In a rare moment on April 29, the steps of War Memorial Gym were swarmed not with Dons fans, but with the Dons themselves. However, on this particular night, the Dons shucked their uniforms in favor of formal attire, suiting up in preparation for the seventh annual Hilltop Awards. The event celebrates the accomplishments of the Dons throughout the year and gives the top performers across all USF teams, including Spirit Squad, a chance to be awarded and acknowledged.
Prior to the ceremony, Athletics director Scott Sidwell, who himself founded the Hilltop Awards, spoke to what he viewed as being the most important element of the event. “You see the passion,” he said, excitedly gesturing around to the gaggle of dapperly-dressed Dons waiting to enter the gym. “You see everybody get all dressed up and come together and celebrate who we are, and what we do.”
Once the festivities began, the atmosphere of pride and accomplishment only heightened. Throughout the night, golf’s Samantha Gong and Emily Laskin made an energetic duo and carried the award-giving with intermittent banter (and a bit about KFC, which was a hit with the crowd). Laskin herself was the recipient of two major awards – the Four Pillars Award and the Carpe Diem Award – which are indicative of her individual spirit and her passion for athletics. Basketball’s Chase Foster also received both of these awards.
The Dante Benedetti Awards – given to athletes who display utmost character on and off the field – went to baseball’s Michael Perri and cross country and track’s Marie Bouchard.
In respect to team accomplishment, a highlight of the night has to have been the winners of the Charles Harney Award, given to the male and female teams with the highest level of academic achievement. The Charles Harney Award for female teams was named to the women’s cross country team, and the crowd erupted into laughter when a moment later, the Charles Harney Award for male teams went to men’s cross country.
Bill Russell’s Outstanding Male Athlete of the Year Award went to soccer’s Leon Schwarzer, who was crowned WCC Player of the Year in the 2017 season. Schwarzer promised to take the award back to his native Germany and thanked both the University and the United States for the two years he has spent at USF. Cross country’s Charlotte Taylor, who has been pivotal to her team throughout the season, received the Anne Dolan Outstanding Female Athlete of the Year Award. Taylor declined to speak after winning her award, but her humble demeanor and her accomplishments truly speak for themselves.
From an outside perspective, each cluster of tables in War Memorial represented its own little world. Whenever a member of an individual team was honored, it was very clear where their teammates had parked themselves, as the epicenter of raucous cheering and unadulterated joy shifted with each nominee named.
However, the joy throughout the night wasn’t only relegated to individual team accomplishments. Perhaps the most audibly enjoyed moment of the night came not in the celebration of athletic accomplishments; rather, it came from watching a blooper reel of various Dons during official promotional shoots throughout the year. The crowd was in uproarious laughter, and the fondness that these athletes have for one another was almost palpable.
And, just maybe, this encapsulates what collegiate sports are really about: the spirit of the team, and the humans behind the action.
Featured Photo: Rachel Fong received Spirit Squad’s award for Rookie of the Year. HAYLEY BURCHER/FOGHORN