Dan Hammes, Deputy Commissioner
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The American Rivers Conference (A-R-C) announced today the five female and four male nominees for its 2019-20 Johanna Olson and Duane Schroeder Scholar-Athletes of the Year Awards.
The nominees for the Johanna Olson A-R-C Female Scholar of the Year award are former Central College women’s golf student-athlete Emily Opsal (Wilson), former Coe College track & field athlete Kat Stai, former Loras College track & field student-athlete Audrey Miller, Nebraska Wesleyan University women’s basketball student-athlete Caitlin Navratil, and Wartburg College women’s basketball student-athlete Emma Gerdes.
The Duane Schroeder A-R-C Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year nominees are Central College football athlete Jon Alberts, Coe College wrestler Taylor Mehmen, Nebraska Wesleyan University cross country and track & field athlete Andy Vasquez, and Wartburg College football player Kolin Schulte.
This year’s nominees now move before the Scholar-Athlete Recommendation Committee, comprised of three Faculty Representatives and three Sports Information Directors. The Scholar-Athlete Recommendation committee will select a maximum of three male and three female finalists. The Male and Female Scholar-Athletes of the Year are selected from among the finalists by a vote of the A-R-C Faculty Representatives.
Emily Opsal (Wilson) * Women’s Golf * Central College * Verona, Wisconsin/Verona Area
Opsal (Wilson) was a four-time career letter winner for the Dutch, while earning three team All-Conference accolades, finishing as high as fourth in 2018. She helped the Dutch to two A-R-C Women’s Golf Championships in 2016 and 2018. The Verona, Wis. native also competed in two NCAA Division III Championships for the Dutch (2017 and 2019). Her career-best 18-hole round was a 76, which she hit twice in 2017 and three times in 2019. Opsal was nominated as Central College’s NCAA Woman of the Year nominee in 2020.
In the classroom, the Business Management major with an emphasis in Finance carried a cumulative GPA of 3.96 during her time at Central College. Opsal was named a three-time CoSIDA Academic All-District Nominee (2018-2020), while being a four-time Women’s Golf Coaches Association (WGCA) All-American Scholar. During her studies, Opsal worked full-time as an investment operations intern at Principal Global Investors during the 2019 spring semester and into the summer. Opsal graduated in May 2020 with Magna Cum Laude distinction.
In leadership roles, Opsal was selected as a Student Trustee to the Central College Board of Trustees for the 2019-20 academic year. There she served as the voice of the Central student body in discussions and decisions that affected the institution. During her internship with Principle Financial Group, the Verona, Wis. native was selected to serve on the Intern Connection Committee (ICC) with five other interns across the company, where she worked to organize social events and outreach efforts for the other 200+ interns coming to the Des Moines area.
Class of 2020 Dean, Eric Jones: “Emily’s exceptional maturity and emotional intelligence were reasons why she was asked to be a Student-Trustee for the Central College Board of Trustees. It was rewarding to see her interact with the leaders from around the nation.”
Kat Stai * Track & Field * Coe College * Winona, Minnesota/Winona
Cross Country and Track & Field student-athlete, Kat Stai of Coe College finished her senior season as an All-Region finisher in Cross Country, finishing 16th at the regional race in Waverly, Iowa. She also took home All-Conference accolades finishing fourth at the 2019 American Rivers Conference Cross Country Championships. The Winona, Minnesota native took home the individual title at the Les Dukes Invitational in Coe’s second meet of the season. She also finished third in Coe’s season opener against Dubuque, Loras, and Wartburg.
Stai graduated from Coe College with degrees in Business Administration and Public Accounting, maintaining a 3.67 GPA in the classroom. She participated in Sigma Beta Delta, the business fraternity on the campus of Coe College. The Winona, Minnesota was awarded the Coe College Outstanding Accounting Student Award.
Off the track, Stai was the President of the Coe College Business Club and was a member of the Coe Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) representing the Kohawk Cross Country and Track & Field teams.
Head Women’s Cross Country/Track & Field coach, Krista Littleton: “Kat was a tremendous role model due to her work ethic, commitment level, supportive nature, and team-first mentality . . .She provided a lot of guidance and support to her teammates, and they often went to her for advice about life, academic matters, and athletics.”
Audrey Miller * Loras College * Track & Field * Appleton, Wisconsin/Xavier
The four-time All-Conference performer in Cross Country and two-time Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field All-Conference performer, Audrey Miller of Loras had a storied career in a Duhawk colors. Miller won the 2016-17 Loras College Female Athlete of the Year honors, while also earning Cross Country and Track & Field MVP school honors. In her career at Loras, Miller was a six-time All-American across the three sports, including two All-American finishes in her cross country career (2016 and 2019). The Appleton, Wis. native holds the conference championship 5000-meter record with a time of 17:13.94 set in 2017. Miller ended her time at Loras being honored as a Top 30 finalist for the NCAA Woman of the Year award for Division
Miller graduated from Loras College in December 2019 with a degree in Chemistry. She also had minors in Spanish and Biology. The Appleton, Wis. native was a three time USTFCCCA All-Academic in Cross Country (2015, 2016, 2019) and a two-time Academic All-American in Track & Field (2016, 2017). She also was a two-time CoSIDA Third-Team Academic All-American (2016-17, 2019-20) and a two-time First-Team Academic All-District (2016-17, 2019-20). Miller was also recognized as an A-R-C All-Academic Team performer three times for Cross Country (2015, 2016, 2019) and twice for Track & Field (2017, 2019).
Miller spent time in the community getting involved as a volunteer with the After-School STEM Education Program where she helped elementary aged students in the Dubuque community. For three years, the Appleton native also participated in the Loras College High School Chemistry Olympics in the day-long event for high school students to compete in various chemistry activities (2016-2018). In 2017, Miller participated as an Antioch Retreat Leader, hosted by Loras College’s campus ministry, as part of the chapel team. During the 2018-19 academic year, Miller created and edited the Loras College Survival Guide to the Science Hall which is a booklet of everything Loras College science department for incoming students interested in majoring in a STEM field. She also was a staff writer and editor for the Loras College student newspaper, The Lorian during her four years at Loras. She is currently attending the University of California, Davis working on her Ph.D. in Geochemistry and Planetary Sciences.
Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology, Jake Kurczek, Ph.D.: “What amazes me about Audrey is that she embodies all of the most positive things we think about when we envision a student leader on a college campus . . . If I go to a sporting event, I see Audrey supporting her fellow Duhawks. If I go to a guest speaker I see Audrey there supporting Duhawks.”
Caitlin Navratil * Women’s Basketball * Nebraska Wesleyan University * Littleton, Colorado/Dakota Ridge
As a Nebraska Wesleyan standout women’s basketball player, Navratil holds six school records and finished 4th in the nation for scoring for the 2019-20 campaign. The point guard holds records in career total points (1,940), single season total points (567), career field goals made (760), most field goals in a season (217), career 3-point field goal percentage (.403), and career assists (336). The Littleton, Colo. native was a four-time All-Conference performer, including three First Team selections while being a team captain for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. Her efforts in 2019-20 led her to receive First Team All-West Region honors, while being recognized twice as a NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Team of the Week honors. To conclude her playing career, Navratil was named an All-American by both the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) and D3hoops.com.
Navratil graduated from Nebraska Wesleyan University with a GPa of 3.58 majoring in Social Work with a minor in Spanish. She was selected as a CoSIDA Academic All-District team in her senior season (2019-20). The Colorado native was inducted into the Phi Alpha Social Work Honorary for completion of social work classes while maintaining a GPA greater than 3.50. She was also named to the Academic Honors roll for the Spring 2020 semester for having a GPA of 3.75. Navratil completed a 400-hour practicum during the Summer of 2020 with Lincoln Literacy where she planned, organized, and taught English classes to immigrants and refugees from all over the world.
During her time at Nebraska Wesleyan University, Navratil completed sixty hours of volunteer service. Completing a service learning opportunity at the Karen Society where she assisted immigrants and refugees who spoke little English with day-to-day tasks. Following the NCAA Division III commitment to Special Olympics, Navratil also volunteered with Special Olympics in the Lincoln-area assisting with game management. Working with students with their classwork at Clinton Elementary School where she was able to provide a positive role model experience to a diverse group of students to improve their reading and comprehension skills.
Professor of History, Sandra Matthews, Ph.D.: “Caitlin is a brilliant and high-achieving scholar, a dedicated athlete, a hard-worker who truly puts the success and well-being of others and the whole first as exemplified by her extensive volunteer work and on-the-court competitive career . . . she is just an absolutely delightful and considerate human being.”
Emma Gerdes * Women’s Basketball * Wartburg College * Cedar Falls, Iowa/Cedar Falls
The three-time All-American for the Knights, Gerdes helped guide Wartburg to the NCAA Division III Tournament all four year in a Knights uniform. A two-time Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (2018-19, 2019-20) and a one-timeD3hoops.com (2019-20) Honorable Mention All-American honors for the Cedar Falls, Iowa native. Gerdes was also named the A-R-C Offensive Most Valuable Player for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. A career that ended with eight NCAA tournament victories, Gerdes had an extremely successful career on the court with the Knights.
In the classroom, Gerdes graduated from Wartburg College with a degree in Exercise Science with a minor in Biology, while maintaining a GPA of 3.50. She was selected by the Exercise Science department chair to assist in the selection of a new exercise science professor Wartburg College. The Cedar Falls native was also selected to be on a student panel to speak to the Wartburg College Board of Regents to speak on behalf of the exercise science department. Her educational career ended with two Wartburg academic awards including the Chellevold Award which is given to a senior female athlete selected by the faculty athletic committee based on athletic achievement, scholarship, and attitude. She also earned the Dick Walker Memorial Scholarship which is awarded to a student declared as an exercise science major. Gerdes is currently enrolled in the Nurse Practitioner Program at Allen College.
In the community, Gerdes exemplified community service by working with an after school program at a local elementary school, where she served a free lunch and helped with activities offered to elementary aged children and their families during the summer months. The Cedar Falls, Iowa native also was a Sunday School Leader where she taught and led a small group of elementary aged children on Sunday mornings, as well as the same role at Vacation Bible School. Gerdes also assisted at a local assisted living facility, visiting elderly residents. On campus, Gerdes was the captain of the women’s basketball team, a member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), co-led a small group Bible Study, and coached a youth basketball team.
Head women’s basketball coach, Bob Amsberry: “Emma was one of the best players and certainly one of the most outstanding leaders that ever wore a Wartburg uniform, but I am confident her biggest contributions to our community came off the court . . . Emma Gerdes’ influence on the Wartburg College and Waverly communities will have a lasting presence.”
Jon Alberts * Football * Central College * Huntley, Illinois/Huntley
With an extremely reliable leg throughout his career, Central kicker Jon Alberts ends his Dutch career holding eight kicking records at Central. He holds the longest field goal of 55 yards set on Oct. 20, 2018 at Wartburg. He also holds the record for most field goals in one game (4, vs. Augustana (Ill.), 2017) and in a season (14, 2017). He was a National Football Foundation William V. Campbell Trophy semifinalist his senior season (2019), while picking up First Team All-American honors from both the AFCA and D3football.com. He was a First Team All-Conference performer three times (2017, 2018, 2019). In 2018 and 2019, Alberts was a Fred Mitchell Award finalist, which is given to the nation’s top place-kicker in each division of football. The Huntley, Ill. native topped off his career as an American Rivers Conference champion in 2019.
Alberts graduated from Central College with degrees in business management and philosophy, while maintaining a GPA of 3.92 and graduating Summa Cum Laude. He was named a First Team Academic All-American by CoSIDA for two consecutive years (2018 and 2019). Alberts was awarded the Team Borgman Award which is awarded to the Central College senior with the highest grade point average. A three-time A-R-C Academic All-Conference honoree, including making the Dean’s List all eight semesters at Central College. Alberts was also the recipient for the Vander-Lugt Scholarship for Excellence in the Humanities (Philosophy) in 2019.
Alberts also served his community, most notably with Children Family and Urban Ministries, Breakfast Club and Clean Up in Des Moines (2016-2018). In 2019, Alberts also volunteered with the Des Moines Food Bank. On campus, the Huntley, Ill. native served as a senator in the Central College Student Senate during the 2019-20 school year. He also was an active participant in Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) between 2017 and 2020.
Head Football Coach, Jeff McMartin: “Jon Alberts does a great job of leading others, not only by what he says but also more importantly, through his actions. Jon would be the first player on the practice field every day and the last one to leave . . . If anyone on our team was having a difficult time fitting in or struggled with a personal problem, I would not hesitate to have Jon spend time with that athlete.”
Taylor Mehmen * Wrestling * Coe College * Cedar Rapids, Iowa/Cedar Rapids Prairie
The 197 lbs. wrestler won the Male Bremner Outstanding Athlete Award Winner, given annually to a male and female athlete at Coe College. On the mat, Mehmen took first-place at the Midwest Regional in the 197-pound weight class, while posting a record of 23-1 his senior season only losing to the nation’s top-ranked wrestler. His senior campaign saw Mehmen earn First Team All-Conference and All-American distinctions. To cap off his senior campaign, the Cedar Rapids, Iowa native went 5-0 at the annual National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) National Duals.
The triple major graduated from Coe College with degrees in Physics, Computer Science, and Mathematics and maintained a cumulative GPA of 3.79. Throughout his wrestling career, Mehmen was an Academic All-Conference and Academic All-American. He was named to the Google Cloud Academic All-District team in 2019.
Outside of the classroom and wrestling mat, Mehmen was involved with raising over $2,000 for St. Jude’s through philanthropic events. He was the wrestling team captain and the treasurer of Tau Kappa Epsilon, as well as being a member of Sigma Pi Sigma, the Physics National Honor Society. Mehmen is currently working on his Ph.D. in Computer Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Professor of Mathematics, Kent Harron, Ph.D.: “I have the utmost respect and admiration for Taylor. He is a very friendly and likable young man and has shown his talents and abilities with others . . . He is well-liked and respected by his former teammates and fraternity brothers, and many others as well.”
Andy Vasquez * Cross Country/Track & Field * Nebraska Wesleyan University * Omaha, Nebraska/Omaha Burke
A three-sport athlete at Nebraska Wesleyan, Andy Vasquez became the first ever NWU student-athlete to compete in Cross Country, Swimming, and Track & Field. In 2018, Vasquez finished the Cross Country season as an All-American after finishing 19th at the NCAA Division III Championships, while being a three-time nationals qualifier in his career. He was also a three-time A-R-C All-Conference finisher in cross country (2016-2019). Vasquez earned four letters in each of the three sports he competed in, ending a terrific athletic career at Nebraska Wesleyan.
Vasquez graduated from Nebraska Wesleyan University with a 3.98 GPA earning a degree in Accounting. In 2019, he was named a CoSIDA Academic All-American. The Omaha native was also a four-time Academic All-Conference honoree in each of the three sports he competed in, while also earning NCAA Academic All-Region recognition in Cross Country from 2016-2019. Vasquez earned the prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship for the 2019-20 Fall Season and is pursuing his Master’s in Business Administration from Creighton University, while working full-time at the Federal Reserve Bank.
Since 2016, Vasquez has served as a volunteer Liturgist at Mary Our Queen Catholic Church, while also serving as the Lector and Altar Server in 2018. During the 2018-19 academic year, he served at St. Thomas Aquinas Church as the RCIA Sponsor of Adults Converting to the Catholic Faith. Also in 2018, Vasquez served as an English teaching assistant at Southeast Community College. The Omaha native also served with Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation helping mentor incoming minority college students.
Assistant Professor of Accounting, Jeanette Milius, Ph.D.: “In Andy I saw the necessary qualities to be not only an exceptional accountant, but also a great team member and leader within the organization that is so fortunate to choose him for their employee.”
Kolin Schulte * Football * Wartburg College * Anamosa, Iowa/Anamosa
Schulte was a two-time 1000 yard receiver for the Wartburg Knights while collecting three consecutive A-R-C championships. In 2018, he was named the Wartburg College Breakout Athlete of the Year, while being named a Second Team All-Conference performer. His senior season in 2019, the Anamosa, Iowa native was the Wartburg Football Offensive MVP and earned First Team All-Conference honors. Schulte ended his career in a Wartburg uniform by breaking the school’s record for touchdowns in a season with 19.
Schulte graduated from Wartburg College with a 3.837 GPA with a Biochemistry major. He was a three-time Academic All-Conference honoree, while being named to the Wartburg College Dean’s List all seven eligible semesters. 2019 saw Schulte be named a First Team Academic All-American, and in 2018 being named a CoSIDA Second Team All-American. He was also involved with Beta Beta Beta biology club.
Outside the classroom, the Anamosa, Iowa native was a three-year volunteer with Tri-By-Knight Triathlon, as well as volunteering with Unified Sports Day. Schulte also was a three-year volunteer with Backyard Bash Middle School Celebration. He capped off his senior football season being a team captain. He was also a member of Phi Eta Sigma while at Wartburg College.
Professor of Biochemistry, Shawn Ellerbroek, Ph.D.: “Kolin has proved himself time and again to be a student-athlete capable of juggling and succeeding many responsibilities at once. It is a rare individual who can excel in the classroom, volunteer and lead in service work, and break the college’s record for touchdown receptions in a season.”