Four Yale Athletes Honored

Twin sisters who have broken records in cross-country and track have broken a Yale tradition by being the first to share the University’s award for the top female athlete. They are among the three Yale athletes - including a football and lacrosse player who survived a tragic accident in January - who were presented athletic awards by Thomas A. Beckett, director of athletics, at the Yale College Senior Class Day exercises on Sunday, May 25.

This year’s athletic prizewinners are:

Kate O’Neill of Timothy Dwight College (one of Yale’s 12 residential colleges) and Laura O’Neill of Trumbull College received the Nellie Pratt Elliot Award as Yale’s top female athletes. The two hail from Milton, Massachusetts, and majored in history.

Christopher Leanza of Saybrook College received the William Neely Mallory Award as Yale’s top male athlete. He is the 18th player in Yale men’s basketball history to score 1,000 career points. A native of Parma, Ohio, he majored in economics.

Eric Wenzel of Jonathan Edwards College was presented a special athletic department award for an athlete “who has excelled on the field of play and who has shown spirit and courage in transcending unforeseen challenges.” Wenzel survived a Jan. 17 accident this year in which four of his Yale friends were killed. From Garden City, New York, he played football and lacrosse at Yale.

News releases from
Yale Sports Publicity
detailing the athletes’ accomplishments follow.

Running Stars Selected Yale’s Top Female Athletes

Kate and Laura O’Neill, Yale’s twin sister cross country and track standouts who combined for 11 All-America honors, have become the first athletes to share the Nellie Pratt Elliot Award, the most prestigious athletic award given to a senior female at Yale. The award was presented at the Class Day exercises on May 25.

The award goes to the senior woman whose excellence in the field of athletics and in her life at Yale best represents the ideals of sportsmanship and Yale tradition. It is awarded in memory of Nellie Pratt Elliot, who was an assistant director of undergraduate admissions at Yale for 46 years.

This is the first time a male or female has ever shared an athletic Class Day Award, but there has been no way to separate two of Yale’s most decorated runners ever. It was never more evident than the 2003 Heptagonal Championships hosted by Yale. Kate, who scored 28 points, and Laura (26) were named co-winners of the Most Valuable Performer Award.

Laura, who has five All-America honors, eight first team All-Ivy and eight second team All-Ivy selections, has accomplished more for Yale in track and field and cross-country than any woman. She owns the indoor and outdoor 5,000-meter records as well as the top time in the 10,000 (outdoors). She has scored more points at the league and the NCAA championships than any previous Yale runner.

With finishes of 33rd, 26th, and 13th at three successive NCAA Cross Country Championships, Laura graduates from Yale as the only three-time All-American and three-time first-team All-Ivy performer in the history of the cross country program. She has won five individual Heptagonal Championships in track and field and has scored more career points in Heptagonal competition than any Yale woman ever. She also has two individual ECAC championships to her credit.

Laura, a two-time track All-American with a 3.7 GPA in history, also finished third in the 10,000 meter run at the NCAA Championships in 2002 (at the time, the highest place ever for a Yale woman), and fifth at the Indoor NCAA Championships at 5,000 meters. She won five individual league championships and finished second to her sister on six other occasions. Alone, Laura and Kate placed Yale among the top 25 (of approximately 300) schools at the last two NCAA Track and Field Championships.

The other side of the powerful twin combination owns six All-America honors, 10 individual Ivy titles and six Yale records. Kate is a three-time cross country All-American who won the Ivy title her last two years. She was the 2002 NCAA Northeast District Runner of the Year for winning the NCAA Regional qualifying meet. Kate went on to earn the best finish ever for an Ivy woman at the NCAA Championships with a second-place run. She was 33rd as a sophomore and 11th as a junior.

Kate, who has rewritten the Yale record books, has won eight Heptagonal track championships and a pair of ECAC titles while earning three All-America honors. There is still time left for more, but she currently owns the school records in the indoor 3,000 and 5,000 and the outdoor 5,000 and 10,000. She also anchored the last leg of Yale’s NCAA qualifying distance medley relay team that broke the school record in 2003.

Kate, with a 3.6 GPA in history, qualified for two individual events and one relay at the 2003 indoor NCAAs, while no other Ivy school had a female athlete competing.

Basketball Star Selected Yale’s Top Male Athlete

Chris Leanza, only the 18th player in Yale men’s basketball history to score 1,000 career points, was the recipient of the William Mallory award, the most prestigious athletic award given to a senior male at Yale, at the Class Day exercises on May 24.

The award is presented to the senior man who on the field of play and in life at Yale best represents the highest ideals of American sportsmanship and Yale tradition and is named in honor of the Yale Class of 1924 athlete.

Leanza, a two-time All-Ivy selection and Parma, Ohio, native, helped lead the remarkable turnaround of the Yale men’s basketball program. The year before he arrived in New Haven, the Bulldogs won only four games, but by the time his career ended, Yale had won its first Ivy League title since 1963, earned the first post-season victory in the 107-year history of the program and enjoyed back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in more than a decade.

“Chris will hold a special place with me and with the basketball program,” said head coach James Jones. “He has helped put Yale basketball back on the map and is the kind of person and player that we look to recruit in the future because he embodies everything this great university stands for.”

Leanza, who overcame a serious shoulder injury that forced him to miss much of his junior year, is second all-time at Yale with 177 three-pointers. As a senior, he was the team captain and led the Bulldogs in three-pointers (47) and was third in scoring (9.8 ppg.). He capped his outstanding career by scoring 30 points, including his 1,000th, in a victory over Harvard in the final weekend of the regular season. He was named second team All-Ivy and also was an Academic All-Ivy selection.

In 2001-02, Leanza returned to the lineup following his injury for the start of Ivy League play and helped lead the Bulldogs to the Ivy title and a berth in the National Invitation Tournament. In the memorable NIT victory at Rutgers he made three crucial three-pointers in the second half and finished with 11 points.

As a sophomore, Leanza led Yale in scoring (13.3 ppg.) and assists (95) despite not being able to practice because of his injury. His 70 three-pointers were only two shy of the Yale single season record, and he tied the school record by making eight three-pointers en route to scoring 33 points against Vermont. In the Ivy League, he was ninth in scoring, sixth in assists, third in three-pointers and sixth in steals.

“Without Chris, I don’t know if we would have won one game that year,” Jones said. “The sacrifices he made for the coaches and the players were felt for years to come.”

As a freshman, Leanza was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week three times and led Yale in assists (87), three-pointers (51) and free throw percentage (.782). Against Columbia he had one of the best games ever by a freshman at Yale when he scored 33 points, only six shy of Tony Lavelli’s school freshman record.

Leanza is an economics major at Yale and is a member of Saybrook College. He is a graduate of Benedictine High School.

Football, Lacrosse Player Honored For Spirit and Courage

Eric Wenzel ‘03is the recipient of the Amanda D. Walton Award, given at the discretion of the Department of Athletics to an outstanding athlete who has excelled on the field of play and who has shown spirit and courage in transcending unforeseen challenges. The award was presented at the Class Day exercises on May 25

Wenzel, who survived the tragic automobile accident on Jan. 17 involving a number of Yale athletes, was coming off a successful four-year career on the gridiron. He played fullback, on special teams and even lined up at tight end a few times. Wenzel started the last six games of the 2002 campaign in the offensive backfield.

An All-America candidate in lacrosse, Wenzel’s collegiate career was put on hold after the accident. He was a 2002 All-New England pick and is now 10th on the school’s all-time save list.

The Garden City, N.Y., native was in net at Princeton the day the Bulldogs shocked the defending national champion Tigers by ending their near-record Ivy League win streak. Wenzel, the star of the day with 14 saves, made an amazing stop late in the game to preserve the victory and hand Old Nassau its first loss in its now eight-year-old stadium.

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