April 29, 2014
Rosemont, Ill. -
As the Big Ten continues to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Big Ten Medal of Honor, senior student-athletes Vanessa DiBernardo and Nathan Scheelhaase were named the 2013-14 Big Ten Medal of Honor recipients for the University of Illinois, which were announced on Monday evening at the Fighting Illini All-Sports Celebration. DiBernardo is a member of the women’s soccer team and Scheelhaase is a quarterback on Illinois’ football team.
The conference's most exclusive award was the first of its kind in intercollegiate athletics to recognize academic and athletic excellence. The Big Ten Medal of Honor was first awarded in 1915 to one student-athlete from the graduating class of each university who had "attained the greatest proficiency in athletics and scholastic work."
Big Ten schools currently feature more than 8,200 student-athletes, but only 24 earn this prestigious award on an annual basis. In the 99 years of the Medal of Honor, over 1,300 student-athletes have earned this distinction.
DiBernardo became the highest-drafted player in school history when she was picked fourth overall by the Chicago Red Stars in the 2014 National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) College Draft. Ranking as one of the most decorated Illinois soccer players in school history, DiBernardo was a two-time All-American, collecting NSCAA second-team honors in 2011 and third-team accolades in 2012, and was named to the MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List three times. She excelled immediately on the field as an Illini, beginning her career as the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2010. She followed up a stellar rookie season by earning Big Ten Midfielder of the Year honors in 2011 while leading the Illini to their second Big Ten Tournament title in program history.
A three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection, DiBernardo wrapped up her career third in school history with 43 goals after leading the Illini in goals during each of her first three years, including a career-high 17 goals as a sophomore. In her final season, she ranked second on the Illini with seven goals while helping Illinois reach the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament, the team's best finish in her four-year career. She also tallied a career-high seven assists in 2013, giving her the most career assists (22) in school history, and finished tied for the most career shots by an Illini with 325.
The Naperville, Ill., native also excelled in the classroom at Illinois, capping her career as a second-team CoSIDA Academic All-American and a two-time NSCAA Scholar All-American. A recreation, sport and tourism major with a sport management concentration, DiBernardo boasted a 3.70 GPA and was recognized with several other academic awards, including three Academic All-Big Ten honors and a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar laurel.
Scheelhaase had one of the best offensive seasons in Illinois football history in 2013 and finished his career as the Illini's all-time total offense leader with 10,634 yards, a total that ranks seventh in Big Ten history. He led the conference in passing yardage (272.7 ypg), total offense (295.2 ypg) and completion percentage (66.7) during his senior campaign, while also breaking the school record for passing efficiency (140.7) to earn All-Big Ten honors.
A four-year starter and two-time team captain, Scheelhaase is the only quarterback in UI history to lead the Illini to bowl victories in back-to-back seasons and is one of just two players in Big Ten history to amass over 8,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards in his career. He finished among the Illinois career leaders in almost every quarterback category, ranking first in starts (48), second in completion percentage (63.0), completions (775) and rushing yards by a QB (2,066), and third in passing yardage (8,568), touchdown passes (55) and passing efficiency (130.2).
Off the field, Scheelhaase was an unquestioned leader during his five years on campus. He was a four-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree and earned two degrees from the University of Illinois - a bachelor's degree in communication and a master's in recreation, sport and tourism. He was a Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) representative, was very active in Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) and regularly took part in "Hometown Heroes" activities throughout his career, including countless visits to visits local schools, hospitals and correctional centers.