The North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) is proud to annually announce its Sportsmanship and Inspirational Award Winners.
The NEAC Sportsmanship Award is presented annually (if applicable) to at least one female student-athlete, male student-athlete, female team, male team, and/or one institutional winner. The winning selections have consistently demonstrated good sportsmanship and ethical behavior in his/her/their daily participation in intercollegiate athletics. They have exemplified the values of respect, caring, fairness, civility, honesty, integrity and responsibility, while also demonstrating good citizenship outside the sports setting.
The NEAC Inspirational Award is presented annually (if applicable) to an individual who has endured personal hardships that have led to bravery and/or dedication within athletics through participation, volunteerism, coaching, and/or administrating.
In 2006-2007, The NEAC Student-Athlete Advisory Committee worked together to create and foster a new sense of sportsmanship throughout the conference. They created the NEAC sportsmanship statement and slogan which is endorsed throughout the conference:
“The student-athletes of the North Eastern Athletic Conference uphold the responsibilityof sportsmanship by demonstrating leadership, positive attitudes, and respect so that all collegiate participants will maintain the integrity and character of the conference. We strive to achieve these ideals through a commitment to fair and honest competition.”
“Stay Classy NEAC!!!”
^No selections in 2009-10 and 2007-08
The NEAC is proud to announce its Inspirational Award winners for the 2014-15 academic year, highlighted by life-saving actions, inspiring events and successful comebacks. The NEAC is proud to announce the selections for the 2014-15 academic year, which includes head athletic trainer Todd Kleinhans and junior John Petriello (Carmel, N.Y.) from Morrisville State College, senior Riley Hosey (Ocean Gate, N.J.) from College of Saint Elizabeth, sophomore Shelby Preston (Ravena, N.Y.) from SUNY Cobleskill, and the SUNY Polytechnic Institute trio of senior Kristina Strang (Rotterdam, N.Y.), junior Connor Passalacqua (Whitestown, N.Y.) and freshman Oliver Crain (Syracuse, N.Y.).
Morrisville State College head athletic trainer Todd Kleinhans and junior John Petriello each receive this year’s inspirational award for their heroic, life-saving act this past spring. As the men’s lacrosse team traveled home from a regular season contest, a member of the team suddenly went into cardiac arrest on the bus. Kleinhans, as a certified ATC, and Petriello, as a certified lifeguard, both used their cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training to immediately spring into action.
Kleinhans (left) first called 911 before clearing the scene, allowing room for him and Petriello (right) to both begin CPR on their fallen teammate. Kleinhans also worked directly with the emergency medical technicians once they arrived on scene. Those critical decisions helped saved the student-athlete’s life, as he survived the incident and has since made a full recovery.
The quick actions taken by Kleinhans and Petriello that day quite literally saved a young man’s life,
as he was in a state of full cardiac arrest when EMTs arrived on site. The ability to put their training to proper use while staying poised under pressure truly made them both heroes that day.
“I think we can all learn from the quick actions taken by Todd and John and the importance of taking CPR and first aid training seriously,” said Morrisville State College Athletics Director Greg Carroll. “We never know when we may find ourselves in a life-or-death situation, and as they say, failure to prepare is preparing to fail. On any given day we could find ourselves in a position where we need to do something heroic and Todd and John’s actions last spring were truly heroic.”
The next two award winners were able to persevere while suffering unimaginable losses. College of Saint Elizabeth senior Riley Hosey and SUNY Cobleskill sophomore Shelby Preston both unexpectedly lost their fathers to deadly diseases, a devastating ordeal for anyone to endure, let alone those still trying to find their way as young adults while balancing all that comes with being a student-athlete.
Hosey (left) and her father shared a very close bond, particularly when it came to athletics. The emotional distress she endured upon losing him to a brain disease during finals period in the spring of 2014 was initially too much to overcome. She made the tough decision not to play soccer that following fall once realizing she would be unable to emotionally separate herself from the sport and the emotions she had attached to it with her father.
Towards the end of the semester, however, she wanted to prove to herself that she could play through her emotions as a way to honor the memory of her father. Thus, she decided to join the lacrosse team that spring and instantly became an inspiration to her teammates and coaches. Her renewed dedication also paid dividends, as she finished third on the team in scoring while on the field in addition to also receiving high-honor academic marks while in the classroom.
"We are proud of Riley and how she stepped up and overcame her tragedy,” said College of Saint Elizabeth Athletics Director Juliene Simpson. “She could have given up and lost hope, but she chose to inspire her teammates and classmates. She took her emotions and turned them into a way to motive herself and her team and to honor the memory of her father and the special bond they shared."
Preston (right) would face the same trepidations entering her second season as a member of the Fighting Tiger women’s basketball team. With constant concern for her father as he courageously battled cancer, Preston also faced turnover with the team after the coach that recruited her unexpectedly departed shortly before the season, while the three seniors she leaned on for support as a freshman the prior year were now gone as well. Now, she faced the added pressure of being the team’s leader in just her second year.
Preston took the role in stride, though, being named team captain while helping her team rebound – literally – during this transition period. Preston was a force on the boards all season, averaging a conference-best 15 rebounds per game, which ranked her third across all of NCAA Division III. That was coupled with her 16.7 points-per-game average, which led to 17 double-double outings in 21 contests for the forward.
None of those double-double efforts would be as special as the final one. As Preston and her team entered the final week of the season with two games left on the schedule, her father would tragically succumb to his disease. Funeral arrangements were made for Saturday of that week, leaving all to assume that the devastated Preston would miss the final two games scheduled for Friday and Saturday during such a difficult time.
Yet, basketball had served as Preston’s release all season. It’s what she loved, and in her heart, it’s what she knew her father would have wanted her to do. So, the night before the funeral, Preston stepped onto the court for one final time that season to honor her father, finishing the contest with a team-best 18 points and a game-high 21 rebounds in 34 of the most emotional minutes of her career. While the Fighting Tigers did not win the contest, no one in attendance will recall the final outcome, but instead will remember a young woman who played with all her heart, no matter how heavy it was.
“Shelby exemplifies the term student-athlete,” said SUNY Cobleskill Athletics Director Kevin McCarthy. “She is a dedicated and committed young lady, in both academics and athletics. Despite personal tragedy and family challenges, she persevered without excuse at all times.”
The next three award winners are student-athletes from SUNY Polytechnic Institute that each overcame personal hardships throughout the year. Freshman Oliver Crain, a cross country runner for the Wildcats, was having a fine debut season for SUNY Poly. Then, just three weeks before the NEAC Championship race was scheduled to be held, Crain would suffer a seizure, putting the rest of his season – and running career – in doubt.
Thankfully, after undergoing extensive testing, Crain (left) was cleared to run again. Determined to make it back on the course that season, Crain returned to training with the hopes of running in the conference championship, which would be hosted by NEAC member Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. That hope became a reality, as he not only returned for the event, but would finish Gallaudet’s eight-kilometer course in a time of 29:14.9 to place 17th individually in the field of 83 runners. His performance also helped SUNY Poly capture its second straight championship after he secured the final points needed by being the fifth Wildcat runner to cross the finish line, something that seemed unimaginable just three weeks beforehand.
Crain is back for the Wildcats again this season, being named a team co-captain.
Senior Kristina Strang had a similar comeback story. After a breakout freshman season for the Wildcat women’s soccer team in which she was named to the NEAC All-Conference Third Team, Strang would be involved in a major car accident that following offseason. The terrifying moment would cause injuries so severe that she would have to miss the entire soccer season during her sophomore year.
Determined to get back on the pitch, Strang (right) would continue to rehab and train during that offseason, getting out on her home turf and practicing whenever she got the chance. She would make it back for her junior campaign, but would really need the entire season to round back into form. Then, by her senior season last year, it all came together.
Strang would prove she was not only back but better than ever, finishing as the team leader in goals with 15 and points with 32 en route to be named to the NEAC All-Conference Second Team. She would also lead the Wildcats to the NEAC Tournament, where they would upset Lancaster Bible College 2-1 on the road in the quarterfinal round for their first-ever win over the Chargers.
When it was all said and done, Strang would finish her career as the program’s all-time leader in goals scored, a remarkable achievement considering her playing days were once in jeopardy.
Junior Connor Passalacqua also had a triumphant return from injury, and not just once, but twice. The outfielder was able to successfully make it back to the baseball field for the Wildcats this past season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) the year before. However, shortly into the new season, Passalacqua would suffer the same injury to the same knee, putting the rest of his season in serious doubt.
Passalacqua (left) would decide to forego surgery on his injured knee, opting instead to play through the injury. Sporting a heavy knee brace to deal with the constant pain, Passalacqua nonetheless appeared in 25 of the 32 Wildcat contests last season, holding down the right field position with a .980 fielding percentage after recording just one error defensively. He also batted in the six-hole at the plate, producing a .293 batting average on 22 hits, including a team-best two triples, to go along with eight walks and 12 runs scored. His performance throughout the year helped the Wildcats secure their first NEAC Regular Season Championship since 2011.
Passalacqua’s determination didn’t just show up on the baseball diamond. He also continued his service as the NEAC’s National Student-Athlete Advisory Committee Representative, which involves travel for national meetings along with multiple responsibilities within the group. He was able to successfully carry out this very important role while still focusing on his academics, his baseball career and his rehab, allowing him to serve as a role model for the rest of his teammates.
"What these three student-athletes have symbolized for our program is that setbacks, either major or minor, are a big part of building character and success,” explained SUNY Polytechnic Institute Athletics Director Kevin Grimmer. “Oliver, Kristina and Connor have been inspirations to all of us at SUNY Poly as they fought back to provide the winning edge for their respective teams. Seeing the amount of hard work, focus and determination that was exhibited in their comebacks is a great testament to each of them. It made our teams better for it and set the tone for tremendous futures for each of them."