Best of the Best

NMU names major award winners

Northern Michigan University’s Male Athlete of the Year is junior skier Ian Torchia. (Photo courtesy of NMU)

MARQUETTE — Junior skier Ian Torchia and sophomore swimmer Rachel Helm have been named the top athletes at Northern Michigan University for the school year just completed.

Each was an NCAA individual champion in their sports on consecutive Saturdays in late winter. Torchia, the NMU Male Athlete of the Year, won the 20-kilometer men’s freestyle event in nordic skiing on March 10, while Helm, the NMU Female Athlete of the Year, took the 200-yard backstroke in women’s swimming on March 17.

Other major award winners at Northern are head volleyball coach Mike Lozier as Coach of the Year, junior women’s basketball player Taylor Hodell as Humanitarian of the Year, and hockey player Robbie Payne and cross country and track and field athlete Kameron Burmeister as the respective Male and Female Gildo Canale Outstanding Senior.

Top awards winners for each varsity sports were also named. That list is available on Page 2B in today’s Journal Sports.

Here is a brief synopsis about each honoree, followed by a list of awards for varsity teams and the Olympic Training Center:

Northern Michigan University's Female Athlete of the Year is sophomore swimmer Rachel Helm. (Photo courtesy of NMU)

Ian Torchia — He became the seventh NCAA nordic ski champion in NMU history after winning the 20K at the NCAA Championships in 54 minutes, 21 seconds. He is the fourth male national champ and third in the past seven years. He was also named an All-American in the 10K classic event with his fifth-place finish.

Earlier in the winter, Torchia won the 20K free at the NCAA Central Region Championships and 10K classic at the Central Collegiate Ski Association Championships.

Following the season, he was named Men’s Nordic Skier of the Year by the U.S. Collegiate Ski Coaches Association. He also participated in the Under-23 World Championships in Switzerland and was nominated for the 2018-19 U.S. cross country ski team.

Rachel Helm — She won an NCAA Division II championship for the second consecutive year, adding to the 100 back she won at the same national finals in 2017. This year’s victory in 1:57.20 was more than a second ahead of the rest of the field to cap off a meet where she was named an All-American three times and Honorary All-American twice more.

Helm was also named GLIAC Female Swimmer of the Year after winning four individual and one relay event, in addition to joining two other Wildcats’ relays that were runners-up.

Following just her second year at NMU, she owns four individual event school records and is part of four record relays.

Mike Lozier — In his first year at NMU, he guided the Northern volleyball team to its best finish in the GLIAC since 2007 with his players earning a number of honors.

The team finished at 21-8 with a second-place finish in the league regular season and a berth in the second round of the GLIAC tournament. The Wildcats had the seventh-most wins in their NCAA region, seventh-best RPI and seventh-most win over ranked opponents.

Four times NMU players won conference weekly awards, while four players were named All-GLIAC, led by senior Kayla Chosa as Blocker of the Year. Chosa and senior Madison Whitehead went on to be named Honorable Mention All-Americans by the American Volleyball Coaches Association.

Taylor Hodell — She earned the humanitarian award after spending the year serving the community individually and with her team. The women’s basketball Wildcats worked with children at basketball camps and read to children at area elementary schools.

Hodell herself volunteered weekly at Marquette General Hospital, played cards at the Jacobetti Home for Veterans, helped organize Cat Packs to supply food for holidays and weekends for students at North Star Academy, served food and washed dishes at the Ending Hunger Alliance of Marquette and made blankets for hospitalized children.

Robbie Payne — The hockey team’s captain set a number of career highs in his final season at NMU and was one of the top goal scorers in the country. He led the Wildcats and was sixth in NCAA Division I with 24 goals, most at NMU since the 2006-07 season, finishing his playing career at Northern with 54 goals and 94 points in 158 games.

That includes a pair of three-goal hat tricks and 21 multi-point games overall.

Following the season, when the Wildcats reached the championship game of the WCHA playoffs, he signed with the American Hockey League’s Texas Stars, an affiliate of the NHL’s Dallas Stars.

Kameron Burmeister — She earned five All-American honors, two each in cross country and indoor track and field and one in outdoor track. The final one came in outdoor track, when she finished ninth in the 10,000-meter run less than two weeks ago.

She hold five school records in those various sports, including the 6K distance in cross country, 3,000 and 5,000 meters in indoor track and 5,000 and 10,000 meters in outdoor track.

Last fall, Burmeister won the prestigious GLIAC Commissioner’s Award that honors athletic and academic achievement.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.