MORRISVILLE, N.Y. – The North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) has named Morrisville State College's Elizabeth Leva (Hoosick Falls, N.Y.) and Ryan Houghtalen (Syracuse, N.Y.) recipients of its 2016-17 Inspirational Award.
Each year, the NEAC honors student-athletes within the conference that have endured personal hardships leading to bravery or dedication within athletics through participation, volunteerism, coaching or administration.
Leva and Houghtalen were two of five total student-athletes to receive the award this year.
A member of the field hockey and lacrosse team's for the Mustangs, Leva was preparing for her senior season when she was involved in a serious car accident during late summer of 2016. Struck by a drunk driver, Leva suffered a serious head injury that left her future as a student-athlete in question.
While recovering from injuries sustained in the accident, Leva remained on the sidelines with her field hockey teammates at the start of the fall, missing the first month of the season. Shortly thereafter, though, Leva was able to return to the field of competition with a new role. Originally a goalkeeper for the Mustangs, she was able to return as a field player seeing time on both the offensive and defensive ends of the field, while appearing in 14 games and making eight starts.
"Liz's return to play last fall was nothing short of inspiring," said head field hockey coach Allison Beardsley. "She returned to the field with more tenacity and determination than before."
"On her first day back, Liz passed our team fitness test on the first try," Beardsley continued. "While this speaks to her natural athleticism, it showcases her competitive spirit and her desire to be at her best."
"Liz's return to play was not the only inspiring move she made last season. She transformed herself into a field player through hours of individual practice outside of team practices, a position change that is rare at the collegiate level."
Leva returned to the lacrosse field in the spring, but an early season head injury caused another setback and sidelined her once again, for nearly a month. Persevering through another recovery process, she returned to the field to help lead Morrisville State to its second NEAC title in three years, and wrapped up her lacrosse career with a second appearance in the NCAA tournament.
The Mustangs midfielder compiled 29 goals, 13 assists and 88 draw controls in 15 games to earn All-Conference honors for a second time in her collegiate career.
"I am honored to be able to work with such an exceptional student-athlete," Beardsley said. "She is an outstanding leader and teammate, but an amazing person off the field as well."
"Liz is a leader in every sense of the word by competing with class, dignity and respect," said Brandy Thurston, Morrisville State College Associate Athletic Director for Sports Information and Compliance. "Although she suffered some setbacks, she didn't let any situation deter her from seeing her athletic career through to the final whistle. Her character, work ethic and leadership are all admirable."
Early into the 2016 soccer season, Houghtalen sought medical treatment from an Urgent Care for what he thought was a muscle strain in a lower extremity. After examination by the attending physician, Houghtalen was diagnosed with a form of cancer. Initial concerns from his personal physician left his season, and potentially the remainder of his collegiate career in doubt.
A few days after receiving his diagnosis, Hougthalen underwent surgery to remove the mass. Within a short recovery period, he received clearance to return to the soccer pitch once again, and immediately his presence on the field was felt.
Within 24 hours of his return, the right defensive back scored his first goal as a Mustang, and added an assist in the conference win.
"While I am very happy to hear that Ryan was named a recipient of the Inspirational Award, I am not surprised, especially after witnessing first-hand the courage, strength and perseverance he showed this past fall," said men's soccer head coach Kyle Graves.
Houghtalen started 13 of 15 games for the Mustangs, notching two goals and two assists. His second score of the year came in the NEAC Championship game, where he assisted Morrisville State to their third-straight conference title, and third straight NCAA tournament appearance.
"During his entire ordeal, Ryan never sought pity from those around him, and his determination and selflessness was a shining example of putting others before himself even in the most difficult of times," Graves continued. "While his physical presence was missed during his illness, his impact within our program never ceased as the example he set was followed by his teammates, even in his absence."
In addition to his return to play, the junior also earned NEAC Scholar-Athlete accolades. His dedication and commitment extends beyond his efforts as a full-time student-athlete, as Houghtalen also dedicates his time to serving the United States of America in the armed forces, often reporting to duty.
"Ryan is a natural leader who leads by example with the utmost dignity and respect," added Thurston. "Despite facing adversity in the beginning of the season, he persevered without any excuse and was able to return to the soccer pitch while also maintaining his commitments outside of Morrisville State. Ryan is a committed young man who wants the best for those around him."
"Both Liz and Ryan are great examples of what it truly means to be a part of the Mustang family," Thurston said. "Their actions speak louder than words. We are fortunate to have two student-athletes who have not only battled through personal hardships, but were as equally committed to success on and off the fields of competition."
"Both are incredible individuals who inspire those around them to be better people, while working hard to be the best they can be themselves, in all facets of life."
Morrisville State College's curricula are enriched with applied learning and pave the way for opportunity at both the Morrisville and Norwich campuses. An action-oriented, interactive learning lab, the college is a national leader in technology and has been lauded for its exemplary, innovative and effective community service programs.
The college was ranked among the Best Regional Colleges in the North by U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges 2016 issue and was also recognized in the Top Public Schools, Regional Colleges North in the 2016 Best Colleges rankings. For more information about Morrisville State College, visit www.morrisville.edu.