Air Force honors this years MVP's and scholar athletes

By  | 

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. Air Force athletics recognized several cadet-athletes for their accomplishments during the 2018-19 season at the Academy’s annual awards ceremony.

Senior All-Americans Tucker Bone from men’s soccer and Jaci Smith from women’s track and cross country earned male and female most valuable player honors while Kyle Haak of ice hockey won the scholar-athlete award. Senior women’s basketball player Vennessannah Itugbu won the athletic leadership award, senior baseball standout Nic Ready was honored with the athletic excellence award and senior hockey player Billy Christopoulos won the outstanding athletic achievement award.

Bone earned All-American honors for the second straight season while leading the Falcons to a 17-5 record and consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, including a trip to the Sweet 16 this season. He was a finalist for the Mac Herman Trophy that goes annually to the nation’s top player. The conference offensive player of the year, Bone scored 13 goals and had six assists to go-along with five game-winning goals this season. The team captain this season, he was selected by the Seattle Sounders in the Major League Soccer draft.

Smith is one of the most decorated distance runners in school history, earning All-American honors four times, including first-team honors during the 2018 cross country season and 2019 indoor track and field season. She is the program’s first Division I athlete (man or woman) to earn multiple All-American honors in individual events at the same indoor championship, earning honors in the 3,000- and 5,000-meter runs this season. She is just the second female to earn All-American honors in cross country at the Division I level. Smith is an eight-time qualifier for the NCAA championships in cross country and track and field. She is also a four-time all-conference selection and has the most top three finishes by any female runner in program history.

Haak has a 3.90 grade point average and is majoring in physics with a minor in nuclear weapons and strategy. He won the Senior CLASS Award, a national award recognizing excellence in the classroom and on the ice. Haak was the Cadet of the Year which recognizes the most outstanding cadet among all commissioning resources in the Air Force which makes up nearly 16,000 individuals. A two-time Academic All-American, Haak is a member of the Academy’s Scholar Program and Stamps Foundation Leader-Scholar award winner. He has been named to the Superintendent’s List for academic, military and athletic excellence every semester and is ranked third out of 1,016 seniors in his class encompassing all three areas.

Itugbu walked onto the women’s basketball team and became a team captain this season as a senior. She played a major role in the transformation of the program during her four years while earning academic all-conference honors and serving as the team’s representative for community service and the student-athlete advisory committee. Itugbu service as a flight commander last summer and was an element leader in his squadron before that. She has also served as an officer in her squadron for public affairs and operations as well as serving as the executive officer.

Ready is the program’s career leader in hits (300) and home runs (50). He is a two-time All-American and was a preseason All-American honoree entering this season. Ready is a two-time all-Mountain West honoree and won the College Baseball Home Run Derby last summer. He was a finalist for the 2019 Senior CLASS Award and carries a 3.4 grade point average.

Christopoulos is a two-time team most valuable player and a first-team all-conference selection this season. He earned Atlantic Hockey Conference goalie of the week honors four times and was the goalie of the month in January. He led the conference in saves percentage and goals-against average and ranked 18th nationally in goals-against average. Chrstopoulos finished his career ranked third in school history in goals-against average, fourth in saves percentage, fifth in shutouts and 11th in saves. He is a three-time academic all-conference honoree and has been on the dean’s list at Air Force every semester.

In addition to the top six awards, the department honored each sports most valuable player and a pair of physical education award winners.

2018-19 Team Most Valuable Players

Women’s Cross Country
Senior Jaci Smith capped a strong cross country campaign by finishing 27th at the NCAA Championships and becoming just the second Air Force female to capture All-America honors at the Division I level. The senior, who was named the USTFCCCA National Runner of the Week after winning the season-opening Wyoming Invitational, earned all-conference and all-region honors for the third time in as many years. Smith, who collected three top-10 – and five top-20 – finishes on the year, was the Falcons' top finisher in all six of her meets this fall. By shattering the program's 6K standard (any altitude) with a 19:44.1 performance at the regional meet, Smith became the first Air Force runner (male or female) to advance to three-straight national championship meets since John Jones qualified to the 1968-70 championship meets.

Men’s Cross Country
Senior Mickey Davey, an all-conference and all-region honoree for the second-straight year, helped lead the Air Force men to their second consecutive team appearance at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, a runner-up finish at the Mountain West Championships and their first top-10 national ranking since 2003. Davey was the team's top finisher at the Wisconsin Nuttycombe Invitational (20th of 233), Pre-National Invitational (15th of 234), Mountain West Championships (fifth of 63) and NCAA Championships (69th of 255), while adding a top-10 finish as the team's No. 2 runner at the season-opening Wyoming Invitational (seventh of 81).

Most Valuable Offensive Player
Ronald Cleveland finished second on the team in receiving with 15 catches for 241 yards despite missing five games due to injury. Cleveland was seventh on the team in rushing with 171 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries. He had a catch in a team-best eight straight and 10 of the last 11 games dating back to last season. Cleveland recorded his first-career 100-yard receiving game at UNLV with 100 yards, along with a career-best 69 yard touchdown catch. He finished his career ranked fourth in Air Force history with a career 22.1 yards per catch average.

Most Valuable Defensive Player
Mosese Fifita played in 12 games, starting 11. He recorded 25 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack. Fifita recorded a career-best six tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack vs. Boise State. He also had four tackles vs. Florida Atlantic. Fifita led a defense that finished second in the MW and 18th nationally in rushing defense.

Most Valuable Player
Jeremy Fejedelem led the Falcons and ranked eighth in the Mountain West in tackles with 104. He also had 2.5 tackles for loss a sack and a team-best three interceptions. He became the first Falcon with 100 or more tackles since 2014 and his 104 total tackles are the most by a Falcon defensive back since 2008. Fejedelem had a team-best six games with 10 or more tackles, including a career-high 14 stops vs. Utah State which was the most by a Falcon this season.

Most Valuable Lineman/Special Teams
Griffin Landrum started all 12 games at right guard and was the named second-team all-Mountain West. He anchored an offensive line that led the conference and ranked fifth nationally in rushing with a 283.5 per-game average. The unit also led the conference and ranked second nationally in sacks allowed with seven. The Air Force offense led the conference and ranked fifth nationally in time of possession with a 34:22 mark. In addition, the offense led the conference and ranked ninth nationally in red zone offense, scoring on 91.3 percent of its possessions.

Junior Josh Wu was named the team’s most valuable player. Wu led the team with a 74.37 stroke average on the season while playing 27 rounds. He led the team with nine rounds of par or better and fired a season-best 69 in the opening round of the Gene Miranda Falcon Invitational. At the PING BYU Cougar Classic, his three-round total of 214 (-2) was a season best 54-hole score.

Women’s Soccer
Jennifer Hiddink wrapped up her stellar four year Air Force career with her second All-MW honor, as she earned Second Team honors this season, and First Team honors last season. The Wylie, Texas native had another outstanding year between the pipes for the Falcons, finishing with 108 saves, a goals against average of 1.16, a save percentage of .837, and a saves per game average of 6.35. She also totaled five shutouts, four of them solo. With back-to-back seasons with 100-plus saves (120 in 2017), Hiddink became the first Air Force goalie since J.J. Wolf in 2002-03 to accomplish that feat. Her total saves, save percentage, and saves per game were all tops in the conference, while nationally her saves were 10th, saves per game 17th, and save percentage 48th. In conference play, Hiddink started all 11 matches, and played all but 11 minutes of action. In those 11 games, she allowed zero or one goals in nine of the 11, with two shutouts.

Men’s Soccer
Tucker Bone is the first Falcon in Air Force men’s soccer history to become a two-time first team All-American. Bone, the 2018 WAC Offensive Player of the Year, was drafted to Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders as the 20th overall pick in the first round. He is a two-time MAC Hermann Trophy Semi-finalist and garnered three first-team All-WAC accolades along with two first-team All-Region accolades. A team captain in 2018, Bone led the team with 32 points via 13 goals and six assists. He played in 81 career games, taking part in 52 career wins --the most by any player in program history.

Junior Denise Ssozi had a stellar junior season for the Falcons, collecting 356 kills, 324 digs, 21 aces, 47 blocks and 15 double-doubles. With those 324 digs, which included team-leading totals during four matches, Ssozi recorded the eighth-highest single-season dig output in the Academy's Division I history. A nine-kill performance against Utah State on Nov. 17 propelled Ssozi into the program's DI top-10 list for career kills, while she finished the season ranked eighth on the school's DI standings for career digs. The junior, who earned the Academy's Athlete of the Week on Aug 27, was named to the all-tournament teams of the Spartan/Demon Deacon Classic and the Maverick Classic after leading the team in kills during every match of those two tournaments (six total contests).

Water Polo
Junior Luke Andres was named the team’s most valuable player. Andres played in all 27 games and led the team with 57 goals and 87 points. He was second on the team in steals, field blocks and drawn ejections. A first-team all-conference selection, he was fifth in the conference in goals scored this season. He scored three or more goals in a game 10 times this season, including a career high six in a win over Santa Clara.

Women’s Basketball
Venessannah Itugbu, who walked on as a freshman, went on to become a four-year letter winner and team captain in her senior campaign, appearing in 113 career games. A local product from Mesa Ridge High School, Venessannah has 327 career rebounds, 230 career points, 109 career steals and was the first Air Force senior to beat Army in 10 years.

Men’s Basketball
Junior forward Lavelle Scottie earned men’s basketball MVP honors. Scottie averaged 15.3 points per game to lead the Falcons in scoring. He earned third-team All-MW honors, becoming the first Falcon since 2014 to earn all-conference honors. Scottie set a MW era record at Air Force with 324 points and an 18.0 ppg average in MW games.

A national title at 132 pounds capped off a strong junior campaign for Sean Chieves, who captured the Falcons’ lone championship belt at the 2019 National Collegiate Boxing Association (NCBA) Championships. Chieves, who defeated Navy’s Tanner Strawbridge by a unanimous decision in the national finals, paced the men to a runner-up finish in the team standings. The junior, who was named a NCBA All-American with the victory, also captured the NCBA Regional title and successfully defended his Wing Open title after a referee-stopped victory in the second round.

Women’s Fencing
Sophomore Nicole Agob earned women’s fencing MVP honors. Agob led the women’s team with 59 bout victories. Agob was the NCAA West Regional Champion in the women’s epee. She qualified for the NCAA’s, placing 24th with five bout victories.

Men’s Fencing
Freshman Nestor Levin earned men’s fencing MVP honors. Levin led the Falcons with 64 bout wins on the season. Levin competed in the NCAA Championships, finishing 15th in the men’s foil with nine bout victories.

Women’s Gymnastics
Tyler Davis, a two-time USAG National Champion in the floor exercise, garnered her second title in the event in as many tries as the Rowlett, Texas, native posted a 9.95 for a true-first finish, tying her personal-best mark, an Academy record, for the third time this season. Davis' efforts yielded three USAG Collegiate National First-Team All-American accolades in the vault, floor exercise and all-around, marking her second time in as many seasons to earn the honors in those events. She was also awarded a second-team All-America nod on the uneven bars. At the MPSF tournament, Davis led the charge on the floor as she posted personal career-best 9.950 to win her second-straight MPSF floor exercise title, helping the Falcons to their first-ever conference title. Davis garnered a first-team All-MPSF selection in the floor exercise and in the all-around. She rounded out her presence on the All-MPSF teams with a spot on second-team in the vault.

Men’s Gymnastics
Sophomore Frankie Valentin, a USAG All-American on the pommel horse, qualified to the opening round of the NCAA Championships on four of his five events (floor exercise, pommel horse, still rings, vault) and advanced to the finals on the vault. A Mountain Pacific Sports Federation All-Academic Scholar-Athlete, Valentin tallied career-high marks in every event this season. With a personal-best still rings score of 14.100 at Stanford, Valentin became just the fifth Falcon to surpass the 14-point mark on that event. He also debuted on the Academy’s top-10 vault standings during his sophomore season and finished the year ranked eight with a career-high 14.400.

Ice Hockey
Senior Billy Christopoulos was named the team’s most valuable player for the second straight season. A first-team all-conference selection this season, Christopoulos led the conference in goals-against average and saves percentage in both conference games and all games. He finished his career ranked third in school history in goals against average, fourth in saves percentage and fifth in shutouts. Christopoulos was named the Atlantic Hockey Conference goalie of the week four times in 2018-19 and was the conference goalie of the month in January.

Men’s and Women’s Rifle
Peter Fiori concluded his first season with the Falcons as the overall-conference winner with an 1184, and the conference smallbore champion. Following the NCAA Rifle Championships, he was named a first team smallbore and second team air rifle All-American. He finished the season with a 1,174.273 average, the highest season average on the team and the seventh-highest average in the country. At the 2019 National Junior Olympic Shooting Championships, he earned the gold medal for the men’s three-position rifle with a national junior record score of 1,178. He will go on to compete in the World Cup in Suhl, Germany, this summer.

Women’s Swimming
Senior Emma Strom was named to the All-Mountain West Conference team after placing fifth in the 400 IM at the 2019 MW Championships with a 4:17.34, which improved on her second-best time in program history (4:20.81). The finals time was just off an NCAA B cut time, missing it by just .04 seconds. Overall, three of her times on the season resulted in the second-best time in that event in program history, in each of the 200 back, 200 IM, and 400 IM.

Men’s Swimming – Junior Zach Nelson
Junior Nelson had a trio of runner-up finishes at the 2019 WAC Championships in the 200 IM, the 100 breast, and the 200 breast. He recorded NCAA ‘B’ cut times in both breast events as well. He also had the third fastest time in program history in both breast events, as well as the second-quickest 200 IM.

Men’s/Women’s Diving
Sophomore Cole Armagost led the diving program with the top score in all three diving events, including a 301.50 in the 1-meter, a 331.80 in the 3-meter, and a 218.85 in the platform. He qualified for the NCAA Zone E in both the 1-meter and 3-meter dives.

Senior Anthony McLaughlin fought through injury to have a stellar senior season as the primary starter at 197 lbs. He went 13-7 on the year, including 5-4 in duals and 3-3 in Big 12 duals. He went from unseeded in the 197 bracket at the 2019 Big 12 Championships, to finishing in seventh place to automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships. At the NCAAs, we won a match in the consolation round, making him the first Falcon wrestler to win an NCAA match since 2016.

Senior Rob Dau led the Falcons on both offense and defense after starting all 49 games he played in behind the plate. The team captain finished the season leading the conference in pickoffs with 14 and runners caught stealing with 25. He was third on the team in batting average, batting .305, while also leading the team in conference-only batting average with a .357 mark. His MW-only batting average ranked sixth in the conference. For the season, was third on the team in batting average, fourth in hits (54), third in RBIs (37), third in doubles (14), and fourth in total bases (79).

Brandon Jones, a two-time team captain and linchpin defender of the Air Force defense, earned a nod as the Southern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. Jones, the program’s leader in career caused turnovers, was drafted to the Major lacrosse League’s Denver Outlaws in the fourth round as the 36th overall pick. Jones, who started in every career appearance, set the bar for single-season caused turnovers and collected the fourth-most career ground balls in program history. He has two first-team All-SoCon nods and was selected to appear in the USILA North-South Senior All-Star game.

Women’s Tennis
Junior TJ Fumagalli earned women’s tennis MVP honors. Fumagalli posted a stellar 31-3 record in singles and 31-7 mark in doubles. She earned All-MW singles and All-MW doubles for the third straight season, becoming the first in program history to do so. Fumagalli and doubles-mate Kristin Kerrigan finished the season ranked #72 in the nation.

Men’s Tennis
Sophomore Patrick Sklenka earned men’s tennis MVP honors. Sklenka earned MVP honors by posting 17 singles wins on the season, which included 10 dual wins at No. 1 singles. Sklenka earned All-MW Singles honors and All-MW Doubles.

Women’s Track and Field (AS OF MAY 20)
The success from cross country continued into the track season for senior Jaci Smith, who claimed another pair of All-America awards during the indoor season. Smith tallied a pair of Academy records during the indoor season, crushing the 5000-meter standard at the Colyear-Danville Season Opener (15:28.07) and breaking the 3000-meter record twice (final time of 9:01.12a). She became the program’s first female to capture All-America honors in multiple events at the same championship after earning first-team honors in the 5000-meter run (sixth) and second-team status in the 3000-meter run (14th) at the NCAA Indoor Championships. Smith, who made her outdoor debut at the conference championships, posted a time of 16:02.24 – a mark just shy of her own program record – to finish third at the Mountain West Outdoor Championships and qualify to the opening round of the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

Women’s Track and Field Outstanding Competitor (AS OF MAY 20)
Senior team captain Kathryn Tomczak is in the midst of another strong season for Air Force, having qualified to the opening round of the NCAA Outdoor Championships for the third-straight year. During the indoor season, Tomczak reached the 14-foot bar for the second-straight season, clearing a Senior Class Record of 14’0” to win the Texas Tech Shootout. That victory was one of five first-place finishes for Tomczak during the indoor season, as she swept the regular season with wins at the Air Force Holiday Open, Air Force Team Challenge, Air Force Invitational (Elite Section) and the Air Force Open. The senior captured her fourth all-conference award after finishing second out of 21 vaulters at the Mountain West Indoor Championships. She has added two more event titles during the outdoor season, winning the Jerry Quiller Classic and Colonial Relays. Tomczak qualified to the NCAA West Preliminary after clearing a season-best 13’9¾” during a seventh-place finish in the Elite section of the Beach Invitational.

Men’s Track and Field (AS OF MAY 20)
Team captain Sedacy Walden claimed four Mountain West titles in 2019, including his second 400-meter outdoor title in three years. In addition to his individual championship, the senior ran on the 4x400-meter relays that swept the indoor and outdoor titles and competed on the winning 4x100-meter relay at the MW Outdoor Championships. Walden, who clocked a season-best 400-meter time of 46.35 to qualify to the opening round of the NCAA Outdoor Championships, impacted the Academy record book in seven events. Walden, who claimed five all-MW honors, broke the Academy’s 500-meter record (1:03.28), ran the sixth-fastest 400-meter dash (47.49) and 10th-fastest 200-meter dash (21.54) during the indoor season, also ran on the record-setting sprint medley relay that won the Drake Relays (3:19.33), the third-fastest 4x100-meter relay (40.47), the fourth-fastest indoor 4x400-meter relay and the 10th-fastest outdoor 4x400-meter relay (3:10.69).

Men’s Track and Field Outstanding Competitor (AS OF MAY 20)
Michael Rhoads is in the midst of a junior campaign that includes three Academy records, three Mountain West titles, first-team All-America honors at the NCAA Indoor Championships, a bid to the NCAA Outdoor Championships and the MW Indoor Athlete of the Year award. Rhoads, who broke the program's 35-year-old indoor record in the 800-meter run during a conference-winning performance at the MW Indoor Championships (1:47.22a – a new MW Championship Meet Record and the No. 2 time in conference indoor history), was selected by league coaches as the MW Indoor Athlete of the Year after claiming first-team All-America honors at the national championship meet. During the outdoor season, Rhoads crushed the program's 11-year-old record at that distance during a 1:47.10 performance in the Elite section of the Mt SAC Relays. Becoming the conference's fastest outdoor 800-meter runner since 2001 – and second-fastest all-time – the junior secured his bid into the NCAA Outdoor Championships as he finished the regular season ranked among the nation's top 10. He also completed the 800-meter conference sweep by easily finishing first at the MW Outdoor Championships, anchored the winning 4x400-meter relay and ran the final leg of the sprint medley relay that broke the Academy record at the Drake Relays.

Outstanding Cadet in Physical Education
Nicholas Hurley has the highest PE GPA in the Class of '19 with a 3.856 earned in PE activity classes. He also had a 3.881 GPA and 3.493 MPA and was proficient in all PFT and AFTs.

Physical Education Average Award
Shanna Burns was a four year intercollegiate cross country and track athlete. She ended her distinguished academy athletic career with a PEA of 3.86. She was also added to the 500-Club for earning a max run time score on the 1.5 mile aerobic fitness test.