Spring, Alcia tops at UI

By: Mike Mears

By: Mike Mears

By: Mike Mears

By: Mike Mears

Sophomore gymnast Justin Spring and junior goalkeeper Leisha Alcia received the Dike Eddleman Awards for the 2003-2004 season, the prize given to the top male and female athletes at Illinois each year.

Spring is the first gymnast to win the award since David Zeddies in 1989, the last time Illinois won the national team championship.

"Our team has been fighting to match the 1989 team," Spring said. "It kind of symbolizes a turnaround for the sport here at Illinois."

Spring won the national title in the high bar this season, leading the Illini to a third-place team finish at the Assembly Hall. Spring also placed fifth in the parallel bars.

"Everyone''s goal is to win a national championship, and to do it at home is amazing," Spring said. "We wanted to do it as a team, but to come back the next day and do it individually is an amazing ending to the year."

Spring racked up accolades at the Big Ten Championships as well, winning the floor exercise and setting a school record in the all-around at 55.600 – the fifth school record he set last season – good for second place. His performance paced Illinois to its first Big Ten team title since ''89.

Spring was surprised by the honor.

"I didn''t even think about it," he said. "I forgot the awards banquet even existed. It was such an honor to just be nominated."

The sophomore recently placed fourth on the high bar at the 2004 U.S. Gymnastics Championships.

However, with two years left and four All-America honors already in the books, Spring still has some work left at Illinois.

"The record is eight (All-America honors), I think," Spring said. "Hopefully I''ll be healthy and chip away at that."

Alcia became the first soccer player to win the Eddleman Award, garnering first-team All-America honors along the way. Her play in goal was the backbone of a stifling defense that paced Illinois to a school-best 16-4-2 record, as well as the Big Ten tournament championship.

"We set some defensive goals, and we went from being the worst defensive team in the conference to the best," Illinois coach Janet Rayfield said. "Leisha was a key part of that. We have to credit our whole defense, but it''s so much easier when you know you have one of the best goalkeepers in the country behind you."

Alcia had 12 of Illinois'' 13 shutouts, the second-highest team total in conference history. Her 0.54 goals-against average led the Big Ten and ranked eighth in the nation.

"It''s an honor to receive such a prestigious award," Alcia said. "We set a standard to be one of the best defensive teams in the country, and that''s the reason why we were so successful."

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