ELMHURST, Ill. – This year's Summit League Scholar-Athlete of the Year Awards were presented to the University of Denver's Alex Underwood (men's soccer) and the University of South Dakota's Brittany Jessen (volleyball) Tuesday afternoon, honoring their outstanding academic achievements, athletic achievements, attitude and leadership throughout the 2017-18 school year.
The Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award is the most prestigious accolade The Summit League bestows each year and is determined by a vote of the league's faculty athletic representatives.
As Denver co-captain, Underwood started all 19 contests for the Pioneers and guided the squad to an 11-6-2 (5-0) record in 2017. The senior from Winnetka, Ill., also netted three goals for DU during his senior campaign—the last of which was a game-winner against Western Illinois that effectively secured Denver's fifth-straight Summit League Regular-Season Championship. Underwood was subsequently named The Summit League's Offensive Player of the Week and finished the season as a member of the All-Summit League Second Team, Summit League All-Tournament Team and United Soccer Coaches All-West Region Third Team.
As a student, Underwood was named to the Commissioner's List of Academic Excellence and helped the Pioneers secure The Summit League Men's Soccer Team Academic Achievement Award in 2017-18. The four-time Summit League Academic Distinguished Scholar also received national recognition for his performance in the classroom, earning spots on the United Soccer Coaches Scholar All-West Region Team and the College Sports Information Directors of America's (CoSIDA) Academic All-District VII Team.
Volunteer work was also a priority for the 2016 University of Denver Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) president, frequently visiting the Children's Hospital and raising money to support cancer research after befriending a young boy with the disease.
Underwood graduated from Denver with his Bachelor of Science degree in accounting with a minor in finance while maintaining a 3.86 cumulative grade point average (GPA). Currently, Underwood is pursuing his Master of Arts degree in accountancy from Denver and already boasts a 3.84 graduate GPA. He was most recently presented with an NCAA Post-Graduate Scholarship—one of only 58 NCAA fall sport student-athletes to receive such an award.
Jessen ended her Coyote career as one of the most prolific setters in both program and league history. The senior from Mendota Heights, Minn., doled out a league-high 1,083 assists and 10.31 assists/set during the 2017 campaign and was named The Summit League Setter of the Year for the third-consecutive season—a feat no other league setter has ever accomplished. The four-time All-Summit Team selection was the only 'Yote to start all 28 matches for USD, recording 12 double-doubles and one triple-double along the way. Jessen also earned her first-career Summit League All-Tournament Team accolade in 2017 and became USD's all-time assists leader with 4,826 helpers (fourth most all-time in The Summit League). For good measure, she became the second player in school history to record over 1,000 career assists and digs as well.
Maybe even more impressive were Jessen's accomplishments in the classroom. At USD, Jessen was a perfect 8-for-8 in her career being named to the Dean's List and a three-time Summit League Academic All-League member. Additionally, the CoSIDA Academic All-District honoree accumulated her fourth-career academic honor roll accolade and third-career Commissioner's List of Academic Excellence nod in 2017-18.
Jessen was more than busy with her extracurriculars as well. From 2016 to 2018, she served as South Dakota's SAAC President and was the SAAC representative to the Athletic Board of Control. She also participated in a reading partnership at Jolley Elementary School in her spare time.
Graduating summa cum laude with her Bachelor of Science degree in secondary English education and a minor in reading this past May, Jessen managed a remarkable 3.91 cumulative GPA. She will continue with her education this fall as a teaching assistant at Idaho State University, working toward her master's in English.
Also nominated for Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year: Kyle Burdick, South Dakota State // AJ Jacobson, North Dakota State // Albert Owens, Oral Roberts // Fernando Pacheco, Western Illinois // Brandon Phelps, Fort Wayne // Eldon Warner, South Dakota // Alex Woodward, Omaha
Also nominated for Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year: Emily Clemens, Western Illinois // Jessica Dreesbeimdieke, Denver // Kennedy Ishee, Oral Roberts // Alyssa Olin, North Dakota State // Emma Rafuse, Fort Wayne // Kayla Sabotin, Omaha // Ellie Thompson, South Dakota State
ABOUT THE SUMMIT LEAGUE
Through 36 years of Division I athletics, The Summit League offers 19 championship sports and has a combined enrollment of nearly 115,000 at nine institutions, including three located in top 60 U.S. metro populations and two land-grant universities. Member institutions include: Denver (University of Denver), Purdue Fort Wayne (Purdue University Fort Wayne), the University of North Dakota, North Dakota State University, Omaha (University of Nebraska Omaha), Oral Roberts University, the University of South Dakota, South Dakota State University and Western Illinois University. Previously known as the Mid-Continent Conference, The Summit League rebranded in 2007 and has since produced nine NCAA Champions along with over 90 Academic All-Americans, nearly 95 All-America selections and numerous former student-athletes competing at the highest professional level. For more information about the league, visit www.thesummitleague.org website, follow The Summit League on Twitter @thesummitleague.