AOTY2020: Opening Round concluded Wednesday with seven upsets; Round of 16 set for Thursday, Friday

Kirsten Peters, Co-Sports Editor

The third annual Athlete of the Year tournament commenced on Monday, April 13. Action concluded in the Opening Round on Wednesday evening with an even total of 5,300 votes.

The men’s side saw 2,429 votes on the Twitter polls while the women’s side saw a slightly higher 2,871 tallies in their two-day affair. As a twist for this year’s competition while social distancing, The Beacon’s selection committee deemed each round would span the length of two days, with the men facing off during the first 24 hours and the women facing off during the second 24 hours.

Sixteen athletes competed on both the men’s and women’s sides in the Opening Round. Seeds No. 9 through No. 24 faced-off in eight polls on each side of the bracket, while the top-eight seeds received first-round byes.

In the Opening Round, the tournament saw a total of seven upsets. Ashley Burkhardt (women’s lacrosse) pulled off the biggest upset on the women’s side. The No. 24 seed defeated No. 9 Zoe Stepanski (field hockey) by securing 53 percent of the vote in that pairing.

Burkhardt is the only spring athlete in the Athlete of the Year competition, as she received an automatic bid from her Feb. 25 Athlete of the Week selection. It is possible that the spring-sport athlete attracted attention from fellow Wilkes spring athletes who were not included in the competition (due to the unfortunate cancellation of their seasons in response to COVID-19).

On the men’s side, the pairing of No. 14 Mark Mullins (men’s basketball) and No. 19 Moustafa Almeky (wrestling) gained increased attention. Jason Bryant – a Hall of Fame sportswriter, broadcaster and NCAA/Olympic Pa. announcer – retweeted the Twitter matchup between Mullins and Almeky.

In his retweet, Bryant stated, “You know what to do: VOTE WRESTLING.”

The verified Twitter account increased foot traffic for the Mullins-Almeky matchup, which totaled 532 votes – the largest amount of votes between all eight polls on the men’s side. Almeky upset the No. 14 seed with 62 percent of the vote.

The other two upsets on the men’s side came from No. 17 Ja’Quan Sheals (football) and No.18 Shane Henehan (men’s soccer). Both of these athletes slightly edged out their competition in the final hours of the Opening Round.

Sheals defeated No. 16 Tyson Araujo (men’s ice hockey) in the almost even-keeled matchup, while Henehan knocked out a fellow teammate of Sheals’ – No. 15 Nick Yanik (football). Sheals defeated Araujo in the closest pairing of the Opening Round with 50.3 percent of the vote, and Henehan edged Yanik with 51 percent of the vote.

No. 9 Tyler Barrow (men’s ice hockey) and No. 10 Vinne Werner (football) recorded the highest winning percentage on the men’s side. In their respective contests, the two earned 74 percent of the vote, defeating No. 24 Zach Shay (men’s volleyball) and No. 23 Noah Molina (men’s cross country).

Michael Paterson-Jones (men’s ice hockey), Derek Nelson (football) and RJ Rauh (men’s soccer) each advanced to the second round of competition with victories in their respective polls.

Following the Opening Round, three Wilkes Athletics teams were knocked out on the men’s side of competition: men’s volleyball, men’s swimming and men’s cross country.

On the women’s side, three upsets occurred in addition to Burkhardt surpassing Stepanski.

No. 18 Shauna Tubbs (women’s ice hockey) and No. 19 Karlye Huffman (women’s volleyball) narrowly slid past their competitors. Tubbs defeated No. 15 Francesca Varela-Seri (women’s tennis) with 51 percent of the vote, while Huffman defeated No. 14 Macy Berryman (women’s basketball) with 52 percent of the vote.

The Berryman-Huffman matchup recorded the highest number of votes across the women’s eight Twitter polls – and the entire Opening Round – with 543.

In the final upset of the Opening Round, No. 17 Kendall Castro (women’s ice hockey) recorded the highest win-differential on the women’s side with 79 percent of the vote. Castro defeated No. 16 Alexa Cieri (women’s tennis) with the largest percent of the vote across all competitions – men’s or women’s.

Castro and Tubbs removed women’s tennis from the bracket, while Huffman and No. 12 Delfina Bracchi (women’s soccer) removed two of the three women’s basketball players from the competition. No. 8 Maddie Kelley (women’s basketball/field hockey) is the only remaining women’s basketball player in the bracket.

No. 10 Emily Bidelspach (women’s soccer) defeated No. 23 Caroline Rickard (women’s cross country), removing cross country from the bracket entirely.

No. 11 Morghan Murphy (field hockey) and No. 13 Lauren Baldwin (field hockey) rounded out the competition with victories for Wilkes’ field hockey, defeating No. 22 Kiana Jedlicka (women’s soccer) and No. 2o Alexa Rango (women’s ice hockey), respectively. Baldwin recorded the second-highest win-differential on the women’s side with 64 percent of the vote.

The Round of 16 commences today at 8 p.m. on the men’s side. The women’s Round of 16 will begin at 8 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday, April 16). The top-eight seeds on each side of the bracket will see their first action.