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Rivers, Williston Alums Win Prestigious Awards from Yale, Harvard

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Rise and shine!

To the thousands of young men and women who annually compete under the auspices of the New England Prep School Athletic Council banner, such advice has nothing to do with the breakfast menu in the dining hall. It serves as a reminder that collegiate opportunities await those who rise the highest and shine the brightest.
NEPSAC’s already lengthy honor roll of alums who have transformed their prep school classrooms into scholastic showcases and turned athletic arenas into personal platforms for prowess recently had two more names stenciled onto it: Jen Berkowitz (The Rivers School, 14) and Gabby Thomas (Williston Northampton School, 15).

While these two exceptional student/athletes have never crossed competitive paths, they still share a number of common bonds. In their respective athletic endeavors, both have achieved the right to be ranked among the best of the best. Away from their field of dreams, life remains competitive, perhaps even more so, as their scholastic successes have been graded in the hallowed classrooms and lecture halls of Ivy League schools. Both have been frontrunners here, too, and their accomplishments may lead to at least one other commonality: both hope to become medical doctors.    

Berkowitz has been holding court at Yale University for the past four years, where she has been a driving force behind the Bulldog women’s basketball team’s fortunes. During the past two seasons, she led the team in both scoring and rebounding and was named a first-team All Ivy League performer this past winter. She was also named recipient of the 2018 Nellie Pratt Elliot Award for her efforts during Class Day festivities this spring.  The honor is the most prestigious athletic award given to a senior female at Yale.

“I was very surprised,” said Berkowitz following the presentation. “Not only is the winner never announced until the award’s presentation, but there were so many outstanding female student/athletes in this year’s senior class that being named the winner honestly came as a total shock.”

Thomas, meanwhile, was named Harvard University’s Female Athlete of the Year this spring after she culminated her junior season by capturing the 200-meter dash at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships in a personal-best time of 22.38.

“Last year I came in dead last in this final with a really bad race,” acknowledged Thomas during an interview for the “Crimson,” the school newspaper. “I was thinking, ‘I’m going to have to break a collegiate record if I want to win this race.’” And that’s exactly what she did.

Thomas’s effort shattered the existing record of 22.40, which was set by Bianca Knight back in 2008 and marked just the fourth time a Harvard woman had won a national track title – and the first time a Harvard female sprinter had ever accomplish the feat.

Thomas isn’t resting on her laurels, however. Since capturing the NCAA 200-meter crown this spring, she has gone on to win gold on the international stage. On July 5, she bested a field of Olympians and world champions at the prestigious IAAF Diamond League Meet in Lausanne, Switzerland, in a time of 22:47.  
Berkowitz highlighted a stellar three-year basketball career at Rivers by helping lead the Red Wings to a 22-3 record while reaching the NEPSAC semifinals her senior season. The three-time All-New England Prep School All-Star and first-team All-League selection averaged 16 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots during her final season at Rivers. Prior to showing up at Rivers, Berkowitz spent two seasons at Wayland (Mass.) High School, where she was a two-time Dual County League All Star.   

At Yale, Berkowitz helped spark the Bulldogs to a 19-13 showing this past winter, marking a school record for the most wins in a seasons. She did so by averaging 14.3 points and seven rebounds per game. Those figures not only led the Bulldog stat sheets, but also placed her fifth and ninth in the Ivies respectively in those categories.

She saved her best for last, however, as the final dozen points of her career – which totaled 1,072 and placed her 18th on the program’s all-time scoring list – came during a 54-50 victory over Central Arkansas in the finals of the Women’s Basketball Invitational. The win marked the first time that an Ivy League team had ever won a national postseason women’s basketball tournament.       

“It was a tremendous way to end the season and wrap up a career,” said Berkowitz, of the WBI title. “We finished fourth in the Ivy League Tournament and normally the NCAA and the WNIT tournaments combine to take the top three finishers. We all felt we had the skills to play at a national tournament level and we proved it … I’m just so proud of what this team accomplished.”

For Berkowitz, an Academic All-Ivy selection saw her Bulldog basketball career come to an official close on the last day of school with the presentation of the Elliot Award at Class Day. The prestigious award is annually presented to the school’s senior woman whose excellence in athletics and ideals of sportsmanship fit the Yale tradition.

“I consider myself very fortunate,” said Berkowitz, “I’ve always been blessed by having played with tremendous teammates and for some outstanding coaches throughout my entire career.

“Bob Pipe, my coach at Rivers, was a godsend,” added Berkowitz. “He really prepared me to play on the collegiate level by getting me to really focus on the game … he helped raise my level of play.

“At Yale, I had the opportunity to play for Allison Guth, who helped me continue to raise my  
game. We all went into the season feeling as though we had the ability to do something special and we did … I can’t tell you how proud I am of this team and what we were able to accomplish.”

Thomas, meanwhile, tuned up for her collegiate success by literally running away from the competition while competing at Williston. During her appearances at the NEPSAC Girls Track and Field Championships her junior and senior years, she made a total of eight trips to the top tier of the medals podium. She made those treks by winning the 100- and 200-meter dashes, the 4X100 relay and the triple jump. She also captured what must be an unprecedented five consecutive 100-meter dash titles along the way, as she got an early jump on the competition by attending the Williston middle school, notching her first gold medal as an eighth grader.   

“I went to Williston primarily as a soccer player,” remembers Thomas, who placed third in the 100-meter dash at the New England Championships as a seventh grader, then won it the next five years in a row. “My mother wanted me to try out for the track team. She thought I’d do well … and I guess she was right.”

Entering her senior year at Harvard, the Florence, Mass., native who was voted co-captain as a junior and will maintain that title during her senior season, still has yet to meet a dash or a relay race she didn’t like. Through six Ivy League Women’s Track and Field Championships – three indoor and three outdoor meets – she has yet to be beaten to the finish line. The three outdoor showcases have seen her win all three 100- and 200-meter dashes, as well as all three 4X100 relays.

The indoor meets, meanwhile, have witnessed more of the same with Thomas running away with all three 60- and 200-meter dashes to date, as well as a trio of 4X400 relay races. As for the long jump, she’s got it going on there, too, with a pair of first-place finishes this past season as well as one each her sophomore and freshman seasons.

As for their future endeavors, both, at this point in time, are hoping to eventually put a DR. in front of their names. Thomas’s major is neurobiology, which is the study of the nervous system, and is hopeful of becoming a pediatrician.

Berkowitz, meanwhile, is “keeping an open mind” as to the field of medicine she will enter. “Right now, I’m going to spend the next year doing clinical research and applying to about 20 different medical schools.”

Where ever that may be, there better be a basketball hoop out in the parking lot.

The NEPSAC SPECIAL NEWS is sponsored by Scoreboard Enterprises. Scoreboard Enterprises is a Sports Technology Company and exclusive Daktronics dealer in the New England area. We provide, install and service scoreboards, video displays and audio systems designed specifically for athletic facilities. Contact us for more information at; 274 Fruit Street Mansfield, MA 02048, 508-339-8113.