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A Weekend of Celebration Begins
May 23, 2018

SAN DIEGO – They have cracked the books, written essays, passed finals, molded relationships, sweated in the athletic arena and pulled off the student-athlete balancing act. And on Friday, as a prelude to this weekend’s commencement ceremonies, 85 University of San Diego Toreros will be recognized at an event honoring graduating senior student-athletes.

The event begins at 6 p.m. at the Shiley Theater. All 17 sports will feature student-athletes who will or already have graduated. The student-athletes will receive a sash from one of their coaches, plus a senior class ring.

“What’s exciting in my eyes is that graduation is not as much an ending as a new beginning,” said Ron Valenzuela, USD’s assistant athletic director for academics and student development. “It’s a chance to impact others in the world and do it with what they learned at the University of San Diego, in the classroom and on the field of competition.”

Three of the USD’s most successful student-athletes will be among those honored at the program – football’s Max Michaels, volleyball’s Kristen Gengenbacher and basketball’s Maya Hood.

A three-year starter at nickel back, Michaels was one of two players to be named Division I Football Championship Subdivision ADA Scholar-Athlete of the Year. A Poway High product, Michaels earned a 3.95 GPA as an accounting major.

He is already working for the La Jolla accounting firm Ernst & Young.

Gengenbacher earned third team All-American honors for the Toreros last fall, becoming the seventh player in USD history to be named a Division I All-American. A Communication Studies and Religious Studies double major, she was every bit as successful in the classroom. Her GPA through the fall semester: 3.91.

Hood capped an incredible basketball career in March, becoming the women Toreros’ all-time leader in rebounds (991), steals (287) and third-leading scorer (1,677 points). The La Jolla Country Day product balanced athletics, motherhood (she has a 4-year-old son) and academics. Hood received a master’s degree in Leadership Studies last weekend, earning a 3.48 GPA.

Hood has been a student at USD the past six years. She redshirted one year to give birth to her son then received a medical redshirt when she suffered a knee injury.

“For me to be able to walk across that stage and hear the amount of cheering, a standing ovation, showed the type of environment USD fosters,” said Hood. “I’m very grateful to my coaches, teammates and professors who helped me along the way. The athletic department, everyone I crossed paths with during my journey, played an important role in my development.”

Michaels and Gengenbacher raved about their USD professors. Both said their professors were accessible, communicating with them outside of class and office hours, which is crucial for athletes who miss class time because of travel.

“At USD, they’re there for you, which really added to my experience,” Michaels said. “They’re extremely flexible, making a time that works for you.”

“Professors will stay in touch,” said Gengenbacher, who grew up in Quincy, Illinois. “They know my name and actually care about me.”

Included among the 85 student-athlete graduates are: defensive end Jonathan Petersen (Accounting), who set the Football Championship Subdivision career record with 44 sacks; first team All-West Coast Conference volleyball player Jayden Kennedy (Psychology); Berlin-born Cameron Neubauer, the only senior on last season’s men’s basketball team; first team All-WCC guard Aubrey Ward-El (Communication Studies); tennis player Alex Araouzos (Psychology) of Cypress; and outfielder Daniel Gardner (Business Economics), who hit .281 this season.

The 85 graduates have done their part to adhere to the school’s mission statement, which in part reads, “The University of San Diego is a Roman Catholic institution committed to advancing academic excellence …”

In the fall 2017 semester, USD’s student-athletes earned a combined 3.12 grade-point average, the highest on record at the 66-year-old university. The women’s cross country team posted the highest team GPA: 3.51.

“Quite frankly,” said Valenzuela, “I think USD represents the best of intercollegiate athletics. I think they’re among the best and brightest student-athletes in the country.”

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