, while the 19 points and 25th place finish Dienstag provided as one person are also the best in school history.
On May 17, at the department's event for graduating student-athletes, Charlie's Reception, five more awards were presented.
The Gendzier Prize, presented to a student-athlete who has overcome hardship through perseverance, was presented to Shannon Smally of Foxborough, Massachusetts, and the women's basketball team. Smally has been the definition of perseverance over the last five years. She suffered multiple shoulder dislocations as a first-year that caused a tear in her labrum, requiring surgery to put anchors in her shoulder. Her sophomore season ended with a severe ankle sprain, while her junior season was not only the COVID-19 year, but also saw Smally suffer another dislocation that resulted in a torn labrum and rotator cuff, causing her to miss her senior year after yet another surgery. Despite all that, Shannon remained at Brandeis and came back to the team in 2022-23 as a graduate student. After missing two straight seasons, she started all 25 games for the Judges this year, finishing fourth on the team in scoring and rebounding.
The Linsey Fellowships are presented to one graduating student-athlete each from a men's and women's team who has completed their eligibility and will be attending graduate school. One went to Bailey Gold (see above). The other was presented to Matthew Driben of Reading, Pennsylvania, of the men's track and cross country teams. Driben finished his fifth year at Brandeis in 2022-23 after taking a year off during COVID. He has been one of the top distance runners for the Judges over the past five years, highlighted by a second-place finish in the 10,000-meter run at the 2022 New England Division III Championships. In the classroom, Matthew earned a 3.96 GPA as a biology and Health: Science, Society, and Policy double major with a minor in Hispanic Studies. He has been active in the Haynes Lab and with the Waltham Group, and next year he will be attending medical school in his home state of Pennsylvania.
The James McCully '86 Awards are presented each year to a senior, one each from a men's and women's team, who over the course of their career, best exemplify the character, dedication, and good sportsmanship as demonstrated by men's soccer All-American Jim McCully '86, who died in a car accident shortly after graduating.
The first winner was Terrell Brown of Lowell, Massachusetts, and the men's basketball team. Brown transferred to Brandeis from Division I Robert Morris University, where he was a walk-on player. Despite coming to Brandeis during the pandemic, he established himself as one of the best leaders in head coach Jean Bain's tenure with the Judges. A member of the UAA All-Academic team, Brown had just 43 points and 15 assists in 2022-23, but his influence went way beyond the statistics. "His ability to connect with his teammates on and off the court is one of his greatest assets," said coach Bain. "He has a great heart and wants to help everyone be the best version of themselves."
The second recipient was Morgan Clark of West Orange, New Jersey, and the women's soccer team. Clark has been a huge part of the program over the past four years, helping the Judges reach the NCAA tournament as a junior off the bench and stepping into a starting position this year as a senior. Beyond the three goals and one assist that she accumulated in her career on the pitch, she has been a huge advocate for Brandeis athletics, having served in multiple roles as an athlete and as a student-employee in Gosman, working in game management and as an intern for athletics' marketing department. Clark is a great role model for the Brandeis athletics community. She has interned in the Middlesex County District Attorney's office and will be attending law school in the fall. "Throughout Morgan's four years, both her teammates and the coaching staff have looked to her when the team was in need of guidance and leadership," said coach Mary Shimko '14, herself a winner of this award. "She is someone who is reliable and tries to see things from different perspectives. Her ability to listen combined with her kindness truly makes Morgan a special person and someone you want on your team."