INDIANAPOLIS -- Baseball pitcher Peter Ifft (Rockford, Ill./Boylan Catholic) of the University of Illinois at Chicago and volleyball standout Rochelle Meulemans (Kaukauna, Wis./Wrightstown) of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay have been named the recipients of the Horizon League's 2008-09 Cecil N. Coleman Medal of Honor, Commissioner Jonathan B. LeCrone announced Thursday (July 16).
The Horizon League's highest individual honor, the Coleman Award is presented annually to the League's top male and female student-athletes who best exemplify the dignity and high purpose of the League and its membership. The individuals demonstrate outstanding achievement in academics, athletics and extracurricular activities. Candidates must be seniors who have exhausted their eligibility and were participants on the varsity level in a League-sponsored sport. In addition, nominees must have a cumulative grade-point average of at least 3.00 on a 4.00 scale, or its equivalent.
"We are exceptionally proud of what Peter and Rochelle have accomplished in their collegiate careers as individuals and as members of successful teams," said LeCrone. "While student-athletes so often get praised for their work on the court or on the field, the Coleman Award also recognizes athletes for their character and tireless efforts in the classroom and community. These two individuals exemplify what our four platforms are all about, and we wish them well in their future endeavors."
Ifft posted a career record of 5-2 with a 4.28 earned-run average in three seasons at UIC, where he helped lead the Flames to a pair of Horizon League championships and three regular-season titles. He enjoyed his best season as a junior in 2008 when he went 4-0 with a 3.18 ERA in 13 appearances and held opponents to a .207 batting average. Ifft was named to the League's All-Tournament Team that season after tossing eight innings for the win in UIC's winner-take-all championship-game victory over the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He then earned a victory in the NCAA College Station Regional with five innings of one-run relief in a win over Dallas Baptist University.
Off the field, Ifft was the Bell Honor Award winner as the UIC College of Engineering's 2009 valedictorian with a 4.0 grade-point average in bioengineering. He also was a three-time UIC Athletics Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year and three-time Academic All-Horizon League selection as well as a mainstay on the League's Academic Honor Roll.
In addition, Ifft was a research assistant in UIC's Neural Engineering Applications Laboratory, working on projects ranging from the brain to strokes. He co-wrote "Rapid Prototyping for Neuroscience and Neural Engineering," which was published in the July 2008 Journal for Neuroscience Methods and was a presenter at the Biomedical Engineering Society's Neural Microsystems Technology Session in fall 2008. Ifft will begin studies for a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at Duke University this fall.
"Peter is the epitome of a student-athlete," said UIC Director of Athletics Jim Schmidt. "He welcomed the challenges of a rigorous academic and athletic environment and succeeded in unrivaled fashion. His relentless work ethic will serve him well as he continues to pursue his education and make a difference in the lives of others. Peter is more than deserving of such a prestigious honor."
Ifft is the first UIC male student-athlete to earn the Coleman Medal and the second overall, joining former Flames tennis player Jacki Farr, who won the women's award in 2000-01.
Meulemans (pronounced MELL-manns) concluded her Green Bay volleyball career ranked eighth in school history with 989 assists as a three-year regular in the Phoenix line-up. Despite being a non-scholarship student-athlete her entire career, she is one of only five players in school history with at least 700 assists and 700 digs and was a team captain in 2007. She averaged 6.4 assists per game as a senior in 2008 to rank second on the team.
"Rochelle exemplifies what the true definition of a student-athlete is," said Green Bay head volleyball coach Debbie Kirch. "During her three-year career here, no one spent more time in the gym than she did. She wanted to be the best she could be in every area. Rochelle never lost sight of what was important, and excelled not only in the classroom, but in the community as well. She represented the Green Bay volleyball program extremely well and deserves every honor she has received because of how hard she has worked."
Off the court, Meulemans was voted to the ESPN The Magazine/CoSIDA Academic All-America Third Team as a senior and was a two-time selection to the Horizon League's Academic Honor Roll with a 3.98 grade-point average in biology. She also helped Green Bay earn Team Academic Awards from the American Volleyball Coaches Association each of the last two seasons while being named to the Horizon League Academic Honor Roll and the UW-Green Bay Dean's List.
Meulemans was an Upward Bound Tutor at Green Bay East High School and a Phuture Phoenix mentor and tutor at West DePere Middle School during her career as well as providing after-school child care through the Green Bay YMCA. She received the 2009 University Leadership Award, which is given to Green Bay undergraduate students who contribute to the growth and development of a UW-Green Bay registered student organization and/or exhibit a commitment to community service and volunteering while remaining in good academic standing. Meulemans will complete her undergraduate coursework this fall and then serve as a student teacher next spring to earn her degree.
Meulemans is the fourth Green Bay female student-athlete to claim the Coleman Medal in the last 11 years and the first since volleyball player Janelle Tomlinson in 2003-04. Previous winners were basketball standouts Kristy Loiselle (2002-03) and Chari Nordgaard (1998-99).
Each Horizon League institution had the opportunity to nominate a male and female student-athlete for the Coleman Medal of Honor. The other nominees were Kent Wories (track and field) and Alex Boros (softball) of Butler University; Steven Wipprecht (tennis) and Christa Coppus (softball) of Cleveland State University; John LaRocca (track and field) and Jaqueline Nortman (softball) of the University of Detroit Mercy; Nikki Grobbecker (basketball) of UIC; J.R. Blount (basketball) and Alexia Murray (soccer) of Loyola University Chicago; Mike Schachtner (basketball) of Green Bay; Andy Hetebrueg (baseball) and Sarah Teegarden (soccer) of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Karen Korb (softball) of Valparaiso University; Jeff Mercer (baseball) and Lizzy Gunn (volleyball) of Wright State University; and Joe Lahmon (track and field) and Olivia Arnold (swimming and diving) of Youngstown State University.
For a complete list of past Coleman Medal of Honor winners, click on the PDF link above.