DEKALB — It was a special evening honoring some special student-athletes Wednesday at Shaw Media's second annual Northern Illinois Most Valuable Athletes Awards banquet held at the Northern Illinois University Convocation Center in DeKalb.
And The Times area's best were well represented.
A pair of recent high school graduates — Ottawa's Sloan Gayan and Seneca's Christopher Collet — brought home some of the night's top honors, with Gayan winning the MVA Softball Player of the Year award and Collet claiming the MVA Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year honor.
Gayan posted a .390 batting average and .470 on-base percentage this past spring, tagging six home runs and racking up 31 RBIs. It was in the pitcher's circle, however, where she made her biggest contributions, posting a 21-7 record with a 1.48 ERA and 315 strikeouts while leading the Lady Pirates to the program's first ever regional championship.
Other region-wide finalists for softball included Ashley Schultz (Oswego East), Jayme Eilers (Sterling) and Rose Roach (Kaneland).
"It feels great," Gayan said minutes after taking the stage and accepting the award from the night's emcee, Hub Arkush of Pro Football Weekly. "I know every other player who was announced (as a finalist), and I've played with all of them, so it's pretty great to win this award.
"Definitely for my senior year, this wraps it all up. It's really nice to see all these high school athletes together."
Collet began the 2018-19 school year by winning a state championship, capturing the IHSA Class 1A cross country title at Detweiller Park by a full 11 seconds with a run of 14 minutes, 45 seconds. He followed that up by completing the Class 1A distance triple crown with victories last month in both the 3200 and 1600 at the IHSA State Meet.
He edged other finalists Bill Hauenstein (Wheaton-Warrenville South), Ian Geisler (Huntley) and Daniel Occhipinti (Kaneland).
"It's definitely a huge honor," Collet said after claiming his award. "There's so much quality in distance running that comes out of Illinois, so for me, Christopher Collet from little Seneca, to win this is amazing.
"It means a lot. ... My senior year was everything I wanted since freshman year, since eighth-grade year, even."
Additional final-four candidates for athletes of the year in their respective sports included such Times-area standouts as Earlville's Manny Gomez (boys soccer), the Ottawa duo of Ellie Gallagher and Regan O'Fallon (girls tennis) and Marquette Academy's Jack Snook (Overall Regional Male Athlete of the Year). All were announced as finalists by Arkush at Wednesday's event.
Nominees and winners were chosen by the sports editors of Shaw Media's publications.
The evening also included a dinner, a $1,000 scholarship drawing and a Q and A with the Chicago Bears' Akiem Hicks and Zach Miller. All of the athletes in attendance were invited on stage to meet and have their photos taken with Hicks and Miller.