Grace Kucharski, Andres Otero Earn Richard DiRuzza Leadership Awards

Grace Kucharski, Andres Otero Earn Richard DiRuzza Leadership Awards
SPRINGFIELD, Mass.--Grace Kucharski (Avon, Conn.) of the women's volleyball program and Andres Otero (Caracas, Venezuela) from the men's tennis team have been accorded the 2013-14 winners of the Dean Richard DiRuzza Leadership Award by the Western New England University Department of Athletics. That announcement was made on Sunday at the spring sports banquet held in Rivers Memorial Hall.

The award is named in honor of retired Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Students Richard DiRuzza who recognized the importance of student development, not only in the classroom, but in leadership and life. A loyal and strong supporter of the Golden Bears, DiRuzza spent 18 years working at Western New England, first as Dean of Students (1991-2001) and his last eight years (2001-09) in both positions.

Kucharski became the Golden Bears' first All-American in her sport and the program's all-time digs leader during her junior season last fall. The defensive specialist was named honorable mention by the American Volleyball Coaches' Association after receiving WNE's first-ever AVCA All-New England Region and Eastern College Athletic Conference All-New England First Team citations, a second CoSIDA Capital One Academic All-District Women's Volleyball First Team nod, Commonwealth Coast Conference Libero of the Year and all-conference first team accolades. She led the CCC with 5.05 digs per set and broke her own school record with 586 total digs (574 in 2012), pushing her career total to 1,626 in just three seasons. She also set a career high with 97 assists and ranked fourth in the CCC with 60 service aces (7 shy of her career best).

In the classroom, the business management major who is enrolled in the five-year MBA program has compiled a 3.93 overall grade-point average and placed on the Dean's List every semester. She's also a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa (leadership), Alpha Lambda Delta (academic excellence of freshman students), Beta Gamma Sigma (academic achievement in the study of business) and Chi Alpha Sigma (recognizing outstanding achievements by college student-athletes) national honor societies, as well as a 2014 Skookum Award winner (bestowed to WNE students who demonstrate leadership roles on campus, community service/volunteer experiences, and participation in athletics and co-curricular programs).

Off the court, Kucharski's community service activities include United Way, Dig Pink, American Cancer Society, Relay for Life, and Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Center fundraiser, and she has been a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

Also an All-CCC softball catcher and two-year starter, Kucharski missed her junior campaign on the diamond this spring because she was enrolled in the prestigious Walt Disney Company College Internship Management Program. Her other co-curricular activities include Life Skills mentor, WNE Admissions campus tour guide and accepted students day ambassador.

"I'm so happy for Grace to win the DiRuzza Leadership Award considering all the incredible young women competing for WNE Athletics," WNE women's volleyball coach Bret Stothart stated. "In her three years here, Grace has earned numerous honors for her academics and athleticism, but it's Grace's intangibles that have helped her to succeed in those areas. Her enthusiasm, work ethic, initiative and character all combine to make her a strong person and an impressive leader. She makes those around her better and truly represents what it means to be a Golden Bear."

Otero, a graduate of Henry Clay School, combined for 12 wins overall at Nos. 1 and 2 singles and No.1 doubles en route to earning all-CCC second team in the former and all-conference honorable mention in the latter. He went 4-3 in singles competition against the conference's top players, tying for the best winning percentage on the team with a minimum of three decisions. He led the team with 15 wins overall as a freshman, pushing his career total to 27 after just two seasons.

In the classroom, Otero is majoring in civil engineering major and he is a candidate to repeat on the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Scholar-Athlete Team. He's also an Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society member.

Otero's co-curricular activities include peer Spanish tutor, WNE Phonathon representative, International Dodgeball Committee member, International Student Club president, lab assistant in the College of Engineering and two-year Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. He was instrumental in forming the International Student Club this academic year and assisting in it being recognized as an officially-recognized club on campus.

"Andres is an extremely deserving recipient of this award because of his perseverance, optimism and initiative, even through times of adversity," said WNE men's tennis coach Jennifer Kolins. "He has been a natural leader since he has stepped on campus in the fall of 2012. He has truly committed himself in the classroom, on the court as the top player on our team and in his service to the University. He has stayed focused in these endeavors through his emotional heartache watching the political turmoil in Venezuela that affects his family, friends and city of his hometown Caracas."