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May 8, 2014

Beyer, Yensen take home 2014 Skelton Award for Academic Excellence in Athletics

By: Jimmy Robertson

Christian Beyer and Katie Yensen, the 2014 winners of the Skelton Award, both plan to pursue careers in medicine when they graduate from Tech within the coming year.

Tech men’s basketball player Christian Beyer remembers well the conversations he and his parents, especially his mother, had about academics during his years as a kid, and later, as a teenager.

They were usually one-sided discussions.

“I always bring up the fact that a lot of kids were getting rewarded for B’s and A’s in classes, and if I got an A-minus, my mom was upset,” he said. “She expected me to do well. It’s always been stressed in my family, and I like learning and I take pride in it.”

Tech women’s soccer standout Katie Yensen tells a similar story, though her father was the one who served as the top figurehead when it came to dialogues on academics.

“My dad, in particular, instilled in me from the get-go that academics is primary, always,” she said. “My family believes in hard work and dedication, and that applies to a lot of different aspects of our lives – and academics is definitely one of those.

“He made sure it was a priority, but in an encouraging way. He wasn’t one of those parents that said, ‘Oh, if you don’t get an A, you’re not having dinner tonight.’ He wanted me to learn and do well, and if I got a B, it wasn’t the end of the world, but he made me want to push myself and do well in the classroom.”

Their parents’ firm belief in the importance of education certainly resonated with these two student-athletes, as both received the Skelton Award for Academic Excellence in Athletics – the highest designation handed out by the Tech athletics department – at the annual Athletics Director’s Honors Breakfast held April 27 at the Inn at Virginia Tech.

The Skelton Award, named after the late Dr. Bill and Peggy Skelton, goes each year to a rising junior, senior or fifth-year male and female student-athlete who has participated in intercollegiate athletics for at least two seasons at Tech and who holds an overall grade-point average of 3.40 or better. Each recipient receives a scholarship of $5,000.

I was really excited,” Beyer said. “Obviously, it’s a huge honor. All the time that I’ve put into schoolwork … it’s just nice to see people rewarding the student-athletes who put the time in in the classroom as well as on the court or whatever sport they play. So I was extremely honored.”

“I was very honored and a little surprised,” Yensen said, echoing Beyer’s comments. “It was something that I wanted, and it’s great to be recognized. I’ve worked hard on the field and off the field, and it’s good to be recognized for my academic achievements. I’m very humbled and thrilled.”

That the two of them were honored comes as no surprise, as both excel in the classroom – certainly a by-product of their upbringing. Yensen, in fact, has gotten just one “B” as a college student, which came in a physics class. She also has just one “A-minus,” which came in one of her biology labs. She ranks in the top one percent of her class, and both she and Beyer have made the Dean’s List every semester since they enrolled at Tech.

Both of them plan on eventually pursuing medical school when they graduate from Tech – Yensen wants to play soccer for as long as possible – and both are leaning toward becoming orthopaedic surgeons, though Beyer sounded a little more set on that than Yensen, who wants to keep her options a little more open.

When I was in high school, I tore a couple of ligaments in my ankles and had to visit an orthopaedic surgeon, and I got to see what they did,” Beyer said. “I got to shadow one and see him do surgery. So I want to be an orthopaedic surgeon and apply it to the sports medicine world and work with injured athletes.”

Beyer, a junior from New Bern, N.C., who is a health, nutrition, foods and exercise major, took a rather unconventional path to this point in his career. He enrolled at Tech as a student in the fall of 2011. He was a good basketball player in high school, but not one who received a ton of Division I interest. He had participated in one of Tech’s basketball camps the summer after his junior year of high school, and the Hokies’ staff liked him, but they didn’t feel he was quite good enough for a scholarship offer.

Beyer came to Tech anyway, and he took care of his basketball itch by playing pickup games at McComas Hall. When then-coach James Johnson needed bodies after attrition left Tech’s roster a little thin following his hiring in 2012, he invited Beyer to become a member of the team, seeing him as someone who could help in practices.

Since then, Beyer has played in 51 games, including 28 this past season. He averaged 1.1 points and 2.3 rebounds per game and shot 52 percent from the floor.

Yensen is a little more accomplished athletically. The Falls Church, Va., native – who is a biology major, with a minor in Spanish – enjoyed a terrific fall on the pitch for the Hokies, who made it to the NCAA’s College Cup last December for the first time. She recorded seven goals (fourth on the team) and five assists (third on the squad), and she made the ACC All-Tournament Team, scoring a goal in the Hokies’ 4-2 upset of then-No. 1 Virginia in the ACC Tournament semifinals.

Yensen has a knack for coming up with clutch goals. She recorded five game-winning goals this past season for Tech and has eight for her career – the third-most in Tech history. Even more impressively, the Hokies are 19-0 in her career when she tallies at least a point in a match.

Yensen’s desire to get into medicine stemmed from her background in sports while growing up and also her love for science classes while in high school. A medical service trip to Costa Rica over spring break in March only reaffirmed her desire to pursue medicine, and she plans on taking the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) in June.

I’m glad I did that,” Yensen said of her Costa Rica trip. “I had shadowed a lot of doctors beforehand, too. That was good, and it made me realize that I was in the right field. But at the same time, I was wondering if being a doctor in a practice was the way I wanted to go. I still had some questions. But this [the trip to Costa Rica] made me realize that I want to go into medicine, and I want to do more mission trips like this. It opened a lot of possibilities.”

Both have busy summers planned. Yensen plans on playing for two soccer teams, taking the MCAT and shadowing an anesthesiologist at a local clinic near her hometown. Beyer is going to the Dominican Republic as part of a summer school course, and then he plans on shadowing an oncologist at a hospital in Charlotte, N.C., for the remainder of the summer.

Yensen and Beyer weren’t the only student-athletes recognized at the AD’s Honors Breakfast. All members of the 2014 AD’s Honor Roll were recognized. The AD Honor Roll is designed to pay tribute to student-athletes who have achieved a grade-point average of 3.0 or better during one or both semesters in the preceding calendar year. Since its inception in 1988, the Honor Roll has recognized an average of more than 200 student-athletes each semester. This year, more than 300 student-athletes made the AD Honor Roll.

The athletics department recognized Dani Anderson from the softball team and Ryan Hawkins from the swimming and diving team for being named the school’s ACC Female and Male Scholar Athletes of the Year, respectively. Anderson, a senior from Rio Linda, Calif., will graduate in May with a degree in human, nutrition, foods and exercise and then pursue a doctor of physical therapy degree at Sacramento State, in Sacramento, Calif., next fall.

Hawkins, a senior from Charlotte, N.C., is a three-time All-American in the platform diving event and will be at Tech next fall while finishing up coursework toward his degree in architecture. The architecture program at Tech is a five-year program.

The athletics department also honored Scholar Athletes of the Year, an honor that goes to those with the highest GPA in the 2013 calendar year. This list of honorees included women’s cross country runners Alex Watt and Frances Dowd, women’s soccer player Shannon Mayrose, women’s swimmer Caroline Higgins and men’s track standout Stephan Munz.

The 2013 All-Academic Team was recognized as well, a group that includes the top performer academically in each sport. The list of honorees included Brad Markey (baseball), Beyer (men’s basketball), Uju Ugoka (women’s basketball), Kelsey Smith (cheerleading), Jared Berman (men’s cross country), Trey Gresh (football), Maclain Huge (golf), Danielle Neuburg (HighTechs), Laney Clarke (lacrosse), Jolie Kipper (managers), Nick Smirniotopoulos (men’s soccer), Anderson (softball), Kyle Butts (men’s swimming and diving), Hunter Koontz (men’s tennis), Tea Ivanovic (women’s tennis), Nick Scioscia (trainers), Sabine Kopplin (women’s track and field), Tyler Terry (video), Allison Munter (volleyball) and Devin Carter (wrestling).

The athletics department took a moment during the breakfast to recognize Dr. Larry Killough, a professor in the Pamplin College of Business who has been the faculty athletics representative for the past 23 years. Killough is retiring from Tech, and the athletics department gave him an honorary letterman’s jacket as a token of appreciation for all his years of service.