contributed by Alyssa Cantisani
On Monday afternoon, junior Micaela Nowacki (Sandy Hook, Conn.) of the rowing team, junior Rebecca Lindblad (Winnetka, Ill.) from women's hockey, senior Derek Pratt (Mount Hermon, Mass.) of men's hockey and r-junior CJ Dandeneau (North Smithfield, R.I.) from baseball were given the news that they were among four student-athletes at the University of Connecticut who were named National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) All-Americans.
The NSCA All-American Strength and Conditioning Athletes of the Year program recognizes those collegiate and high school athletes, whose athletic accomplishments, in the opinion of their strength coach, reflect their dedication to strength training and conditioning. These athletes are also recognized for their academic and personal accomplishments and their integrity as student-athletes.
“It was insane,” said Nowacki, a member of the UConn rowing team, “I didn’t believe that I would be picked. Our coach told us that I had won and all I could think about was my team and all the other girls that push themselves so hard. In my mind, I’m no different from any of them so it was a huge honor but also very shocking.”
The strength and conditioning program at UConn has provided a foundation that gives all student-athletes the opportunity to excel within their sport which in turn, brings team success. The women’s hockey team ended their season with a 16-14-9 overall record and took their third-ever trip to the WHEA final while the men’s hockey team ended with a 15-19-2 record, the team’s best record since becoming a member of Hockey East in 2014.
“This award is more of a testament to the expectations that the hockey program sets, the example that previous recipients have set, and more importantly my past and present teammates who have day in and day out pushed me to be my best,” said Lindblad.
Maureen Butler, head strength and conditioning coach and director of Olympic sports, along with the rest of her staff are exactly who each of these four student-athletes have to thank for their growth as not only a student-athlete but a person as well.
UConn’s program provides more than a trainer. They provide mentors who become vital support systems for each of their student-athletes. This staff has the skill to transform young freshmen into mature, diligent upperclassmen and they succeed with that task each year.
“I came to UConn full of doubt and insecurity,” said Lindblad, a member of the UConn women’s hockey team, “UConn was more than a thousand miles from home but the school, coaches, and my teammates have brought out the best in me both on and off the ice.”
UConn athletics prides itself in the fact that they bring in student-athletes who are dedicated to excellence and who are constantly looking to develop themselves as athletes and scholars. According to Butler, Pratt paints the perfect picture of what UConn Athletics is all about.
“Derek embodies all of the qualities we look for in our student-athletes and has grown both as a person and an athlete over his four years with us, said Butler. “He comes to work every day. He epitomizes the term “fail forward.” He finds a way to continually improve in all areas and brings an intensity to every session that is infectious. Along with his physical development he has more importantly developed a confidence that has transformed him into an impactful leader. He is a two-time Iron Husky and has truly played a major role in developing our hockey program since joining the Hockey East. It has been a privilege to work with Derek.”
Butler has worked tirelessly with the student-athletes since they stepped on campus and because of that, they have all been able to accomplish more than what they ever thought possible.
“My teams success as well as my personal success would not be possible if it were not for the strength and conditioning program,” said Pratt of the men’s hockey team, “Moe Butler is extremely dedicated to what she does and spends so much time making sure we are competing and getting better and it pays off. I cannot say enough good things about Moe and what she has done for my development as a person and as an athlete.”
Pratt is only one among many student-athletes at UConn who have fostered a sense of leadership while shining within their sport and in the classroom. Dandeneau, a member of the UConn baseball team, has shown the strength and conditioning staff, his teammates and coaches his determination day in and day out.
“CJ has continued to raise the performance bar for our baseball program.” said assistant strength and conditioning coach Joel DeMarco. “Due to his constant dedication and work ethic, he has developed into one of the strongest pound-for-pound athletes we have. He makes his teammates better and pushes his own personal limits every day. He holds his teammates accountable and is a great example of how consistency, effort, and a great attitude can have a huge impact on performance.”
Achieving this award would not have been feasible without the remarkable strength and conditioning staff, coaches and most importantly, each and every student-athlete at UConn who constantly pushes their teammates to be the best they could possibly be.
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