CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - Harvard Athletics and the Harvard Varsity Club celebrated the Class of 2017 Wednesday night at the annual Senior Letterwinners' Dinner, held inside the Bright-Landry Hockey Center, to honor both the athletic and academic accomplishments of this year's graduating student-athletes.
The Class of 2017 combined to win 46 Ivy League championships, the most among any graduating class during its four years in Cambridge. This stellar group of individuals collected 35 All-America honors, and was part of nine team and individual national championships. The group also earned a plethora of all-conference and academic awards.
Margaret Purce of the women's soccer team and Siyani Chambers of the men's basketball team received the evening's highest honors, as the recipients of the Radcliffe Prize and the William J. Bingham Award as Harvard's top female and male student-athletes, respectively.
The first two-time All-American from the women's soccer team in the last 20 years, Purce has also earned two Ivy League Player of the Year distinctions, four All-Ivy honors and was a semifinalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy as the nation's top women's soccer player. During her freshman campaign, she became the first player in Ivy League history to be named conference Player and Rookie of the Year. Purce was instrumental in leading the Crimson to three Ancient Eight titles and a 22-2-4 conference record during her career. She was the ninth overall pick by the Boston Breakers of the National Women's Soccer League, the highest selection in Ivy history. She graduates third in Harvard history, and seventh in the Ivy League, in goals scored with 42.
A four-time All-Ivy League selection and the first freshman in conference history to be named to the first team, Chambers leaves Harvard as one of the most decorated players in Harvard history. A two-time captain, Chambers ranks second in team history in assists and 12th in career scoring. Chambers also helped the Crimson win three Ivy titles, earn three NCAA Tournament berths and notch the first two NCAA wins in program history. He is a three-time team MVP and was the recipient of the Thomas G. Stemberg '71, MBA '73 Iron Man Award, given to the player who plays the most minutes in a season, all four years – a clear indication to his importance of his team.
For the second year in a row, a standout member of the track and field team earned the Harvard-Radcliffe Foundation for Women's Athletics Prize as the senior woman who best exemplifies the qualities of excellent scholarship, character, leadership and athletic ability. Nikki Okwelogu has distinguished herself as one of the most impressive student-athletes at Harvard Athletics. The Fresno, California native is a three-time indoor and outdoor All-American, as well as the four-time indoor and outdoor Heptagonal champion in the shot put. She is one of just four student-athletes in program history to compete in the Olympics, doing so in Rio in 2016, competing for her native Nigeria. In the classroom, she is an impressive student as a human evolutionary biology concentrator. In the community, she has routinely volunteered at homeless shelters, Habitat for Humanity and served as a tutor for the underprivileged.
The Arthur L. Boland Award, presented to an outstanding senior varsity athlete who will be attending medical school, went to field hockey's Kyla Cordrey. The Summit, New Jersey native was raised in a host foster family that helped develop her character as a youth. Cordrey's young experiences with four siblings and 30 foster children rotating through her home helped define her sense of self and her commitment and dedication to helping others in need. Those experiences helped steer her studies to the reasons children develop different cognitive abilities or behaviors. She also took her study of the brain to a higher level through her research in benign childhood epilepsy at Massachusetts General Hospital. On the field, Cordrey was a captain, four-time All-Ivy recipient and three-time All-Northeast Region selection, helping guide Harvard to its first outright Ivy title since 1990.
The John. P Fadden Award, presented annually to the senior who overcame physical adversity to make a significant contribution to their team, went to wrestling's Jeffrey Ott. Ott has been a shining example of resiliency during his career, recovering from three major injuries during his career to earn All-Ivy League honors as a junior. As a senior, while battling his most recent injury, he completely changed his wrestling just prior to the EIWA Championships where, fighting through the injury, he defeated a pair of highly-ranked opponents and earned his bid to the NCAA Championships for the first time in his career.
The Carroll F. Getchell Manager of the Year Award went to Gisele Bailey of the women's basketball team. Bailey had committed to Harvard following a decorated high school career, turning down a number of scholarship offers in hopes of making an immediate impact with the Crimson. Her plans were adjusted before starting her playing career in Cambridge, though, learning of a serious illness that would end her playing career. Despite this, Bailey persevered and with the support of the coaches and teammates, she chose to transition into the head manager role, bringing consistent positivity and optimism to the team.
Jack Manchester of the men's swimming and diving team was honored as the recipient of the Francis J. Toland Community Service Award, presented to the senior athlete who has made the most outstanding contribution to Harvard and its neighboring communities. Manchester spent countless hours dedicated to ProjectSwim, a club on campus that teaches swim lessons to children with disabilities. He was the president each of the last two years, helping lead the club in teaching dozens of local youth how to swim, while serving as a therapeutic outlet for many of the children with autism. He also was an integral part of the Harvard Swim School, a team program that teaches swim lessons to low-income youth in Cambridge. An intern at the U.S. Embassy in London last summer, Manchester has excelled in the pool as well. He earned All-America honorable mention in two relays at the NCAA Championships and was named the Harold Ulen High Point Career Swimmer of the Ivy Championship this year.
The Mary G. Paget Prize, presented to the senior student who has contributed the most to women's athletics, went to Carly Rotatori of women's soccer. Rotatori was an integral leader with the team throughout her career. A two-year captain, Rotatori was an All-Ivy and all-region honoree as a senior, despite not registering a point that season. She helped the Crimson win three Ivy titles in four years, including one that senior year when her leadership helped guide the team through adversity.
Wrestling's Henry Cousins took home the John P. Reardon Award, honoring the senior who best exemplifies the qualities of excellent scholarship, character, leadership and athletic ability. The epitome of a student-athlete, Cousins' tremendous efforts in the classroom as a molecular and cellular biology concentrator has earned him the Gates Cambridge Scholarship and a Thomas Tempe Hoopes Prize. The tireless worker will graduate with a 4.0 GPA, was a stalwart in the wrestling room and he has helped conduct research that focuses on understanding the genetic information that encodes the connections of the brain. His clinical study at the Alzheimer's Disease Center at Boston University seeks to identify systemic symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease that are prevalent before the disease becomes severe.
The Francis H. Burr '09 Scholarships, presented annually to two seniors who combine as nearly as possible Burr's remarkable qualities of character, leadership, scholarship, and athletic ability, went to Rachel Hampton of nordic skiing and Ryan Halvorson of the football team.
Hampton spent four years on the nordic skiing team, in addition to two on the cross country and indoor track and field squads. She was a four-time United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association National Collegiate All-Academic Team selection and competed at the NCAA Championships twice, becoming one of three nordic skiers in Harvard history to earn multiple NCAA bids. She also qualified for the 2017 Boston Marathon by running her first marathon in 3 hours, 11 minutes last May. She will graduate with a near-perfect GPA in earth and planetary sciences and will begin doctoral studies in volcanology next fall.
Halvorson has been impressive in his own right, earning letters all four years of his career, playing in 30 games and scoring four touchdowns, highlighted by his scoring reception against Yale this year. He will also graduate with a near-perfect GPA in bioengineering sciences and has been accepted into the top medical school of his choice, University of California, San Francisco.
The Harvard Varsity Club has been instrumental to the success of Harvard Athletics since it was founded in 1886. The Varsity Club preserves the traditions, fosters the ideals, and advances the interests of Harvard Athletics through a wide range of activities for our 20,000+ members. The annual Senior Letterwinners' Dinner, established in 1967 to honor the contributions of the outgoing senior class, is one example of the many functions provided by the Varsity Club.