UIC Athletics celebrates successes in competition, classroom and community

UIC Athletics celebrates student-athletes and coaches during the SPARKYS gala April 22 at the Isadore and Sadie Dorin Forum. Photos: Steve Woltmann

UIC Athletics celebrated its successes on the fields of competition, in the classroom and throughout the community April 22 during the 11th annual SPARKYS gala, hosted by ESPN and Big Ten Network college basketball analyst Meghan McKeown at the Isadore and Sadie Dorin Forum.

Rising Flame Award
The Rising Flame Award is presented annually to two student-athletes in their first year of competition at UIC who have made significant contributions to their team’s success.

Julia Thomson (women’s soccer) received the award after being selected to the Missouri Valley Conference All-Freshman Team and helping anchor a UIC defense that posted seven shutouts and reached the MVC Tournament semifinals.

Robinson Le Meur (tennis) also was honored after leading the Flames with 12 singles victories and finishing second with 10 doubles wins this season. 

Other nominees for the award were Praise Oyebanji (cross country/track and field), Cameran Rios (softball), Christian Curtis (swimming and diving) and Pambos Nicoloudes (baseball).

Fire Up Award
The Fire Up Award is given each year to two student-athletes who give tirelessly to support their fellow Flames while building a strong and inclusive community and unity in the Flames family.

Luke Malone (cross country/track and field), who was vice president of the UIC Student-Athlete Advisory Committee in 2023-24, was one recipient. A repeat winner of the Fire Up Award, Malone has been an ever-present figure at numerous UIC athletics events, cheering on his fellow Flames while advocating for them on the local, regional and national level and helping organize various community service initiatives.

Agnes Gustafsson (tennis) also earned the award as a constant supporter of UIC student-athletes and as one of her team’s representatives on the UIC Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

Other nominees were Andi Kallaba (soccer), Rayth Petersen (baseball), Dee Dee Caskey (softball) and Jaclyn Oblena (volleyball).

Performance of the Year
The UIC Performance of the Year award goes to student-athletes who delivered extraordinary performances for the Flames in competition.

Trish Georgiou (soccer) was recognized for her role in a win over over Murray State in the MVC Tournament quarterfinals, where she came off the bench to make three crucial saves in a penalty kick shootout win.

Kendal Ewell (baseball) also won the award following his efforts in an April 9 win at Northwestern, where he went 5-for-5 with six RBI, a home run, a double and three runs scored. He also hit a 464-foot home run in UIC’s March 16 victory over Southern Illinois University Edwardsville at Curtis Granderson Stadium. 

Dasa Urbankova (golf), Zahria Woodard (volleyball), Dathan Maton (cross country/track and field) and Harrison Nolan (swimming and diving) were also nominated for the award.

Team of the Year
The UIC Team of the Year celebrates a Flames program for its extraordinary success during its season.

The men’s soccer team was selected this year after rising as high as No. 20 in the United Soccer Coaches poll (the program’s first top 25 ranking since 2014) and going 11-5-3 overall, including an impressive 8-1-1 at home. The Flames also collected key nonconference wins over Wisconsin and Loyola, advanced to the semifinals of the MVC Tournament and finished with a No. 37 RPI ranking.

The men’s volleyball, women’s golf and women’s soccer teams also were nominated for the honor.

Mission Driven Service Award
The Mission Driven Service Award, sponsored by the Alvin H. Baum Family Fund, spotlights a UIC athletics program that has made a significant impact at UIC and in the community through a tradition of service. This year’s award included a $5,000 donation to use for a future community service project in Chicago.

This year’s recipient was the women’s basketball team, which has spent many hours giving back to the campus and Chicago communities through teaching basketball to people with visual disabilities, working with Team Impact, volunteering with Special Olympics, helping at the Pilsen Food Pantry and partnering with the Chicago Youth Center.

Coach of the Year
The UIC Coach of the Year award recognizes leaders who have guided their teams to success.

Sean Phillips (men’s soccer) received the award after leading the Flames to the MVC Tournament semifinals and a top 20 national ranking while also developing five Flames student-athletes into all-conference selections, including two who received all-region accolades. Phillips also is on the verge of having the most wins in program history, entering the 2024 season with 130 victories. Former coach Sasha Begovic currently holds the record, with 136 wins.

UIC also honored swimming associate head coach/head diving coach Susan Bromberg with a SPARKY Award for her success in 2023-24. Bromberg was named Diving Coach of the Year by both the MVC and Mid-American Conference after leading the Flames to a sweep of the men’s 1- and 3-meter events at the MAC Championships and a victory in the women’s 3-meter competition at the MVC Championships. Under her guidance, UIC has transformed into one of the elite diving programs in the Midwest during the past 15 years.

Ashleen Bracey (women’s basketball), David Nikolic (women’s soccer) and Angela Rayhill (women’s golf) also were nominated for the award. 

Chancellor’s Cup
The Chancellor’s Cup celebrates the outstanding academic achievements of UIC teams, honoring the program with the highest collective GPA during the 2023 calendar year. UIC Chancellor Marie Lynn Miranda presented this year’s Chancellor’s Cup to the women’s tennis team (3.63 GPA) and men’s tennis team (3.57 GPA).

Athletes of the Year
The UIC Athletes of the Year awards are presented annually to two student-athletes who demonstrate superior athletic achievement, but also the finest attributes of leadership, sportsmanship and teamwork.

Harrison Nolan (swimming and diving) received the award after being named the Outstanding Diver of the 2024 MAC Championships and sweeping the 1- and 3-meter competitions. A first-team all-conference selection, Nolan broke numerous school records and qualified for the NCAA Zone Championships in both events, with his 10th-place finish on the 1-meter board, the best showing ever by a UIC diver at the zone meet.

Dasa Urbankova (golf) was honored after posting one of the finest seasons in program history. She won three individual titles and finished in the top five in five of the nine tournaments she played in and was a five-time MVC Golfer of the Week. She went on to receive all-conference and MVC All-Tournament honors last week after leading UIC to a second-place finish at the MVC Championships, the best result ever by the Flames at a conference tournament.

Other nominees were Bart Muns (soccer), Zane Zielinski (baseball), Makenna Maloy (soccer) and Makiyah Williams (basketball).

Ultimate Flame Award
The Ultimate Flame Award goes to a senior student-athlete who has a 3.0 GPA or higher, is a significant athletic contributor to their team’s success, is actively engaged in mission-driven service, is a leader on their team and is an outstanding representative of the Flames family.

A four-year member of the UIC women’s golf program, Brooke Beyer received the award after posting five top 20 finishes this season while helping the Flames to a runner-up finish at the MVC Championships. She also was Student Athlete Advisory Committee president for the 2023-24 school year, helping lead the organization’s ongoing dedication to service and unwavering support of all UIC student-athletes.

Juan Gutierrez (soccer) received the honor after starting every match for the past two seasons and earning a spot on last fall’s MVC All-Tournament Team. He also received the 2023 MVC State Farm Good Neighbor Award, in part for his work in the Chicago community, particularly with Diverse City FC, an organization that supports neurodiverse children and young adults learning to play soccer.

Jaida McCloud (basketball), Christina Toniolo (softball), Liam Davis (swimming and diving) and Dathan Maton (cross country/track and field) also were nominated for the award.

Team MVPs
Each UIC coaching staff also recognized its team MVP:

Fall 2023
Men’s soccer: Bart Muns
Men’s cross country: Daniel Chavez
Volleyball: Martina Delucchi
Women’s cross country: Daniela Martinez
Women’s soccer: Makenna Maloy

Winter 2023-24
Men’s basketball: Filip Skobalj
Men’s indoor track and field: Mark Lemke
Men’s swimming and diving: Harrison Nolan
Women’s basketball: Makiyah Williams
Women’s indoor track and field: Cailyn Persinger
Women’s swimming and diving: Kendra Preski

Spring 2024
Baseball: Zane Zielinski
Men’s outdoor track and field: Max Rivera
Men’s tennis: Aleksa Bucan
Softball: Larisa Villa
Women’s golf: Dasa Urbankova
Women’s outdoor track and field: Olivia Dumas
Women’s tennis: Agnes Gustafsson

Spirit squads
Cheer: Kimberly Gomez
Dance: Rabihah Gaither

Fans can support UIC student-athletes through contributions to The Chicago Collective. In addition, season ticket deposits for the 2024-25 basketball campaigns are being accepted through Ticketmaster for the men’s team and the women’s team or by contacting the UIC Athletics Ticket Office at 312-413-8421 or athleticsticketing@uic.edu.

For more information, fans are encouraged to visit UICFlames.com or follow the Flames on the social platforms X and Instagram.

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