2015 Dale B. Lake Award

The 2015 Dale B. Lake Award recipients at Kalamazoo Valley Community College are student athletes Nate Casanto and Bria Mays.

Nate Casanto is the recipient of the men's award. He was a three-year member of the men's basketball team. Nate was active on the roster for his first and third years at KVCC. During the beginning of his second season he had a season-ending hip surgery, forcing him to redshirt that year.

"He embodies the true meanings of student-athlete and team player," former head coach Matt Dennis said. "As a student he always did well in his classes and was willing to tutor his teammates in courses in which they struggled.. During his first year, he helped many of his teammates complete their stock market project before he had even taken the course. I also remember him spending time working with others on math, English, and other business assignments. Helping others around him is what Nate is all about, even if it meant more work for him."

Dennis said Nate fully understood what it meant to be a teammate and a team player. "He would often work with players to help them better understand the expectations and the game plan being presented by the coaching staff," Dennis said. "He didn't mind coming in early or staying late to help players who played in front of him so they could go through workouts and get in extra shots. He was constantly encouraging others and bringing out the best play and attitude in everyone. He had the respect of his teammates; when he spoke they listened. They all knew Nate was willing to put in the work, time, and effort to make himself and those around him the best they could be." 

Dennis says he has a great respect for Nate and how he carries himself. "Many times I would meet with Nate to discuss the overall feel of the team and to see if there were struggles he noticed as a player that I missed as a coach," Dennis said. "Nate always gave a fair and honest assessment of what was going on, even if he knew it was something I did not want to hear. He was always willing to do whatever was asked of him to make the program thrive. For these reasons, he went from a walk-on to a scholarship player." 

Nate helped the men's basketball team achieve a record of 60-31 over his three years, win a conference championship, and become ranked in the top 20 at some point in each season. Bria Mays is the recipient of the women's award. She was a psychology major at Kalamazoo Valley who carried a 3.4 grade point average and transferred to Georgia Regents University after she graduated in December 2014. 

"Her ability to lead on and off the court, her dedication, and her work ethic made her stand out from the very beginning of her college career, which caught the eye of her fellow teammates and coaches," coach Jennifer Buikema said of Mays. During her freshman year of college, she was a student athlete at Northern Michigan University as a red shirt player and the following year, she transferred to Kalamazoo Valley Community College, where she completed two years of eligibility for the Cougars. 

"During her two year stay at Kalamazoo Valley, she set a great example of excellence, responsibility, and determination in the classroom and on the court," Buikema said. Mays was a two-year starter, middle hitter, and a captain this past season for the Cougars, while maintaining a 3.4 GPA. 

"Bria's many outstanding qualities include her perseverance, work ethic, and love for the game," Buikema said. "Bria is a natural competitor and loves to compete at the highest level and that was evident when we saw her at study tables and during team conditioning in the fitness center."

Bria faced adversity throughout her playing career with transferring to a new school early in her career, then having her third new coach in three years when coach Buikema came on board. She also faced injuries, but they didn't stand in her way. One example of her perseverance is when she had to sit out her final season for a month, only three weeks into season. She had to be placed in a boot and underwent physical therapy not only for her shins, but for her shoulder as well. "Therefore, Bria's second home was the trainer's room," Buikema said. 

"We never had to ask for her to go see Tyler. She just did it. Even though she wasn't physically competing during practice or matches, she was still mentally checked in by encouraging and communicating with her teammates during timeouts. It is difficult to sit out for any reason, but Bria took this time to grow her skills in a different aspect of the game, which many student athletes don't usually do."

With determination and hard work, Bria was able to come back at the half way mark into the season and make a huge impact with her skills. Even with missing almost half of the season competitions, Bria still led the team in blocks and received MCCAA All-Conference Honorable Mention. Bria also has an impressive work ethic. "Whether it was studying on the bus or in the gym practicing, her teammates always looked up to her, not only for executing a drill, but she also demonstrated effort in everything she did. She was always one of the first to practice and the last to leave without anyone telling her to do so. She was always eager to get in the gym, to get the nets set up, and lead the team in warm up. At the end of the season, Bria was awarded the Cougar Award because of her leadership both on the court and in the classroom," Buikema said.

Bria will be continuing both her academic and athletic careers at Georgia Regents University. She is a great nominee for the Dale B. Lake Award because throughout her academic and athletic careers she was able to set a high standard for our program. Bria embodied what it means to be a Cougar student-athlete at Kalamazoo Valley. 

The Dale B. Lake Award began in 1970 in honor of Kalamazoo Valley Community College's founding President. It is an effort to give annual recognition to one outstanding male and one outstanding female student-athlete. Special consideration is given to exceptional academic achievement as well as outstanding athletic contribution. Qualities such as leadership, loyalty, enthusiasm, reliability, and initiative are also evaluated. Although an exceptional first year student-athlete with appropriate supporting data could be selected for this award, sophomores who have made such contributions for two years will be given priority consideration. Each coach may nominate one individual to the Athletic Director for consideration for the Dale B. Lake Award. The coaches select one male and one female award winner. Winners receive plaques and their names are added to the Dale B. Lake plaque displayed within the Athletic office at Kalamazoo Valley.