For those who may not be familiar, Illinois’ Dike Eddleman Athlete of the Year Award is given annually to the top “female and male student-athletes who have distinguished themselves in athletic achievement.” The award’s namesake, Dwight “Dike” Eddleman, played basketball, football, and track during his college years of 1943 and 1946-49. As was common for student athletes in the mid-1940s, Eddleman’s NCAA eligibility was interrupted due to his military service in WWII.
Some previous award winners include Dick Butkus, Tonja Buford, Kurt Kittner, and Ashley Berggren. Last year, the male recipient was Kofi Cockburn and the female recipient was Olivia Howell, who also won the award in 2021.
But this year, the competition is as fierce as it’s been in years.
Finalists were announced at the Oskees award ceremony last week. On the men’s side, the finalists include:
- Cam McDonald - Baseball
- Lucas Byrd - Wrestling
- Adrien Dumont de Chassart - Golf
- Karlis Ozolins - Tennis
- Terrence Shannon Jr. - Basketball
- Ian Skirkey - Gymnastics
- Tyler Sudduth - Track
- Devon Witherspoon - Football
These are all phenomenal athletes, but I think this will come down to a three-way battle between Dumont de Chassart, Shannon, and Witherspoon. Each of them has (or soon could have) a very compelling story.
Shannon joined Brad Underwood’s squad specifically for this past season, and embraced his role by leading the Illini to the NCAA Tournament. Now Shannon has a chance to be the first Illini taken in the NBA Draft since Ayo Dosunmu, and just the second since Meyers Leonard was drafted in 2012.
Witherspoon’s case for the Dike Eddleman was bolstered last weekend by his historic NFL Draft selection as the No. 5 overall pick by the Seattle Seahawks, becoming the first Illini in the 21st century to be selected in the top-5. That honor only adds to his other accolades, which include his selection as a 2022 Consensus All-American and as a finalist for the 2022 Jim Thorpe Award.
As impressive as Witherspoon and Shannon’s cases are, Adrien Dumont de Chassart actually has the potential to top both of them. The fifth-year golf star is currently still playing, but it will be very difficult to deny him the Dike Eddleman award if he manages to lead Mike Small’s crew to Illinois’ first NCAA National Championship in men’s golf. Given that Illini men’s golf is currently ranked No. 3 in the nation by Golfstat, there’s a real chance of that happening. Dumont de Chassart also won the men’s Big Ten Medal of Honor for 2023.
Although men’s gymnastics titles are a little more common in Champaign-Urbana, gymnast Ian Skirkey could also end up being a dark horse candidate for the award. Skirkey won the pommel horse national title in 2021, and then won it again just last month for 2023.
On the women’s side, the finalists are as follows:
- Makira Cook - Basketball
- Olivia Howell - Track/Cross Country
- Sara Jass - Swim & Dive
- Kendra Pasquale - Soccer
- Mia Takekawa - Gymnastics
- Raina Terry - Volleyball
- Crystal Wang - Golf
Olivia Howell won the Dike Eddleman award in 2021 and 2022, and then she won the NCAA National Championship in the indoor mile this spring. But even after all of those accolades, she still could end up getting beat out for the award.
Crystal Wang presents an especially realistic challenge considering the torrid pace that she’s been on lately. Wang led Illinois women’s golf to its first Big Ten Championship title in April, and in the process she not only claimed top honors in the tournament, but she also set the new Big Ten Championships record for the lowest score in a single round.
Other possible contenders include gymnast Mia Takekawa, who won the female Big Ten Medal of Honor at the Oskees and was an NCAA Championships qualifier, and Makira Cook, who led the sudden turnaround of Illinois’ women’s basketball program under Shauna Green and earned a place in the AP All-American Honorable Mention list.
It’s important to recognize the efforts and contributions of Illinois athletes in all programs at the university. The dominant sets of finalists in 2023 are a testament to the excellent coaching, resources, and athletes at the University of Illinois. Best of luck to all finalists!