Eight outstanding student-athletes will be honored next month as NCAA Today’s Top VIII Award winners. The winners are:

  • Amy Backel, Oklahoma, indoor/outdoor track and field
  • Zach Carr, Stevens Institute of Technology, soccer
  • Casie Hanson, North Dakota, ice hockey and softball
  • Dan Laurent, Wisconsin-La Crosse, wrestling
  • Greg McElroy, Alabama, football
  • Marcia Newby, Georgia, gymnastics
  • Jessica Pixler, Seattle Pacific, cross country and track and field
  • Jeff Spear, Columbia, fencing

The Today’s Top VIII Award recognizes current student-athletes who will have completed their athletics eligibility for their success on the fields and courts, in the classroom and in the community. They will receive their award at the NCAA Honors Celebration on Jan. 14 at the 2011 NCAA Convention in San Antonio.

The honorees are selected by the NCAA Honors Committee, which is composed of athletics administrators at member institutions and nationally distinguished citizens who are former student-athletes.

Following are summaries of each honoree’s achievements:

Amy Backel
Institution: Oklahoma
Sport(s): Indoor/outdoor track and field
Major: Civil engineering
GPA: 3.98
Amy Brackel is a two-time All-American and was the first collegiate finisher in the 2010 USA Track and Field Championships. She was a 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials finalist in the javelin and placed fourth in the javelin and ninth in the heptathlon at the 2006 U.S. Junior National Championships. Brackel is Oklahoma’s reigning record-holder in the javelin with a throw of 182, feet, 5 inches, which she recorded as a senior to win the Big 12 title. She was the first three-time CoSIDA Academic All-American in school history (male or female) and helped lead the Sooner women to the top spot in the 2010 USATFCCA academic team rankings. She was president of Oklahoma’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and served on the Big 12 SAAC from 2008 to 2009.

Zach Carr
Institution: Stevens Institute of Technology
Sport: Soccer
Major: Biomedical engineering
GPA: 3.92
Zach Carr was a 2009 National Soccer Coaches Association of America first-team All-American and 2009 CoSIDA/ESPN The Magazine first-team Academic All-American. He is currently second in DIII history for goals-against average (.380). He had 1,333 consecutive shutout minutes in goal from Nov. 9 2009, to Oct. 13, 2010, which is the second longest streak across all three divisions of NCAA men's soccer. He has had 52 career shutouts. Carr is a National Merit Scholar and was team captain for two years.

Casie Hanson
Institution: North Dakota
Sports: Ice hockey, softball
Majors: Community nutrition/physical education/exercise science
GPA: 3.98
Casie Hanson is a two-sport athlete, competing in ice hockey and softball. She was selected to ESPN The Magazine’s all-district team for women’s ice hockey and is a Daktronics All-American. A Louisville Slugger/National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-American, Hanson was selected as a Great West Conference Scholar-Athlete for 2009-10. She was also Great West Conference Softball Player of the Year in 2010 and was the MVP for the conference softball tournament. She holds the all-time North Dakota records in batting average (.452), runs scored (183), home runs (32), total bases (231) and hits (278) and is tied for second all-time for triples (15), RBI (104) and stolen bases (60). She was a 2010 ESPN/CoSIDA Academic All-American.

Dan Laurent
Institution: Wisconsin-La Crosse
Sport: Wrestling
Majors: Biochemistry/Cellular and molecular biology
GPA: 3.94
Dan Laurent was a two-year captain of the wrestling team and was named to the CoSIDA/ESPN The Magazine’s Academic All-American first team in 2009 and 2010, the first student-athlete in school history to receive the honor. He has been on the dean’s list every semester and was selected to the 2008, 2009 and 2010 National Wrestling Coaches Association Scholar All-America team. Laurent was the 2009 Wisconsin-La Crosse Inorganic Chemistry Student of the Year and was the recipient of the Wisconsin Academic Excellence Scholarship from 2005 to 2009.

Greg McElroy
Institution: Alabama
Sport: Football
Major: Marketing
GPA: 3.83
Greg McElroy was the quarterback for the 2009 national champion Crimson Tide, leading the team to a 14-0 season. He is fourth among all NCAA quarterbacks in career passing efficiency with a 150.42 rating. He was named a candidate for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and was voted the MVP of the 2009 Southeastern Conference championship game against Florida. McElroy holds the best winning percentage of any quarterback in SEC history. He was named a Rhodes Scholarship finalist and earned an $18,000 scholarship from the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame’s National Scholar-Athlete award. A finalist for the Campbell Trophy, McElroy was named one of Sporting News' 20 Smartest Athletes. He graduated from Alabama in three years with a degree in business marketing and is in graduate school pursing a sports administration degree. He has participated in SAAC, Project Angel Tree, Read Across America, Hospice of West Alabama, Impact Alabama "Focus First” Child Vision Screening, Habitat for Humanity, West Alabama Food Bank and has volunteered numerous hours to speak to local school children about the importance of a quality education.

Marcia Newby
Institution: Georgia
Sport: Gymnastics
Major: Biological science
GPA: 3.91
Marcia Newby was a member of the 2007, 2008 and 2009 NCAA championship team and was a 2007 and 2008 first-team All-American in vault. In 2002 she was the winner of the Junior Pan American Championships and was a member of the 2003 gold medal Pan-American team. She was the 2010 Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar of the Year and the 2010 Brad Davis Southeastern Conference Community Service Postgraduate Award recipient. She was named to the 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 National Gymnastics Coaches Association All-Scholastic Team and was a National Society of Collegiate Scholars inductee in 2008. Newby has extensive volunteer and community-service experience and was awarded the University of Georgia Athletic Association Hornsby Howell Community Service award. She was given the university’s highest honor for a female student-athlete, the University of Georgia Athletic Association Lewis Leadership Award.

Jessica Pixler
Institution: Seattle Pacific
Sports: Cross country/indoor and outdoor Track
Major: English
GPA: 3.93
Jessica Pixler won the 1,500 meters at the Junior Pan American Games in 2007 and won three Division II cross country titles from 2007 to 2009. She was awarded four consecutive NCAA indoor track mile titles -- the NCAA indoor 5,000 meter title in 2009 and three outdoor 1,500 meter titles. Pixler is a four-time cross country All-American, six-time indoor track All-American and three-time outdoor track All-American. She holds Seattle Pacific’s record for indoor track in the 800, 3,000 and 5,000 meters. She was a member of the school’s record indoor distance medley relay team and holds the outdoor record in the 800, 1,500 and 5,000 meters. A volunteer coach, Pixler is also a member of Seattle Pacific’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

Jeff Spear
Institution: Columbia
Sport: Fencing
Major: Evolutionary biology of human species
GPA: 4.00
Jeff Spear is a two-time Intercollegiate Fencing Association gold medalist and has competed with the United States senior men’s sabre team in international World Cup events in Hungary, Italy and Spain. He is a three-time All-American and is the 2008 NCAA men’s sabre champion. He was the team’s co-captain in 2009-10. Spear was named ESPN’s 2010 Academic All-American of the Year in the at-large category and was awarded an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship the same year. He was Columbia’s 2010 class salutatorian. Spear spent the last three summers doing a field project in the Rio Grande Gorge in northern New Mexico. He was a member of Columbia’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.