May 19, 2021

Although Most of 2020-21 Competition Canceled, PU Senior Athletes Still Had Much to Celebrate

CLASS ACT: Princeton University field hockey star Clara Roth makes a hit in a 2019 game. Last Thursday, senior Roth was named as the winner of the Otto von Kienbusch Award given to the top female senior athlete as Princeton Athletics held the Gary Walters ‘67 Princeton Varsity Club (PVC) Awards Banquet virtually. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Although Princeton University teams saw no competition in the fall or winter seasons during the 2020-21 school year and had only a handful of meets, games, and regattas this spring, the school’s stellar group of senior athletes still achieved a lot over their careers.

Over the last four years, the members of the Class of 2021 helped the Tigers reach two NCAA Final 4s in field hockey, win ECACH titles in both men’s and women’s hockey, produce an undefeated football campaign in 2018, go 26-1 in women’s hoops in 2019-20, earn NCAA individual titles in fencing, make the NCAA tournament in men’s volleyball in 2019 for the first time since 1998, win the school’s first Ivy League title in wrestling since 1986, and make the podiums in a number of national rowing regattas, among many other accomplishments.

But more importantly than their athletic achievements, the seniors displayed a special resilience and character as they dealt with the crushing disappointment of having seasons wiped away due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of reacting with anger, they made the best of the situation, inspiring coaches and teammates alike with the way they handled things. 

Last Thursday, the Princeton Athletics community came together to honor those seniors as it held the Gary Walters ‘67 Princeton Varsity Club (PVC) Awards Banquet virtually.

In a one-hour webcast, co-hosted by senior men’s volleyball player AJ Chen and senior field hockey standout Juliana Tornetta along with Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan ’91 that included some guest appearances from legendary Princeton athletes from the past, the school bestowed its annual awards recognizing athletic excellence, academic achievement, and service to the community.

Field hockey standout Clara Roth was named as the winner of the Otto von Kienbusch Award given to the top female senior athlete. Roth, a native of Schwetzingen, Germany, was a two-time All-American field hockey player who also earned three All-Ivy and All-Region selections. During her stellar junior season in 2019, which saw the Tigers reach the national championship game, Roth, a 5’8 striker, was named a Honda Sport Award Finalist, first-team All-America, Regional Player of the Year and first-team All-Ivy. She led all Ivy players in points and goals-per-game as she set career highs in both categories. As a sophomore, Roth earned her first All-America selection after being named the Ivy Offensive Player of the Year. She led the squad in goals (13), more than doubling her total from the year prior, and points (34). Roth is one of only 11 players in program history to record 100 career points, nabbing 35 goals, 31 assists.

The William Winston Roper Trophy honoring the top male senior athlete went to fencing star Daniel Kwak, who was a two-time All-American. He finished as the national runner-up in the NCAA saber championship in 2019 before earning second-team All-America honors following the canceled 2020 NCAA Championships. Los Angeles native Kwak was a 2018 first-team All-Ivy League honoree in a year that saw him advance to the NCAA Championships for the first of what would be three times in three seasons of competition for Princeton. In 2019, on the way to his NCAA runner-up finish, Kwak was also the runner-up at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic/South Regional, and in 2020 Kwak was a first-team all-region honoree as he won the NCAA regional title.

The Art Lane awards for selfless contribution to sport and society went to women’s cross country/track and field team member Melia Chittenden and men’s swimming standout Matthew Marquardt.

Chittenden, who hails from Manhattan Beach, Calif., was a two-time cross country/track and field team captain and a First Team All-Ivy and All-Region honoree. She qualified for the NCAA Cross Country championship in 2019, and has been named an NCAA Academic All-American three times. Off the track, Chittenden helped lead her team’s partnership with the Smith Family Foundation in Trenton, to provide headphones to 2,000 underprivileged students to aid with virtual learning. She has also served as a community outreach intern for the catholic charities of central New Mexico, supported immigration efforts for the International Rescue Committee, participated in the Princeton Asylum Project, and tutored incarcerated individuals through the Princeton-based Petey Greene Program.

Marquardt, a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, swam backstroke and butterfly for Princeton men’s swim team, scoring in three different Ivy League Championship meets. In 2019, Marquardt became the first Princetonian to receive the Slavin Fellowship for entrepreneurship, while also being honored at Princeton Research Day for his work on solar powered windows. He has led numerous research studies on campus related to student sleep habits, and developed the TigerDen Sleep Workshop to improve mental health and performance via sleep. Marquardt recently completed a 20-day solo cross-country bike ride, which raised over $13,000 in support of St. Jude Children’s Hospital and pediatric cancer research. Additionally, he served the Princeton community as a tutor for underprivileged first and second graders, and also as a Patient Care Ambassador at the Princeton Medical Center. From Cincinnati, Ohio, Marquardt is a chemistry major pursuing certificates in entrepreneurship, materials science, and engineering.

The Class of 1916 Cup, which goes to the Princeton varsity letter winner who continuing in competition in his or her senior year achieved at graduation the highest academic standing, went to Oliver Schwartz, a computer science major and member of the Princeton men’s heavyweight rowing team.

In his first two seasons, Schwartz, a native of Sydney, Australia, helped lead two different boats to silver medals at Eastern Sprints. Off the water, Schwartz served as the president of the Princeton Chapter of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society. He was previously awarded Princeton’s prestigious Shapiro Prize for excellence in academic pursuits. In addition, Schwartz served as a teaching assistant for several courses in the computer science department. He spent this past summer as an investment engineering intern for Bridgewater Associates, where he plans to work full-time following graduation.

Due to the challenges faced by the athletes due to the pandemic, the Athletics Department also handed out Special Recognition Leadership Awards to three senior athletes in recognition of their selfless leadership — field hockey star Maddie Bacskai, men’s volleyball standout AJ Chen, and men’s heavyweight rower Chris Wilson.

Bacskai, a native of Berwyn, Pa., graduated from Princeton as a three-time captain of the field hockey program. A three-time first team All-Ivy honoree, she led the team to two Ivy League titles and three NCAA Final Four appearances. Additionally, she garnered first team All-America honors and was named Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year during her career. Despite missing the entire 2019 season with an injury, Bacskai was still elected team captain and provided valuable leadership throughout a season that saw the Tigers reach the National Championship game. Bacskai put graduation on hold for one additional season with the Tigers, only to have the fall 2020 campaign canceled due to COVID-19.

Chen, for his part, was a senior captain for the men’s volleyball team. He was part of the 2019 squad that captured the program’s first EIVA Conference Championship in nearly two decades. Chen, who hails from Gaithersburg, Md., has served the Princeton community as a member of the MAVRIC Project, Forbes College Council, Peer Academic Advisor, and Student Athlete Wellness Leader (SAWL). This past year, Chen co-founded Asian Student Athletes of Princeton (ASAP), which aims to improve the Asian student-athlete experience through connection, conversation, and community building. Chen was also recently recognized with the University’s Spirit of Princeton Award, which honors undergraduates for positive contributions to campus life.

Wilson arrived at Princeton at the age of 23 after serving in the United States Marine Corps, where he was deployed to Kuwait and Bahrain as a ground radio technician. Never having rowed prior to Princeton, Wilson quickly became a mainstay in the fourth and fifth varsity 8 boats, on top of being an inspiring leader and mentor to his teammates. Outside of the boathouse, Wilson, a native of Atoka, Tennessee, was a member of the Princeton Veteran’s Alliance and University Store Board of Trustee, and also served as a teacher and mentor through Coach for College, a summer service program in Vietnam.

The Class of 1967 PVC Citizen-Athlete Award presented for selfless and noble contributions to sport and society went to Vietta Johnson’ 82, a standout for the women’s track team who has become a trailblazing orthopedic surgeon. Johnson, a member of the early Princeton women’s track dynasty who went on to Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, has carved out a career devoted to providing medical care in underserved communities in New York City and Chicago.

While the Princeton senior athletes may not have gotten the chance to achieve all that they wished in competition, the fortitude and class they demonstrated in dealing with the hand dealt them left their coaches and teammates believing that many of them will follow Johnson’s footsteps in admirably serving their communities down the road.