VILLANOVA, Pa. - It was a night for celebration, memories and a look ahead to the future at the annual Senior Student-Athlete Reception held at the Connelly Center on Thursday evening. Men’s basketball player Jalen Brunson and women’s track & field and cross country athlete Siofra Cleirigh Buttner took home top honors as the male and female Senior Student-Athletes of the Year, while John Kluh from men’s lacrosse and Jannah Tucker from women’s basketball were winners of the Sister Mary Margaret Cribben Award. Each of the senior student-athletes in the Class of 2018 received Villanova watches as a gift on the eve of their graduation.
The collective accomplishments of the Class of 2018 were remarkable both in athletic competition and especially in the classroom. While the two national championships won by the men’s basketball team in the past three years quickly come to mind, Villanova teams overall combined for 17 national postseason appearances and 20 conference championships during the careers of this senior class. As for the student-athletes that made up those teams, they combined to win 44 individual conference titles and earn an astounding 159 all-conference honors.
Academic success on a national level is one of the trademarks of a complete Wildcats student-athlete. That was certainly true for the Class of 2018, which combined to be named to conference All-Academic Teams 227 times and national All-Academic Teams on 32 occasions. Success in the classroom has been across the board for Villanova, with its sports programs combining for 39 national All-Academic team awards.
The male and female Senior Student-Athlete of the Year awards are presented to an individual who has duly excelled within their sport and achieved at a high level in their academic studies. The Sister Mary Margaret Cribben Award has been presented each year since 1985 and recognizes a male and female student-athlete who unselfishly sacrifices time, effort, body and soul to lead and motivate their teammates, and whose efforts on and off the field inspire those around them to excel.
Below are capsules of each of the four award winners.
Male Senior Student-Athlete of the Year
Jalen Brunson, Men’s Basketball
Brunson was the consensus national Player of the Year, a first team All-America selection and the BIG EAST Player of the Year in 2017-18 while leading Villanova to its second national title in the last three seasons. He will graduate as one of the most decorated student-athletes in school history, and among his honors this season was becoming the Wildcats first men’s basketball player to ever be named the Associated Press Player of the Year. Brunson averaged 18.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game during his final collegiate season while shooting 52 percent from the field, 41 percent on three-pointers and 80 percent at the foul line.
Villanova went 36-4 during its national championship season, won the BIG EAST title for the second straight season and then went on to win all six of its NCAA Tournament games by double digits. In addition to his national honors in 2017-18, Brunson also finishes his career as a three-time All-BIG EAST honoree. He was also the Philadelphia Big 5 Player of the Year this season after being the Big 5 Rookie of the Year as a freshman.
During his time on campus, Brunson approached his academic responsibilities with the same tenacity that he brought to the basketball court. He has a 3.34 grade-point average as a Communications major and was named a second team Capital One Academic All-America selection this season. Brunson was also the BIG EAST Scholar-Athlete of the Year and was named the Philadelphia Big 5 Scholar-Athlete of the Year for the second straight season. He has been a two-time selection to the BIG EAST All-Academic Team, with a third honor on the way when this year’s honorees are announced later in the summer.
Female Senior Student-Athlete of the Year
Siofra Cleirigh Buttner, Women’s Track & Field/Cross Country
Cleirigh Buttner established herself on the national scene early in her collegiate career and has continued to be one of the top middle distance runners in the country. She is a five-time All-American, 10-time BIG EAST champion and eight-time Penn Relays champion for the Wildcats, and can still add to her long list of accolades with the NCAA East Preliminary and NCAA Championships meets coming up in the next few weeks. As a senior this season, Cleirigh Buttner finished second at the indoor national championships in the 800 meters and broke her own indoor school record with a time of 2:02.46 in the final. She also won BIG EAST titles in the 800 meters both indoors and outdoors and was part of a Wildcats “triple crown” at the BIG EAST Championships this season. Villanova won conference titles in cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field, and Cleirigh Buttner was named the Outstanding Track Performer at the indoor BIG EAST meet for the second straight year.
The list of Cleirigh Buttner’s academic honors is just as impressive as her accolades on the track. She is majoring in Communications with a minor in Criminology, and has a 3.62 GPA while being named to the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) All-Academic Team a combined seven times (four in cross country, three in track & field). Cleirigh Buttner is also a three-time BIG EAST All-Academic Team member, with this year’s team still to be announced. She has involved herself in the Villanova community in many ways that go beyond athletic competition and academic success. Cleirigh Buttner has been a three-year member of the Villanova Leadership Institute and a two-year representative of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee who is serving as Co-President in 2017-18.
Sister Mary Margaret Cribben Award
John Kluh, Men’s Lacrosse
A sixth-year senior on the men’s lacrosse team, Kluh was a key contributor this season for a nationally-ranked Villanova squad which overcame significant injuries to post a 10-win season and earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Kluh contributed five goals and five assists on the season, including the game-winning goal in the season opener at Penn State and a pair of scores in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Duke.
His story goes much further than those accolades however, as Kluh was a 2013 first team All-BIG EAST performer as a freshman and an Inside Lacrosse Preseason All-Conference pick entering his sophomore season in 2014. He wound up losing consecutive seasons in 2014 and 2015 due to injuries before finally returning to action in 2016 when he appeared in 13 games while contributing six goals and three assists. Kluh finished his collegiate career with 38 goals and 22 assists in all.
Outside of lacrosse, Kluh is a Finance and Economics major in the Villanova School of Business. He has been named to the BIG EAST All-Academic Team in each of the last five seasons.
Sister Mary Margaret Cribben Award
Jannah Tucker, Women’s Basketball
Tucker has persevered through knee injuries during her collegiate career to play a key role on a Villanova team which has been on the rise. She helped lead the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament this season and previously to the semifinals of the WNIT in 2016-17. Villanova has won a total of 43 games during her two seasons on the active roster, and in 2017-18 averaged 9.3 points per game while leading the team with 39 percent accuracy from three-point range. Tucker tied for the team lead with 69 three-pointers made while also accumulating 73 rebounds, 49 assists, 17 blocks and 18 steals.
Tucker began her collegiate career at Tennessee, where she red-shirted the 2013-14 season and played in two games in 2014-15 before sustaining a season-ending knee injury. She then had to sit out the 2015-16 campaign at Villanova in order to meet Division I transfer requirements. When she made her return to action for the 2016-17 season, Tucker started 28 of 31 games and averaged 9.2 points per contest while recording 16 games scoring in double figures.