STORRS, Conn. -- Following an American Athletic Conference Championship title and a trip to the 2014 NCAA Tournament second round, the UConn women's soccer team recently held its season-ending banquet and doled out team awards after a tremendous season. Six Huskies were honored with individual accolades and the 2014 senior class was honored at the banquet on Friday (April 17) night.
The event was led by 34th-year head coach Len Tsantiris, the second-winningest coach in NCAA women's soccer history. Tsantiris took the opportunity to honor the senior class of a club that went 14-5-5 in 2014 en route to its third conference tournament crown and 29th NCAA Tournament.
Headlining the individual awards were seniors Riley Houle (Columbia, Conn.) and Gabrielle Charno (Seaford, N.Y.), named Scholar-Athlete of the Year and Team MVP, respectively. Other award recipients included Brianna Butler (Rock Tavern, N.Y.) for Most Improved Player, Megan Hunsberger (Bethlehem, Pa.) as the Unsung Hero, Samantha McGuire (Fishkill, N.Y.) for the Strength and Coniditioning Award and Lindsey Watkins (Litchfield, Conn.) as the winner of the Sportsmanship Award. Charno, Houle and Watkins were joined by classmates Julie Hubbard (Waverly, Pa.) and Gianna Roma (Foxboro, Mass.) as seniors honored during the event.
"This senior group came in fit and prepared to work hard and were a major factor in turning around this program and leading this team to a very successful year," Tsantiris said.
The Team MVP nod for Charno came in a decorated senior season for the center back, as the defender was named All-Conference First Team, American Championship All-Tournament, NSCAA All-Region and an NSCAA Second Team Scholar All-American. Charno played in 23 matches and led the Huskies with 2,111 minutes, rarely leaving the pitch. Her anchoring of UConn's defensive unit helped Connecticut post a 0.87 team GAA with 11 shutouts, including 290 minutes of scoreless soccer in The American Championship. Charno also buried a penalty kick during the title game shootout to help UConn clinch the tournament crown.
Houle, the Scholar-Athlete Award winner for the second-consecutive season, finished her senior season with with six goals and 17 points. She also led the squad with five assists and was one of five players to see time in all 24 contests, starting 22. Following the season Houle was named an NSCAA Scholar All-American, All-Region First Team, All-Conference First Team and nabbed a spot on The American Championship All-Tournament Team. In the classroom, the All-Academic Team member will graduate in May with a degree in Allied Health Sciences and posted a 4.0 GPA last semester.
UConn's Most Improved Player in 2014, Butler played in all 24 contests with 22 starts and was another key cog in UConn's dominant defense as a holding midfield anchor. After playing just 1,517 minutes in her first two seasons in Storrs, Butler was on the pitch for 1,684 minutes as a junior. She recorded her first career point with an assist against Florida State, the eventual national champions, on Sept. 18.
Hunsberger garners Unsung Hero laurels after starting 23 games at outside back in her first season as a Husky. The junior transfer recorded two points with a pair of assists and logged 2,108 minutes, second on the squad behind Charno. Hunsberger was named to the All-Tournament team at The American Championship after helping UConn post three shutouts and burying the decisive penalty kick in the title game.
The Strength and Conditioning Award, presented to a student-athlete exemplary for her effort and dedication displayed toward the physical preparation to compete, was awarded by strength coach Chris West to McGuire. The junior midfielder had a career year in 2014, setting career-highs in goals (6) and points (15) while logging 2,099 minutes in 22 starts. McGuire was an NSCAA All-Region selection following the season.
The Pappanikou Family Sportsmanship award - giving special recognition to a member of the women's soccer team who has demonstrated "Character in and Through Sport," was awarded to Watkins. The honor comes after the senior broke out in the final portion of her fourth season, starting the final seven games of the year in which UConn went 5-1-1. The converted forward scored a goal and added an assist during her late-season run, tallying the game-winner at Temple on Oct. 26 and assisting on another vs. UCF in The American Championship semifinals. The three late-season points were the first of Watkins' career.