Lauren Carlini was named the 2017 AAU James E. Sullivan Award winner as the most outstanding U.S. amateur athlete who also demonstrates premier leadership, character, and sportsmanship at a reception Tuesday night at the New York Athletic Club. She is the first UW student-athlete to win the prestigious award as well as the first volleyball player, male or female, to win.
“I’m honored to be a part of this group,” Carlini, the only four-time All-American in Wisconsin volleyball history, said of her fellow finalists during her acceptance speech. “Everyone knows them as amazing athletes but they are even more amazing people.
“I’m honored to be the first volleyball player to win this award,” Carlini continued. “I hope that this starts gaining popularity for the sport. Volleyball’s growing and gaining popularity so I hope this kind of keeps it going. I hope in three years that I get what every single one of these guys (the other finalists) have, an Olympic gold medal.”
In addition to Carlini, there were six other finalists this year: Kayla Harrison, judo; Laurie Hernandez, gymnastics; Ashleigh Johnson, water polo; Kyle Snyder, wrestling; Aly Raisman, gymnastics; and Ginny Thrasher, target shooting.
The Sullivan Award has been presented annually since 1930 to the most outstanding amateur athlete in the United States. Representatives from the AAU created the Sullivan Award with the intent to recognize contributions and achievements across the country of amateur athletes. World-renowned golfer Bobby Jones, co-founder of The Masters, received the inaugural award in 1930 and swimmer Anne Curtis became the first female to accept the award in 1944.
Other past winners include: Dick Button – figure skating (1949), Wilma Rudolph – running (1961), Mark Spitz – swimming (1971), Bill Walton – basketball (1973), Bruce Jenner – decathlon (1976), Eric Heiden – speed skating (1980), Carl Lewis – running (1981), Jackie Joyner-Kersee – running (1986), Janet Evans – swimming (1989), Bonnie Blair – speed skating (1992), Dan Jansen – speed skating (1994), Peyton Manning – football (1997), Michael Phelps – swimming (2003), Tim Tebow – football (2007) and Missy Franklin – swimming (2012).
A 6-foot-2 setter, Carlini earned four All-America honors during her career, including three first-team accolades. She was named the 2014 Big Ten Conference Player of the Year and earned four first-team all-conference awards. The Aurora, Illinois, native was also a two-time Big Ten Setter of the Year and was named the 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
A standout in the classroom, Carlini was a four-time Academic All-Big Ten selection and earned Academic All-America honors in 2016.
During her four seasons, the Badgers qualified for four straight NCAA tournaments, advancing to at least the Elite Eight round each season. Wisconsin competed in the championship match in 2013 and lost to the eventual NCAA champions three different years. UW also never finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten standings in her four years, winning the championship in 2014.