2012 Scholar-Athletes of the Year Unveiled Highlight 26th Annual Michael Steuerman Awards on May 16

Michael Steuerman Scholar-Athlete Awards Dinner at Queens College, Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 7:00 pm

On Wednesday, May 16, the City University of New York Athletic Conference will celebrate the 2011-12 academic and athletic year with the 26th Annual Michael Steuerman Scholar-Athlete Awards Dinner. Presented by Pepsi and Dell, the night is a tribute to our outstanding student-athletes, coaches, administrators and supporters. The honorees represent the very best the City University of New York has to offer in quality scholarship, athleticism, and pride in our community at CUNY.

Without further a due, it is with immense pleasure that CUNYAC highlights the top four graduating scholar-athletes from all across the CUNY system, one male and one female student-athlete from the community and four-year colleges. These men and women show us the true meaning of “student-athlete” with their ability to balance commitments in the classroom and on the field of play beyond any ordinary standard. Following closely behind our four top winners are the 29 honorable mention scholar-athletes whose efforts rank them among the uppermost achievers in our cohort of student-athletes. Their achievements have made the mandate of the selection committee a challenging endeavor.

The 2011-2012 winners are Kingsborough Community College’s Zenia George (Women’s Cross Country/Track & Field), Hunter College’s Mallory Grubler (Women‘s Volleyball), Queensborough Community College’s Gteni Mbeou (Men’s Soccer) and the College of Staten Island’s Vladislav Romanov (Men‘s Swimming & Diving). They each have a unique story, amazing athletic achievements and excel in academic endeavors. For their individual biographies, please read below.

This year has truly been the Year of the Scholar-Athlete, with nearly 300 scholar-athletes being recognized in the fall semester and an expected 750 total to round out this academic year. In addition, ten scholar-athletes have been selected throughout the year for the CUNYAC/Hospital for Special Surgery Scholar-Athlete of the Month, several of whom will be at the event on Wednesday.

Alongside our scholar-athlete awards, CUNYAC will also celebrate the amazing achievements of our All-American student-athletes. All-Americans are given by each sport’s National committee, recognizing the elite athletes in the country. As of Monday, May 14, CUNYAC’s count for 2011-12 stands at 24 prior to the dinner, but the Spring tends to be the most ‘successful’ season in terms of All-Americans, and that number will grow in the coming weeks with the NCAA Track & Field Championships in two wee. As always, the Conference is aiming to exceed last year’s record number of 32 All-Americans.

Also presented as part of the ceremonies is the Commissioner’s Cup, which will be presented for the 15th consecutive time to the most successful Four-Year and Community College athletic programs for the 2011-2012 academic year and finally, the “Friend of CUNY” special award will be given out to a very surprised attendee.

Community College Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year

By Gregg Cohen

Focus. Sometimes the lens has to look at the big picture before the primary image comes into focus. Zenia George, the 2012 Michael Steuerman Community College Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year has been focused on academia, sporting a 3.65 grade point average in Community Health & Gerontology at Kingsborough Community College; even though that was not her major from the beginning.

“I am grateful that Kingsborough Community College was affordable and offered me a chance to have a college education,” said George, a native of the small Caribbean island of St. Lucia. “I wouldn’t have gotten the combination of affordability and the level of education elsewhere. At first I was not sure what I wanted to major in. I selected the major I’m about to graduate in when I was working in the recreation department and Professor [Karen] Goldman described to me about the benefits of being community health major. This caught my interest, and now I am about to graduate with honors.”

The big picture the first semester also included volleyball. In 2009, George played volleyball for the Wave and was an instant success; winning CUNYAC’s Athlete of the Week award twice and yielding a sportsmanship honor from the NJCAA Region XV coaches at the conclusion of the season.

But one person noticed her athleticism and determination and immediately went in for the kill. “I saw her focus,” said Cross Country/Track & Field Head Coach Dave Loobie, who was named the NJCAA Division III Women’s Track Coach of the Year in 2011. “The effort she gave playing every point. I knew she was a winner.”

So she switched from passing the volleyball to passing the baton, and made an indelible impact as a middle distance runner. At her first CUNYAC Championship, the 2010 Outdoors, George placed 5th, in what would become her signature event, the 800 Meters.

George made her mark at the 2010 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Championships, finishing fifth in the 800 Meters, and sixth in the Javelin Throw, making her introduction to the National stage a rousing success.

The following Fall, George went all in on her collegiate running career and immediately became KCC’s best cross country runner, winning a medal in her first CUNYAC Championship event, placing 15th overall. This past season, she made major improvements on her top five kilometer (3.1 miles) and six kilometer (3.8 miles) at grueling Van Cortlandt Park and took fourth overall in the CUNYAC Championship, topping 74 others from Community College and Four-Year Colleges, alike.

She did better the following week, at the 2011 NJCAA Region XV Championships, taking second overall and solidifying her chance at a top-8 finish at the National Championship the next week. She placed fourth at Nationals, against 108 elite runners from around the country, George slotted second among CUNYAC runners, and fourth overall, garnering her All-American status in Cross Country.

“Zenia doesn’t just walk around campus, she is constantly jogging,” said KCC Athletic Director Damani Thomas, a former All-American runner at Hunter College. “She is a student-athlete you can always count on heading to the library after practice. Whatever she puts her mind into, Zenia succeeds at it. This year she wanted to finish in the top ten at Nationals and she is well on her way to that goal.”

George earned two more All-American awards at the 2011 NJCAA Outdoor Championships, becoming a National Champion for the first time in the 4 x 800 Meter Relay with teammates Tia Gardner, Charlene Jackson and Deandra Nelson. The quartet raced home in 10:08.59, just over 11 seconds in front of second place. Also, George captured her own individual silver medal for second place in the Javelin Throw, for her second honor. Loobie’s team took home the National Runner-Up trophy from the event.

George finished her athletic career at KCC with the 2012 NJCAA Indoors, a meet against Division I, II and III Junior College runners and her star was shining brilliantly. George captured the silver medal with a sensational 2:20.09 performance in the 800 Meters and she even earned a seventh place finish in the 1000 Meters putting the Wave in 18th place all by herself.

“Zenia is the absolute definition of a student-athlete,” claimed KCC head Cross Country coach Dave Loobie. “She always puts her studies first. She is a leader by example and the younger runners definitely take her cue.”

“What’s fun to me during the semester is when my teammates and fellow classmates tells me how well they are doing in class with the resources I gave them,” said George. “Communication is very important to my relationship with my teammates, and I also consider it as my contribution to the team chemistry. Teamwork helps with building the team chemistry and come together away from our athletic life. Motivation to attend practice and doing the right things as an athlete helps with team work.”

As one should hope, George has had a number of full athletic scholarship offers over the last couple of months and unlike everything on the track, she is taking her time weighing the next step in her academic career. One thing we know is that the next school that is privileged to have Zenia George, a four-time All-American, on campus is inheriting a student-athlete who is determined in her academics, her personal beliefs and her ability to… focus.

Four-Year College Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year

By Gregg Cohen

Many people say that going to college in Manhattan is like being on a rollercoaster. Mallory Grubler can attest to going up in four directions in two minutes as she goes through a single day as student at Hunter College on the Upper East Side - while juggling classes, volleyball, tutoring, working and trying to enjoy life at the same time.

Grubler also holds a 3.67 grade point average with a double major of sociology and creative writing, and is set to graduate with honors, even though she almost did not attend Hunter in the first place. In the end, she “jumped at the chance of being able to live in the heart of the greatest city in the world and laughing and cheering together on the court.”

“I selected Hunter because I was recruited to play volleyball there,” said Grubler, a lifelong resident of Bayside in Queens. “Originally I had decided on attending SUNY Binghamton, however when my best friend told me that she was going to go through with volleyball at Hunter, I could not resist the opportunity of having another four years next to her on the court.”

Along with her friend and teammate at Benjamin Cardozo High School, Christine Luebcke, the duo helped lead the Hunter Women’s Volleyball program from the last decade into this one. Moreover, Luebcke was selected as one of 29 honorable mention scholar athletes of the year in 2011-12. Of all the CUNYAC Championship sports, none has been dominated throughout its’ history like Hunter and women’s volleyball, as the Hawks have won two thirds of the Tournament titles in the event’s 30 year history.

“I feel so privileged to have been able to play with my best friend after high school,“ continued Grubler. “It has been an amazing experience-- one that I will never forget or regret. Sometimes we would laugh in one another’s faces after silly mistakes. Other times during games we would push one another to perform to our potential. Often she would turn to me in the front row and say, ‘Listen Mallory, if you don’t get a block right now I won’t talk to you for the next week.’

Grubler and the Hawks won the CUNYAC Championship as freshman , as role players on a veteran team. Grubler earned all-star recognition as a sophomore, but now as the leader on the team with Luebcke, the Hawks inexperience showed in the tournament and Ray Bello’s squad was unable to defend the title.

A 5’10” middle blocker, Grubler was tall and raw coming out of high school, but determined. “Nobody works harder than Mallory,” Bello, who has taken the Hawks to the NCAA Championship three times. “Her work ethic has paid off throughout the years and she deserves everything she gets. Mallory is the backbone of this team and is a huge part of the success we have enjoyed.”

A majority of that success was during her junior season, as Grubler was named to the All-CUNYAC First team, notching career highs in hitting percentage, kills, blocks, aces and kills. The Hawks were undefeated during the CUNYAC Regular Season (9-0) and swept through the Conference Championship and earned a berth to the NCAA’s. She was also named CUNYAC/HSS Scholar-Athlete of the Month in October 2010.

“Being part of such a rich and deep volleyball program is an honor,” she claimed. “In practices and in games, I give it my best not just to keep the winning tradition alive, but to also set an example for the rest of the team so they can continue it when I’m gone.”

In her season, this past fall, the rollercoaster came careening down the slope - all the way down to the bottom. Halfway through the season, the Hawks beat national power NYU for the first time in her career, but Grubler played the entire match in pain. Her injury would sideline her for the rest of the season. She returned to the court briefly for the CUNYAC final, but Hunter fell to rival Baruch College in her final CUNY match.

“Mallory was going to take this team to the next level,” exclaimed Bello. “If she didn’t get hurt this team would of went a long way. We beat NYU, and she played the whole match with a broken foot, because she never told me it hurt, because she didn’t want to be taken out of the game. If that doesn‘t demonstrate her determination, I don‘t know what does.”

Next, Grubler plans on applying to the Nutrition Graduate program at Hunter and various other schools, but she will be taking three more classes to finish up the requirements for the program and then applying. The rollercoaster goes up once again…

Community College Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year

By Gregg Cohen

A top defender for the Tigers’ men’s soccer team, Gteni Mbeou has always been amongst the strongest and swiftest guys on the field. A native of Togo, Mbeou is enrolled in an accelerated study program and is set to graduate from Queensborough Community College this month with honors - and a 3.6 grade point average in Engineering Science.

Besides his two seasons spent on the soccer pitch, Mbeou has been named academic All-Region (NJCAA Region XV) and by the CUNY Athletic Conference, in addition to being named to the Dean’s List following each of his four semesters in Bayside.

“Off the field, Gteni is soft spoken; always carries a smile and enjoys life,” said QCC Head Coach Zef Kabashi. “On the field, he’s very tenacious. He has an excellent work ethic combined with physical power and speed. He’s a great team player and great student of the game, always asking questions and applying what he learns with each training session.”

“As the oldest and one of the the more experienced players I tried to encourage my friends and give good examples like showing up to practice and being on time,” said Mbeou. “From taking practice stuff out to supporting each other on the field, teamwork always brings the players and even the coach closer. We are more open to each other and willing to learn from one another.”

As a defenseman, he doesn’t have gaudy statistics to prove his worth, the only thing that matters to a stopper are keeping the best offensive player on the opponent always from the goal. The Tigers had a 2-8-2 record in Mbeou’s freshman season for the blue and white . But this season, Kabashi’s team finished 9-5-2 overall and won both the CUNYAC Regular Season and Tournament Championship titles, before being upset in the regional playoffs. Moreover, the Tigers yielded only 20 goals in 16 games this past season.

Also playing on the defensive side of the field, Mbeou doesn‘t get many opportunites to be an offensive player, so when he was confronted about his most memorable moment for the blue & white, he said his most unforgettable athletic moment was his first and only goal scored against Kingsborough during his freshman year. It was the only goal the Tigers would score, and the game ended as a 1-1 tie.

His coach did say something very unique about his academic star: “The guys love Gteni. So much so that when he makes mistakes, they can’t get mad at him for it. They love him too much to be upset with him.”

A proud native son of the Togolese Republic in West Africa, Mbeou is an active member of the African Student Union at the College and member of the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK). During spring semesters, when he’s not playing soccer, he also finds time to volunteer in the math department as a math tutor.

In the fall, Mbeou plans to continue to bring his studies to the next level. He will be transferring next semester to City College to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering. “My decision was based on two criteria: my interest in fixing and designing stuff and also my solid base in my math which is going to be helpful for this major,” he said.

“His character and demeanor tell me he’s relentless in his pursuit of success,“ concluded Kabashi. “Our program has always been about character and attitude, on and off the field and Gteni exemplifies it. Whatever his endeavor; whatever his drive; whatever his goal might be. He has the character and tools to make it happen.”

Four-Year College Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year

By Gregg Cohen

In sports, some topics are debatable. This one is not. Vladislav Romanov, a swimmer for the College of Staten Island is the best backstroker in the history of the CUNY Athletic Conference. Period. Romanov never lost a backstroke race against CUNY competition in four years. Never.

A business finance major, Romanov also boasts a 3.67 grade point average, and is a two-time CUNYAC/Hospital For Special Surgery Scholar-Athlete of the Month.

Romanov came to New York for college four years ago, having grown up in Moscow, Russia. The College of Staten Island had a Russian born coach and two National caliber Russian swimmers in Pavel Buyanov and Nikolay Shevchenko, who graduated last year as All-Americans. It was a perfect fit.

“Pavel and Nikolay both influenced me in my sports career and helped me develop my personality,” said Romanov. “We are very good friends and coworkers, I actually used to room with Pavel and we lived together for about a year or so. Once Pavel got to know me we became friends and he was my role model, given that I was 16 when I came to America and he was 24 (and already a National champion and a record holder), I always looked up to him. I got a lot out of our relationship with him. I think I got more from Pasha over the last 4 years than I did anyone else here.”

On the pool deck, Romanov has been named Most Valuable Performer at the CUNYAC Championships three times and has earned nine All-American and Honorable Mention All-American awards at the NCAA Division III Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships. In CUNYAC, his talent in the pool has been unmatched, winning an astounding 23 gold medals and setting and breaking the three individual backstroke event records each and every year.

“As an International Student, I can’t tell you the overwhelming lengths Vlad has had to go through to adjust to not only living in the United States and in the metropolitan area, but to study and navigate its educational system,” said David Pizzuto, CSI’s Associate Athletic Director, who first remembers Romanov as a shy, humble freshman in 2008. “Vlad is just special; he is one who serves as an example for others.“

He has made a good life for himself here in New York, living in Staten Island and life guarding at the CSI Sports and Recreation Center and when he isn’t studying or helping his peers.

Romanov leaned on his teammates at his first NCAA Championship event in 2009, finishing 14th in both the 100 Meter and 200 Meter Backstroke events. As a sophomore, he improved in his only event, earning his first All-American honor, placing eighth in the 200 Backstroke.

As a junior at the NCAA Championships, he had a defining moment in his four years at CSI. “Going into the championship I had quite some expectations being a finalist a year before and so I practiced extra hard and had lowered my time in qualifications to the NCAA. Unfortunately, just about a month before nationals I caught a virus and had to take antibiotics, which I never fully recovered from. When I went to the NCAA’s, I felt awful. On the second day, we swam the 400 Medley Relay for the first time at Nationals. Regardless of my sickness I knew I could not disappoint my teammates. That morning we made it 8th, to the final only to improve in the evening and get 6th overall. That night it was about how everyone had faith in me and how it all worked out at the end.”

In his final season, the senior, Romanov, led an extremely talented group of two sophomores and two freshmen to NCAA’s. The Dolphins came home in 10th place overall at the conclusion, their highest team faring ever. Meanwhile, Romanov really saved the best for last, winning the first NCAA medal of his illustrious career, claiming silver in the 200-yard Backstroke in the his final race for CSI.

“I always thought I could use my brain to get what I want,” said Romanov, “So I take my dreams and set goals and I do what I have to do to achieve them.”

As for his future plans, his most recent NCAA performance has reignited his passion for competitive swimming, when he significantly lowered his personal best times throughout the season and again at Nationals. “I can choose to stick around the swimming world for some and relocate to either Florida or California to swim and go for the Olympic Games in 2016. That is one path I may choose.”

The other is his original path. Romanov may also pursue a Master’s at Baruch with hopes of becoming an entrepreneur where he will create and run his own business, even if he has to get some field experience first. “I will be doing internships and maybe some part-time, business related work, if there will be an opportunity for it.”

We’re sure whichever path Romanov chooses, we’ll be praising his endeavors in 2016.

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