Trio Tabbed Western New England Coca-Cola Student-Athletes of the Year for 2014-15

Trio Tabbed Western New England Coca-Cola Student-Athletes of the Year for 2014-15
SPRINGFIELD, Mass.--Football's Kevin Cook (Hamburg, N.J./Wallkill Valley High School), two-sport standout Grace Kucharski (Avon, Conn.) and women's lacrosse star Jessica Scannapieco (Blue Bell, Pa./Wissahickon High School) have been named the Western New England University Coca-Cola Student-Athletes of the Year for the 2014-15 academic year, following outstanding senior seasons. That announcement was made by Western New England athletics director Dr. Mike Theulen.

The trio will receive their awards on Friday, Oct. 2, at the Downes Athletic Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony during the University's Homecoming weekend.

Kucharski, who received the 2015 WNE Senior Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award along with Cook's teammate Andrew McManus in May, is a nominee for the prestigious 2015 NCAA Woman of the Year Award--bestowed to the most outstanding graduating female student-athletes who champion four pillars of greatness: academics, athletics, service and leadership.

"I credit both my teams and coaches for helping me develop as a student-athlete over the past four years," Kucharski, who repeats as the school's female athlete of the year, said. "It's truly gratifying to look back on my time at WNE with only positive memories. I'm thankful for the support of both my family and athletic family over these past four years."

On the volleyball court, Kucharski became the second female student-athlete in WNE history--and the first in eight years--to earn both field All-America and classroom CoSIDA Academic All-America recognition in the same season. The two-time American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division III Honorable Mention All-America choice also received Capital One Academic All-America® NCAA Division III Women's Volleyball Third Team laurels from the College Sports Information Directors' of America.

Her other 2014 postseason accolades included two-time AVCA Division III All-New England Region Team, three-time Capital One/CoSIDA Academic All-District I®, New England Women's Volleyball Association Division III Senior Classic, Commonwealth Coast Conference Senior Scholar-Athlete of the Year, two-time CCC Libero of the Year and All-CCC First Team (4x all-conference), three-time Academic All-CCC Team, WNE Female Senior Scholar-Athlete of the Year, and WNE Iron Woman Award (hardest-working player on the team).

A defensive specialist, Kucharski finished her four-year collegiate volleyball career ranked ninth in New England NCAA Division III history with 2,118 digs, which are 831 more than the Golden Bear who stands in second place in school annals. She also holds school benchmarks for career (4.92) and single-season (5.05) dig average as well as the top four marks for digs in a season (466, 574, 586, 492). Besides 492 digs to finish second in the CCC last fall, she placed first in the conference with a career-high 69 service aces. She wound up in fifth place on the all-time school chart with 249 aces.

On the diamond this spring, she contributed to the No. 1-seeded Golden Bears' first-ever CCC softball championship without losing a game (3-0) in the conference tournament--including a convincing 4-1 win over defending champion Endicott College. Western New England finished 30-9 overall (14-2 CCC) after going 1-2 in the Williamstown Regional of the NCAA Division III Softball Championship--the program's first trip to the national tournament since 2006.

Kucharski posted career bests with a .362 batting average, .394 on-base percentage and .457 slugging to earn second-team all-CCC. She also was named to the NCAA Division III Regional All-Tournament Team at Williams College and academic all-conference for the third time. A 2013 National Fastpitch Coaches' Association Scholar All-America Team selection, she is expected to be recognized for this honor again when the 2015 squad is announced in the fall.

She adds: "My favorite moment as a Golden Bear was making history with the softball team this past spring in capturing the CCC title and earning a bid to NCAAs. After waiting four years here and eight seasons (since the program joined the CCC) to win a conference championship, there was nothing more satisfying and I could not imagine a better way to end my career."

Kucharski enrolled in the prestigious Walt Disney Company College Internship Program in Orlando, Fla., that caused her to miss the 2014 campaign on the diamond, but she didn't miss a beat by improving on her honorable mention all-conference status attained during her 2013 sophomore season.

Kucharski achieved a bachelor's degree in business management with an emphasis in enterprise resource planning, graduating with a 3.91 grade-point average. She is a multiple recipient for the President's and Dean's Lists.

Kucharski moves to Orlando, Fla., this month to prepare for graduate school at the University of Central Florida, where she will pursue a master's degree in hospitality and tourism management. She also will be interviewing for a permanent position at Disney.

Western New England volleyball coach Bret Stothart commented: "Grace had an outstanding year on the volleyball court and also as a leader in our program. As co-captain she helped grow our strong team-first culture, while bringing positive energy and enthusiasm to all our team activities. She was a major factor in our team's constant improvement, as we accomplished new program records year-after-year with her leading the way.

"I'm so proud of Grace and how she has represented what it means to be a true Golden Bear, displaying comprehensive excellence on the court, in the classroom and as a leader across campus and beyond. She provides a great example for our current and future players to look to for guidance in making the most of your time as a student-athlete at WNE."

Added softball coach Lori Mayhew: "Grace is an exceptional student-athlete who excels on the volleyball court and on the softball field, but most importantly in the classroom. She is the epitome of a Golden Bear student-athlete."

Cook broke Marvin Langley's career rushing record of 3,401 yards, set from 1998 to 2001, in dramatic fashion in front of a home crowd on Oct. 11 during a 34-31 win over New England Football Conference (NEFC) rival Salve Regina. He set the new WNE standard by scampering down the right sideline in front of his team's bench for a 64-yard touchdown run that gave the Golden Bears a 27-24 lead at 9:56 of the third quarter to respond to a Salve TD two possessions later. He finished the day with 119 yards on 18 carries.

That game was one of many memorable ones put on display by the stout running back who ended his four-year career as the team's all-time leader with 4,094 yards rushing, 49 rushing touchdowns, 51 touchdowns, 306 total points and 854 rushing attempts while also owning single-season marks with 1,282 rushing yards, 264 attempts, 20 rushing TDs, 120 points and 20 TDs all accomplished in 2013, plus game benchmarks of four rushing TDs (tied), four TDs overall, and 24 points (tied) at Coast Guard on Oct. 5, 2013.

Cook's postseason honors included USACollegeFootball All-America status, first-team All-NEFC Offense, Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Division III North All-Star Second Team, 2015 National Football Foundation Hampshire Honor Society and All-NEFC Academic Team. He also made program history in December by becoming the first WNE player named D3football.com All-East Region as he placed on the third team. He earned the New England Football Writers' Gold Helmet NCAA Division II/III Award on Sep. 10 after leading WNE to a come-from-behind 38-34 win over city rival Springfield College in the first Pynchon SAW Game, with game highs of 98 yards and 28 carries while scoring three TDs and a two-point conversion.

"Achievement to me is being able to set goals for yourself and doing everything in your power to reach those goals," Cook commented on what being the school's male athlete of the year means to him. "There are many triumphs in which you may have to overcome, but as long as you are persistent, then achievement is almost guaranteed.

"My most memorable moment as a student-athlete is without a doubt winning the conference championship in 2011. It was such a rewarding feeling for everyone involved and it was an honor to be an asset to that championship team.

"Kevin is everything you could want in a Golden Bear," WNE football coach Keith Emery said. "He's talented, gives great effort and picks everyone up around him."

The team captain ended the season with four consecutive 100-yard games and bulldozed his way to a career-high 246 yards in a 22-7 win versus Coast Guard on Oct. 4. He was ranked among the nation's best in NCAA Division III: 22nd with 14 rushing touchdowns, 24th with 1,239 rushing yards, 24th in rushing yards per game (123.9 ypg), 27th with a 9.2 scoring average and 52nd with 135.5 all-purpose yards a game. The first two categories were both second in the NEFC.

Cook was an integral piece of a WNE offense that ranked as one of the top three in the NEFC as well as the nation. The Golden Bears led the NEFC regular-season with 4,435 total yards, school-record 223 first downs, 30 rushing touchdowns and red-zone TDs at 34-for-48. The team also was second in the conference with a school-record 48 TDs, 335 points and 2,677 rushing yards.

Cook is currently working two jobs in Springfield that are related to his degree in criminal justice: security officer at Six Flags New England and a loss prevention specialist at Sears in Springfield.

Scannapieco was selected to the 2015 ECAC New England Division III Women's Lacrosse All-Star First Team and first-team All-Berkshire Region Division III by the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA).

"Scann was a very hard worker and a tremendous student athlete," said Aimee Klepacki. "I truly believe things happen for a reason and Scann forgetting her goalie stick in the fall (of) freshman year allowed the coaching staff to see just how talented an athlete she was. She made an immediate impact when she stepped on the field her freshman year all the way to her last game senior year. She was a tremendous on the field leader."

The only CCC representative in this year's IWLCA Division III North-South Game at Cabrini College in Radnor, Pa. (where she scored three points to help her team win), Scannapieco is a three-time IWLCA All-Berkshire Region pick who made the first unit this spring and was named to the all-conference first team for the third year in a row. The WNE tri-captain became the NCAA's all-time leader at any level in draw controls, finishing her career with 573. She posted a school-record 179 draw controls, breaking her own single-season mark of 178 set two years ago, and is the NCAA Division III statistical champion with 9.42 per game. Earning a communication degree, the midfielder compiled 62 goals, 24 assists, 86 total points and led the Golden Bears with 50 ground balls and 26 caused turnovers. She also listed 39th in Division III in points and 44th in goals.

She also lists on the school's all-time charts for goal-scoring (4th with 205), total points (4th with 285), assists (6th with 80), ground balls (6th with 193) and caused turnovers (T-8th with 83).

In a 2015 campaign of firsts, Western New England won the CCC championship, advanced to the NCAA Division III Women's Lacrosse Championship Second Round, finished 16-3 overall for the third-best record (.842) in program history, and went undefeated (8-0) in CCC play for the second season in a row.

"Getting this award is pretty cool, I am extremely grateful and thankful for the opportunity and experience I had playing lacrosse at Western New England," stated Scannapieco. "I am proud looking back at the impact I've had on the women's lacrosse program, and to me this is validation from the University.

"My most memorable moment as a student-athlete is hands down winning the conference and watching my school's name appear on TV for the NCAA Selection Show. Winning the conference was all I thought about all season long, and making it a reality made the 6 a.m. practices, CPC (Continuum Performance Center) workouts, sprints, ice baths, and stress worth it. We made history, and it remains the pinnacle of my lacrosse career."

Currently, Scannapieco is living in New Freedom Pa., and working full time in Baltimore, Md., with Aloha Tournaments, which is a lacrosse and field hockey tournament company. She's also contacted by the World Series of Youth Lacrosse, returning recently from Denver, Colo., overseeing the inaugural Warrior World Series of Youth Lacrosse presented by the Coca-Cola Company.  She hopes to assist in coaching high school lacrosse next spring.

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