Who were the best Fighting Illini student-athletes over the past calendar year? There are dozens of great choices, but we received an official answer on Thursday morning. Illinois has announced that Isaiah Martinez (wrestling) and Jocelynn Birks (volleyball) are the 2016 Dike Eddleman Athletes of the Year. The honor, which is presented to the top male and female athletes, was voted on by Illini head coaches and the DIA awards committee.
Martinez's complete domination of the wrestling mat continued during the 2015-16 season. The sophomore won a second-straight NCAA title at 157-pounds while compiling an overall record of 32-1. All-in-all, Martinez was an easy choice for Male Athlete of the Year; he may have been snubbed out of the honor as a freshman, but he's well on his way to becoming one of the greatest to ever wear the Orange and Blue.
Birks finished an absolutely stellar Illinois career by earning All-American honors for a third-straight season. Her 1,972 kills are a program record, and she led the Illini with 3.95 kills per set this Fall. The race for Female Athlete of the Year was close, but Birks is a deserving candidate. She would've been my vote, that's for sure.