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Five MIT student-athletes earn Capital One Academic All-America at-large accolades

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Seniors Craig Cheney, Joey Rafidi, Paul Syta, Michelle Teplensky, and Maddy Wharton.
Seniors Craig Cheney, Joey Rafidi, Paul Syta, Michelle Teplensky, and Maddy Wharton.
Courtesy of DAPER

MIT seniors Craig Cheney, Joey Rafidi, Paul Syta, Michelle Teplensky, and Maddy Wharton were selected for Capital One Academic All-America at-large honors, as announced by the College Sports Information Directors of America on Tuesday. The five awards tied for the highest tally among Division III programs this year and equaled the most recipients in Institute history, first achieved during the 1998-99 academic year. MIT is the all-time Division III leader in producing Academic All-Americas and currently ranks third across all NCAA divisions with 212 honorees.

Sports eligible for the at-large program are: women’s bowling, women’s crew, men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s ice hockey, men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s rifle, men’s and women’s skiing, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s volleyball, men’s and women’s water polo, and wrestling.

A first-team pick and MIT’s first water polo recipient since 1997, Cheney enjoyed a successful four-year career on the water polo team, graduating as the program’s all-time leader in goals, with 204. He was an Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches second-team All-American, and was among a group of 29 male student-athletes from all divisions to receive an NCAA postgraduate scholarship. A mechanical engineering major with concentrations in electrical engineering and computer science, Cheney conducted research with the Jaipur prosthetic foot. He plans to continue his studies at MIT, where he will pursue a master’s in mechanical engineering.

Rafidi, also a first-team selection, is the first repeat honoree in the history of the MIT men’s fencing program; he was also placed on the first team last year. At the NCAA Championship in March, he received the Elite 89 Award for achieving the highest grade-point average among his competitors. Rafidi went on to finish ninth for the second year in a row, and was the only Division III epee qualifier in a field of 24 participants. A month earlier, at the New England Championships, he earned MIT’s first individual title in 19 years. An electrical engineering and computer science major, Rafidi has a patent pending for a medical device that alerts caregivers to the onset of pressure ulcer development in patients with spinal cord injuries. In addition, he built a motorized arm to practice fencing drills.

The men’s volleyball team was represented on the list for the third year in a row, with Syta’s placement on the second team. The starting setter, he helped lead the Engineers to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history. Syta tallied 750 assists, 226 digs, 126 kills, 51 blocks, and 31 aces en route to United Volleyball Conference All-Conference second-team honors. He was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association All-America second team, becoming the first setter to represent MIT on the list. In addition, Syta is the only Division III men’s volleyball player to double up on All-America and Academic All-America accolades this season, joining former teammate Matt Hohenberger ’13 in this elite group. A mathematics and business major, he was an actuarial intern at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he performed due diligence on pension clients’ financial statements.

On the women’s side, field hockey teammates Wharton and Teplensky were voted to the second and third team, respectively. This is the fourth consecutive year that the MIT field hockey program has come away with an award, and the first time it has generated multiple winners.

Starting in the backfield, Wharton anchored a defense that posted six shutouts and a 1.66 goals against average this past season. Her four goals, seven assists, and 15 points ranked third on the team, as she earned her second straight New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) All-Conference first-team honor. A National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) New England East Region first-team pick, Wharton was also tabbed for Eastern College Athletic Conference New England All-Star first-team plaudits. She was selected to the NEWMAC Academic All-Conference Team, the NFHCA National Academic Squad, and qualified as a NFHCA Scholar of Distinction. Majoring in biological engineering, Wharton was inducted into the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society and was a lab assistant in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. She was a research assistant in a neuroscience and behavior laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, and completed an internship with Credit Suisse as a sales and trading analyst.

Teplensky tallied 17 goals, including three game-winners, and five assists for 39 points as a starter in the midfield. A NEWMAC All-Conference first-team selection, she ranked fifth in the league in goals and points. Teplensky secured a spot on the NFHCA New England East Region first team while collecting academic accolades from the NEWMAC and the NFHCA. A chemical-biological engineering major and president of the MIT chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineering, she received a Gates Scholarship for postgraduate studies at Cambridge University. Teplensky’s research involves developing new biomedical materials that support the delivery of drugs; expanding and optimizing the biosynthetic capacity of microbial systems; and obtaining reactive oxidative species to aid in the destruction of hazardous cells to advance cancer research.

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