Monday, July 6, 2020

5 Michigan State student-athletes receive major athletic honors

June 12, 2020
<p>Senior guard Cassius Winston gestures to a roaring crowd after hitting a three-pointer. The Spartans defeated the Hawkeyes, 78-70, on Feb. 25, 2020, at the Breslin Student Events Center. </p>

Senior guard Cassius Winston gestures to a roaring crowd after hitting a three-pointer. The Spartans defeated the Hawkeyes, 78-70, on Feb. 25, 2020, at the Breslin Student Events Center.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

On Thursday, Michigan State announced the five athletes who earned the University’s highest athletic awards for 2019-20. Among them are men’s basketball senior Cassius Winston, sophomore golfer Valery Plata, cross country/track and field redshirt senior Annie Fuller, gymnastics senior Gabriella Douglas and men’s swimming senior Scott Piper. 

George Alderton Male Athlete of the Year & Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor

Cassius Winston, who ended his Spartan career sitting atop the all-time assists record at MSU and in the Big Ten, earned the George Alderton Male Athlete of the Year recognition. He also earned the Big Ten Medal of Honor, making him the first male Spartan athlete to win both of these awards in the same season.

“The time I’ve spent at Michigan State will be with me forever and it is overwhelming for me to win these awards among all of my classmates,” Winston said in a press release. “I don’t regret my decision to come to Michigan State at all because I achieved everything I could as a player and a student. I didn’t know what this journey would bring me, but I embraced every step of it. It has been an amazing journey and it’s a great honor to be mentioned with some of the great names in Michigan State history.”

Winston led his team to three-straight Big Ten regular season titles and earned Consensus Second Team All-American honors by the NCAA for the second straight year in 2020. Winston is just the second player in Michigan State history — after Mateen Cleaves — to earn multiple consensus honors.

The Detroit native ended his senior season averaging 18.8 points, 5.9 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game, naming himself as one of the greatest in the Tom Izzo era and beyond.

“Cassius Winston is one of the best basketball players I've coached at Michigan State and these are tremendous honors for him,” Head Coach Tom Izzo said in the release. “He entered this year with a lot of expectations after his success as a junior and he continued to play at an elite level. To do what he did this year while also dealing with great personal tragedy on a national stage was beyond comprehension. Through it all this year, Cassius continued to be an All-American college student-athlete. He is everything you want as a student and a leader.”

George Alderton Female Athlete of the Year

Annie Fuller and Valery Plata earned cohonors of the George Alderton Female Athlete of the Year award.

Fuller overcame a plethora of injuries before ultimately leading her team to earn the 2019 Big Ten cross country Championship title for the first time since 2015. 

Fuller earned first-team All-Big Ten honors following her third place finish at the Big Ten Championship in November. She finished second at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional with a career-best 20:01.1 time, aiding her team in earning the championship title there as well.

“I am beyond humbled and thankful to receive such an award amongst so many talented and committed Spartan athletes," Fuller said in the release. "I am especially honored to share this award with an athlete as talented as Valery. My experience as a student-athlete at Michigan State has given me the opportunity to be part of a program much bigger than myself, while sharing special moments that come from shared commitments with teammates and remembering these achievements that we share as a group. For that reason, this recognition wouldn’t be possible without my teammates, coaches, trainers and family who believe in me, even when I struggle to believe in myself.”

Plata, who was also named Big Ten Golfer of the Year, started her senior season out with a career-best finish at the Spartans’ Mary Fossum Invitational in September. She played off of this momentum her next time out, leading the Spartans to their biggest victory of the season at the prestigious Ruth’s Chris Tar Heel Invitational with a record-beating performance.

“Winning this award means a lot to me, I am extremely thankful and happy to be a female student-athlete at Michigan State and to be recognized as the co-athlete of the year is truly an honor,” Plata said in the release. “Knowing that I am joining a list of great athletes and some of the best players in the women’s golf program that have received this award makes it very special. I want to thank my family, Coach Stacy and Coach Caroline, my teammates and coaches from back home – without their support none of what I have accomplished as a student-athlete would be possible."

Plata's achievement marks the fourth consecutive year where a Spartan female golfer has won at least a share of the Alderton Award.

Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor (Female) & Chester Brewer Leadership Award

Gabriella Douglas, a two-time captain and three-year MSU letterwinner, earned the Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor and Chester Brewer Leadership Award. 

The Toronto native battled injury in 2018 before making a comeback her senior year to earn five beam titles, recording nine marks of 9.800 or higher and tying her 9.925 career-high on floor twice with two individual titles on the event.

Douglas finished her career with 16 event titles, eight beam wins, seven floor titles and one vault top honor.

“I was very surprised about winning this honor,” Douglas said about winning the Big Ten Conference Medal of Honor in the release. “I’ve had teammates who have received this award in the past, and those have always been girls that I’ve really, really looked up to. So, I just feel so blessed that I was awarded this honor too, and it kind of makes me feel like I’m doing something right; I’m following in the footsteps of people that I really look up to in my life.”

Outside of the gym, Douglas serves as a humanitarian and volunteer to the East Lansing community. She participates in multiple different organizations and serves as the Green Bandana Project Coordinator, while also participating in outreach activities including Special Olympics, volunteering in the Pediatric Ward at Sparrow Hospital, Making Strides of Lansing Breast Cancer Walk, March is Reading Month, Random Acts of Kindness Week, Student-Athlete Food Drive and the Teams for Toys initiative.

“I hope that people on my team, I hope that other student-athletes, I hope that particularly student-athletes of color, realize that the Big Ten and this University does recognize hard work,” Douglas said in the release. “If you really make an effort to make a difference and to make a change, and you’re doing it for the right reason, and you want to make a positive impact, people do take notice and people are thankful and people do recognize that here. I hope that it inspires some other people to kind of keep working hard, keep pushing for things in the athletic department and just overall with the student body. Keep fighting for the change that you want to see.”

Dr. James Feurig Achievement & Service Award

Scott Piper, who maintained a 4.0 cumulative GPA while earning his bachelor’s degree in biosystems engineering, earned the Dr. James Feurig Achievement & Service Award. He is the third member of the men's swimming and diving team to earn this honor.

The Naperville, Illinois native was a three-time Big Ten Distinguished Scholar and three-time Academic All-Big Ten recipient during his swimming career at Michigan State.

"I am truly humbled and honored to receive this award,” Piper said in the press release. “This is a testament to the kind of environment and culture that our team, and MSU as a whole, has. I am very thankful for Coach G and Coach Kathleen (Milloy) for not only allowing me to explore my interests in the university and community, but for encouraging us to actively get involved and give back. I am also thankful for the hard work from Angela Montie and all the other administrators who are essential to us developing into multi-faceted individuals.” 

Piper excelled as an athlete for the Spartans as well, holding the varsity records in the 200 butterfly and the 200 IM. He qualified for the 2020 Olympic Trails at the 2018 USA Winter Nationals in the 200 IM.

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