Northeast Conference Announces 2016-17 Male & Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year Winners - Northeast Conference Skip To Main Content


The Official Site of the Northeast Conference
The Official Site of the Northeast Conference


Northeast Conference Announces 2016-17 Male & Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year Winners


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Somerset, NJ -- When it comes to grade-point average, there is nobody better than these Northeast Conference (NEC) student-athletes.

A record-high five women -- Saint Francis U’s Taylor Allison (State College, PA/State College) (basketball), Mount St. Mary’s Sarah Bonson (Lewistown, PA/Mifflin County) (swimming), Central Connecticut’s Nicole Dean (Almont, MI/Almont) (volleyball), Sacred Heart’s Lea Lieb (Sonthofen, Germany/Gymnasium Immenstadt) (volleyball) and Wagner’s Avika Sagwal (New Delhi, India/Delhi Public High School (SE Louisiana)) (tennis) -- attained a perfect 4.0 grade-point average to share the NEC Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year honor.

On the men’s side, Bryant baseball outfielder Joseph Paparelli’s (Preston, CT/ Norwich Free Academy) 3.99 cumulative GPA was enough to secure the NEC Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year award.

In its 11th year, the NEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year award, which is sponsored by the league’s Faculty Athletic Representatives, goes to the male and female student-athletes who have exhausted their athletic eligibility, graduated and compiled the highest grade point average in the Conference at the conclusion of the academic calendar.

“Congratulations to this impressive group,” said NEC Commissioner Noreen Morris. “It takes an incredible amount of commitment and ability to achieve or come close to a 4.0 GPA while also competing at a high level athletically. These six student-athletes have proven extremely worthy of this recognition. Speaking on behalf of the entire NEC, we are so proud of their accomplishments.”

For the third time in the last five years, a women’s basketball student-athlete has earned NEC Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year status. Following in the footsteps of Katie Fox (St. Francis Brooklyn - 2015) and Carly Thibault (Monmouth - 2013), Allison staked her claim to the highest academic honor that a graduating NEC senior can receive. Allison, a key reserve for the Red Flash, appeared in 30 games this past season and averaged 13.2 minutes per outing. The Management major sported better than a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio as a senior.

“Being named Scholar-Athlete of the Year is a huge honor for Taylor and all of us at Saint Francis,” said SFU head women’s basketball coach Joe Haigh. “She has worked so hard in the classroom and on the basketball court during her career at SFU.  Taylor has made the most of the academic and athletic opportunities provided at Saint Francis and is a great example of a true student-athlete.”

Bonson’s selection marks the second consecutive year during which a Mount St. Mary’s swimmer has attained the honor, joining former teammate Haley Fournier. The Biochemistry/Chemistry major compiled a perfect grade-point average while also performing well in the pool. Bonson was responsible for three top-20 individual finishes (100 fly, 200 fly, 400 IM) at the 2017 NEC Swimming and Diving Championships.

“Sarah is everything you could ask for in a student-athlete, and someone who has truly helped shape our program,” said Mount head coach Neil Yost. “She is smart, tough and resilient, and is committed to success in each of her endeavors. She displayed her expertise in the classroom as a dual major, while also taking the lead in organizing student volunteering opportunities. Sarah was a committed leader as a team captain and scored points for the team every year at conference championships. Sarah is the type of student-athlete you want to build your program around, and we are extremely grateful to have had her outstanding leadership and character here at Mount St. Mary’s.”

Sagwal achieved her 4.0 GPA while majoring in Business Administration at Wagner. Her latest honor should come as no surprise considering that the tennis student-athlete won the 2016 Wagner College Undergraduate Award for Business Administration for the student in the Business Administration Department with the highest GPA. On the tennis court during the 2016-17 academic year, Sagwal posted a winning individual record that featured a 5-3 mark in the No. 1 singles flight. She tied for the team lead in singles wins for the second straight season, running her two-year total up to 24 victories.

Dean appeared in 66 matches for CCSU volleyball during her four-year career. The outside hitter was selected as the Henry Barnard Distinguished Student at Central Connecticut. Majoring in Biology, the Michigan product spent all four of her years on the NEC Commissioner’s Honor Roll.

“We are so proud of Nicole’s accomplishments,” CCSU head coach Linda Sagnelli said. “She is an exemplary student-athlete and as she goes forward, she will be a shining example for the volleyball program, the entire athletics department, and Central Connecticut State University.”

Lieb, a German-born setter, appeared in all 30 of the Pioneers’ matches this past season and averaged 4.94 assists per set. She registered 27 service aces for the NEC regular season champions, who won 14 of 16 league matches. The Management major is the first SHU student-athlete to earn NEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year plaudits since Kathleen Henry (track & field) in 2009.

“Congratulations to Lea on this achievement,” said SHU head volleyball coach Rob Machan. “She was a tremendous asset to our program, academically, athletically and most importantly as a person. We wish her all the best in her future endeavors.”

Paparelli is the first-ever Bryant Bulldog to win the NEC Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year award. The Actuarial Mathematics major also doubled as Bryant University’s Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year. The outfielder played in 24 games as the Bulldogs secured their sixth consecutive NEC regular season championship in the sport of baseball. Paparelli accounted for a .397 on-base percentage this past spring and hit two home runs.

“Joe is an extremely gifted student-athlete who has excelled in the classroom for four years,” said Bryant’s head baseball coach Steve Owens. “His commitment toward his schoolwork was unmatched in my tenure as a coach. He is in a tremendous position to start his professional career and we look forward to following his future success.”

NEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year History

Year       Men                                        Women
2016-17    Joseph Paparelli, Bryant                   Taylor Allison, Saint Francis U
                                                      Sarah Bonson, Mount St. Mary’s
                                                      Nicole Dean, Central Connecticut
                                                      Lea Lieb, Sacred Heart
                                                      Avika Sagwal, Wagner
2015-16    Washi Gervais, Saint Francis U             Dragana Dzigurski, St. Francis Brooklyn
                                                      Haley Fournier, Mount St. Mary’s
                                                      Sarah Ross, Saint Francis U
                                                      Brittany Sarza, Bryant
2014-15    David Lonnberg, St. Francis Brooklyn       Katie Fox, St. Francis Brooklyn
2013-14    Travis Denny, Robert Morris                Ellen Huffman, Wagner
2012-13    Mark Quaranta, Mount St. Mary’s            Una Japundza, Robert Morris
                                                      Carly Thibault, Monmouth
2011-12    Michael Foster, Mount St. Mary’s           Evgeniya Tyrtova, Fairleigh Dickinson
2010-11    Sean O’Reilly, Saint Francis U             Ali Kliment, Monmouth
2009-10    Filip Kisdobranski, St. Francis Brooklyn   Maggie O’Connell Dubois, Mount St. Mary’s
2008-09    Benjamin Evenden, Monmouth                 Kathleen Henry, Sacred Heart
                                                      Tara Maxwell, Robert Morris
                                                      Erin Reifsteck, Saint Francis U
2007-08    Ian Butcher, Saint Francis U               Katja Bavendam, St. Francis Brooklyn
2006-07    Moran Stern, St. Francis Brooklyn          Lisa Jaszka, Robert Morris
           Andrija Vrdoljak, St. Francis Brooklyn

About The Northeast Conference
Now wrapping up its 36th year, the Northeast Conference is an NCAA Division I collegiate athletic association consisting of 10 institutions of higher learning located throughout six states. Media coverage of the NEC extends to four of the largest markets in the United States - New York (#1), Pittsburgh (#23), Baltimore (#27), and Hartford/New Haven (#30).  Founded in 1981 as the basketball-only ECAC Metro Conference, the NEC has grown to sponsor 22 championship sports for men and women and now enjoys automatic access to 14 different NCAA Championships. NEC member institutions include Bryant, Central Connecticut, Fairleigh Dickinson, LIU Brooklyn, Mount St. Mary’s, Robert Morris, Sacred Heart, St. Francis Brooklyn, Saint Francis U and Wagner. For more information on the NEC, visit the league’s official website ( and digital network (, or follow the league on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Google+, all @NECsports.