Top 5 athletes – Nov. 1 to Dec. 9

Paulina Castro

By Tom Burton

The stats are based on games, meets and matches that occurred from Nov. 1 to Dec. 9. If you feel there are student athletes left off or who deserve to be on the list or included in upcoming weeks, tweet us @NIUNorthernStar using #NIUTop5.

5. Paulina Castro, women’s basketball redshirt freshman guard

Sometimes success is not entirely dictated on performance, as Castro’s story earns her a spot in the top-5 athletes.

Castro was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December of this past season, a form of cancer that attacks the immune system. Similar to the way the women’s basketball team handles its opponents, Castro defeated one of the toughest opponents anyone can face.

“I think the whole process taught me a lot, especially about my teammates and my family that I have here at NIU,” said Castro, according to a Thursday Northern Star article. “There is no way that I could have made it through that without them.”

Castro made her first career field goal in the team’s Nov. 4 win against Benedictine University and made her first career start in the season opener Nov. 11 against Eastern Illinois University.

Castro is averaging 3.5 points and shooting 50 percent from the field on the young season.

4. Alijah Jeffery, Redshirt junior wrestler 

With the dual season in full swing for the wrestling team, Jeffery has proven to be one of the more consistent wrestlers on Head Coach Ryan Ludwig’s roster in the early going.

Jeffery kicked off the season Nov. 4 with solid play at the Iowa State Open. In the 133-pound match, Jeffery defeated Darren Eades of Northern Iowa by pin and won in an 8-3 decision over Cameron Valdiviez of Missouri.

With those two convincing victories, he advanced to the championship match but lost 6-1 to Ian Parker of Iowa state.

Jeffery was one of the Huskies’ top wrestlers Dec. 2 at the Indiana Duals as he defeated Indiana University’s Garrett Pepple 3-0 and Cleveland State’s Andrew Coghill 18-3 to go 2-0 in the Duals.

3. Eugene German, men’s basketball sophomore guard

For a basketball team that is 6-4 to begin the young season, German is making the expected jump in play from this past season.

German is averaging 20 points a game through the first 10 games, including just under 24 points a game in the last four games.

German had a career-high 28 points on 11-for-22 shooting in the Huskies’ 90-84 loss Dec. 4 at Iowa State. He also added three assists and two steals in the game.

As the team’s starting point guard, German will be relied upon to continue scoring on a team who has not shown much depth at the guard position thus far.

With Mid-American Conference play right around the corner, look for German to continue to be the No. 1 scoring option for the team this season.

2. Mikayla Voigt, women’s basketball junior guard

The women’s basketball team is picking up from where they left off from a season ago, and Voigt’s success has been a big reason why.

Voigt is averaging about 18.7 points a game in the last three games, resulting in a 2-1 record for the Huskies.

With the departure of former players Cassidy Glenn and Ally Lehman, a large chunk of the team’s scoring from this past season, an increased offensive role for Voigt and other players was inevitable.

“That’s definitely something they talked to me about [was] that me and Mikayla are going to have to make up for the points and the rebounds we lost from last year,” junior guard Courtney Woods said.

Voigt tallied her career-high in scoring with 22 points in a Nov. 29 home win against Bradley University.

1. Sutton Smith, redshirt sophomore defensive end

Although the football regular season has concluded with the Huskies finishing 8-4 and not qualifying for the MAC Championship game, Sutton Smith opened everyone’s eyes this season.

Smith anchored the NIU defense and tallied a nation-leading 28.5 tackles for a loss and was third in sacks per game with 1.17, according to the NCAA’s official website.

Along with his national recognition, Smith earned MAC Defensive Player of the Year and set a new school record when he passed Larry English’s school record from 2007 for sacks in a single-season. The previous record was 12 for a season.

Smith was also one of four Huskies named to the All-MAC First Team. He will look to lead NIU to one more win, as it was announced Sunday the Huskies will play in the Quick Lane Bowl against the Duke University Blue Devils 4:15 p.m. Dec. 26 at Ford Field in Detroit.

Smith was named to the 2017 Walter Camp Football Foundation All-America first team Thursday.

Smith gave NIU football some national recognition for his stellar play, and that’s why he rounds out the list of this edition of the top-5 athletes.