AOTY2020: Round of 16 recap after Friday’s polls close; Quarterfinal Round set for weekend

Kirsten Peters, Co-Sports Editor

The third annual Athlete of the Year tournament completed its two-day Round of 16 on Friday. Action concluded in the second-round with a total of 5,530 votes, tallying 230 more votes than the Opening Round.

The men’s side saw 2,363 votes on the Twitter polls, while the women’s side saw over 800 more votes at 3,167 tallies. To date, the tournament has accumulated 10,830 votes in two of five rounds.

Sixteen athletes competed on both the men’s and women’s sides in the Round of 16. Seeds No. 9 through No. 24 faced-off in eight polls in the Opening Round, determining eight winners to advance to the second round. The eight winners on each side of the bracket faced seeds No. 1 through No. 8, each of whom received first-round byes.

The No. 1 and No. 2 seeds on both sides of the bracket remained in the competition after seeing their first action. No. 1 seed Donald Flynn (men’s ice hockey) topped No. 17 seed Ja’Quan Sheals (football) with 63 percent of the vote, while No. 1 seed Jamey Mikovich (women’s volleyball) edged No.17 seed Kendall Castro (women’s ice hockey) with 52 percent of the vote.

As for the No. 2 seeds, contests came down to the wire for Jose Tabora (football) and Jessica Egan (women’s soccer). After multiple lead changes, the two edged out their No. 18-seed competitors. Tabora secured 52 percent of the vote over Shane Henehan (men’s soccer), while Egan secured 51 percent of the vote over Shauna Tubbs (women’s ice hockey).

The next highest seed to advance on either side of the bracket was No. 5 Kyle Bentz (men’s soccer). The senior copped a victory over freshman goalkeeper No. 12 Michael Paterson-Jones (men’s ice hockey), a dominant force in net for the Colonels who advanced past No. 21 Andrew Potter (men’s volleyball) in the Opening Round on Tuesday evening.

Bentz notched a 50.4 percent victory over Paterson-Jones – the closest margin in the entire Round of 16 – just barely making his way into the Quarterfinal Round.

The final contender in the top-eight on either side to advance went to No. 8 Maddie Kelley (women’s basketball/field hockey). The dual-sport athlete, automatically nominated for her Athlete of the Week selection for women’s basketball, capped the 61 percent victory over underdog No. 24 Ashley Burkhardt (women’s lacrosse).

Burkhardt’s loss removes any chance of a spring-sport athlete winning this year’s tournament, as she was the only spring athlete in the tournament as the result of an automatic bid from her Feb. 25 Athlete of the Week selection. (Spring athletes were not included in this year’s contest as a result of COVID-19 cancelling their respective seasons. Further details on the decision can be found here.)

Despite the top two seeds on both sides advancing to the Quarterfinal Round, other members in the top-eight were not as fortunate. After seven upsets in the Opening Round, the Round of 16 followed in similar fashion. With the top-eight apart of the action, five upsets on both sides of the bracket comprised a 10-upset second-round.

Last year’s USCHO (United States College Hockey Online) Rookie of the Year winner No. 9 Tyler Barrow (men’s ice hockey) edged No. 8 seed John Devito (wrestling). The 51-49 percent contest advanced two men’s ice hockey players to the Quarterfinal Round, leaving Barrow and Flynn to face-off against each other in the next round.

No. 19 Moustafa Almeky (wrestling) and No. 19 Karlye Huffman (women’s volleyball) pulled off the largest upsets, each defeating the No. 3 seed in their respective brackets. Almeky claimed the victory over two-time Athlete of the Year nominee Michael Gurska (men’s ice hockey) with 60 percent of the vote, while Huffman topped Niamh Harkins (women’s soccer) with 55 percent of the vote.

Harkins found herself in the contest last year as a No. 8 seed, where she suffered a similar fate losing to then-No. 25 seed Castro in her first poll of the tournament. Castro scored the first-ever goal in women’s ice hockey team history during their inaugural season, earning herself an automatic bid in last year’s tournament from her Athlete of the Week selection. Despite earning a higher seeding as an at-large bid this year, Harkins fell to a lower-seeded automatic bid once again.

However, Harkins’ loss demonstrates a crucial component of the tournament: Popularity voting. The Athlete of the Year tournament is conducted through Twitter voting polls, meaning there is potential for any athlete to succeed regardless of their initial seeding.

Almeky and Huffman have found strength in the popularity vote, proving to be dominant forces in the competition. The two have gained significant attraction through Twitter’s voting polls with retweets, likes and quote-retweets.

With the defeat of the No. 3 seeds on both sides, the No. 4 seeds both toppled as well.

On the men’s side, No. 13 Derek Nelson (football) – whose grandpa even submitted a tournament bracket prior to the start of the competition – topped Rob Pecorelli (men’s basketball) with 56 percent of the vote. Following Almeky’s first-round victory over No. 14 seed Mark Mullins (men’s basketball), Nelson removed men’s basketball from the competition entirely with his second-round victory over Pecorelli.

Pecorelli is a three-time Athlete of the Year nominee, earning the No. 3 seed in the inaugural Athlete of the Year tournament in 2018, the No. 9 seed in last year’s tournament and the No. 4 seed in this year’s third annual competition. Despite his top-seeding, Pecorelli has struggled in the Athlete of the Year tournament, being knocked out in the first round the past two years.

On the women’s side, No. 13 Lauren Baldwin (field hockey) trumped fellow teammate No. 4 Lauren Shiplett (field hockey) in the most-voted-in-contest to date. The Shiplett-Baldwin matchup received 627 votes, securing 111 more votes than the next highest matchup in the Round of 16 between Mikovich and Castro.

No. 12 Delfina Bracchi (women’s soccer) also found success on the women’s side while facing a teammate of her own – No. 5 Samantha Cecere (women’s soccer) – by securing 54 percent of the vote. Cecere fell to the first-time Athlete of the Year nominee after moving up five seeds from her No. 10 seed selection last year.

On each side of the bracket, both No. 1o seeds and No. 11 seeds defeated their opponents.

The women’s side recorded higher margins of victory. No. 10 Emily Bidelspach (women’s soccer) defeated No. 7 Alexa Crossgrove (women’s swimming) with the largest percentage of the Round of 16, claiming 69 percent of the vote. No. 11 Morghan Murphy followed suit with 57 percent of the vote over No. 6 Allyson Joly (women’s ice hockey/women’s lacrosse).

Crossgrove earned her first Athlete of the Year nomination following a tremendous record-breaking season for the Colonels. Joly, on the other hand, was a Semifinal Round contender in last year’s contest, winning three of her four Twitter polls and only falling to then-No. 1 seed Gab Giordano ’19 who went on to win the tournament.

Harkins, Shiplett, Cecere, Joly and Crossgrove each lost in their first action of the competition, knocking out seeds No. 3 through No. 7 from the women’s bracket.

The men’s final two polls proved to be tighter contests, where No. 10 Vinne Werner (football) edged fellow-teammate No. 7 Bud Moyer (football) with 53 percent of the vote, and No. 11 RJ Rauh (men’s soccer) beat out No. 6 Nick Fea (men’s ice hockey) with 55 percent of the margin.

For Wilkes football, a matchup of first-time Athlete of the Year nominees proved close between two senior standouts on the Colonel roster. Rauh, however, came out with a greater upset of the two polls, defeating one of this year’s USCHO Division II Third-Team selections at the forward position in Fea.

Gurska, Pecorelli, Fea, Moyer and Devito suffered losses in their first round of competition, despite top-eight seeding in the men’s bracket.

The Quarterfinal Round commences for the men’s side on Friday at 8 p.m. and runs for 24 hours, while the women’s Quarterfinal Round commences at 8 p.m. on Saturday night and runs for their 24 hours. By Sunday evening, all semifinal face-offs will have been decided.