UNIVERSITY CENTER, Mich. - The Saginaw Valley State University Athletic Department has selected its annual recipients for the annual "Ryder Athlete of the Year" award. Former men's soccer student-athlete Craig Neal and current SVSU women's track & field / cross country student-athlete Taylor Stepanski earned the awards for 2014-15 after standout seasons.
The "Ryder Athlete of the Year" stands as the most prestigious Cardinal athletic award. During his tenure, former SVSU president, Dr. Jack M. Ryder and his wife, Lila, were both passionate fans of Cardinal Athletics. Their support and contributions to the SVSU Athletic Department are recognized on an annual basis with the presentation of the "Ryder Athlete of the Year" award, which is presented to the top male and female Cardinal student-athletes.
The awards were recently handed out at the 2015 Hall of Fame Banquet Dinner, where Dr. Ryder and Lila was able to present Neal and Stepanski with their awards.
Craig Neal - Men's Soccer
Craig Neal had a fantastic season to round-out his career in an SVSU men’s soccer uniform. He posted a team-high nine goals, adding seven assists for a team-best 25 points. Four of his nine goals were of the game-winning variety for the Cardinals. The nine goals were second-best in the GLIAC and seven assists second only to teammate Alexandar Isaevski’s nine. The 25 points were also second-best in the league. He was named to the NSCAA All-American Third Team, Daktronics and NSCAA All-Midwest Region First Teams and CapitalOne Academic All-America Third Team as well as being named to the 2014 All-GLIAC First Team. He was named an NSCAA Scholar All-American as well.
Neal was a leader for the Cardinals in 2014, as the team posted a 14-5-2 overall record, advancing to the NCAA Division II Round of 16 for the second time in three years. The Cards started the year with the best start in program history, going unbeaten in the first 12 matches with a 10-0-2 record. Neal was part of the winningest senior class in program history as well, accounting for 55 victories.
Former Head Coach Cale Wassermann on Craig Neal:
“Craig Neal is a competitor... He came in as a freshman and started almost every game in his four-year career while helping turn this program into one of the top programs in the country. Craig had a knack for big moments and scored some huge goals...His accountability and commitment to on and off the field efforts made him a great student-athlete. Craig was a pleasure to coach and I was extremely pleased to see him recognized nationally as an All-American and Academic All-American, awards that were well deserved for all his contributions on and off the field.”
Taylor Stepanski - Women's Track / Cross Country
Taylor Stepanski had a breakout junior season for the SVSU women’s track & field and cross country programs. Stepanski began her stellar season by earning a pair of All-American honors at the 2015 NCAA Division II Indoor Track & Field Championships. She teamed-up with Kimberly Balls, Brittany Johnson and Chantelle Fondren in the Distance Medley Relay to finish third in the nation with a time of 11:31.53, a new school record. She followed up that with a national runner-up fninish in the 800-meter run, clocking-in with a time of 2:09.49 in the finals after shattering the school record with a first place time of 2:07.64.
In the 2015 Outdoor season, Stepanski secured Second Team All-American honors after qualifying for the event’s finals in the 800-meter run with a sixth place finish in the prelims with a time of 2:08.91.
Taylor claimed the GLIAC Championship in the 800-meter run at both the 2015 Indoor and Outdoor GLIAC Championships for the season and posted a runner-up finish in the Distance Medley Relay for the indoor season.
Stepanski has claimed four total all-american honors in her career for the Cardinals and has been a participant on a pair of country teams that have advanced to the national championship meet (2012, 2013).
SVSU Cross Country/Track & Field Head Coach Rod Cowan on Taylor Stepanski:
“Taylor is coming off of one of the finest seasons in a Cardinal uniform in recent memory. As a high school athlete I knew she was special but to see her matriculate to our program and realize her potential has been a fun process to watch. Her competitive nature and personal drive can be felt throughout the women’s team as she helps to make her team better. Her hometown of Alpena, Michigan should be proud, as she represents her community with passion!”