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Shawn Heilbron

SBU Athletic Director Shawn Heilbron accepts the 2019 Commissioner’s Cup from America East Commisioner Amy Huchthausen. Photo from SBU

SARATOGA SPRINGS: Following a historic 2018-19 season, Stony Brook University has claimed the Stuart P. Haskell, Jr. Commissioner’s Cup for the first time in school history, the league announce at its annual awards dinner at the Saratoga Hilton on June 6. University at Albany came in second place followed by UMass Lowell in third.

The trophy was accepted by SBU Athletic Director Shawn Heilbron.

“The Cup is coming home to Long Island,” announced  Heilbron shortly after the event. “This belongs to our Stony Brook Athletics coaches, staff and — most importantly — student-athletes,” he said. Stony Brook is just the fourth America East school to win the Commissioner’s Cup. Past recipients have been the University of Albany, Boston University and the University of Delaware.

Michael Watts accepts his award for 2018-19 America East Man of the Year from Amy Hutchhausen. Photo from SBU

The Commissioner’s Cup annually recognizes the strongest athletic program in America East as determined by a scoring system that rewards a school for success both during the regular season and championship competition in the conference’s 18 sports.

At the same event, Stony Brook men’s track and field and cross-country member Michael Watts of Islip was named the 2018-19 America East Man of the Year.

Watts had a decorated career on the track and cross-country course as a Seawolf, winning two individual conference track and field titles while helping the cross-country team to two consecutive America East Championships in 2016 and 2017. The team captain also holds the program record in the 3,000 meters and garnered several All-Conference, All-IC4A and MVP honors throughout his career.

Most importantly, Watts was a leader in the community as well. On campus, he volunteered and was involved with a myriad of organizations including the Stony Brook PACK program, the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and PAWS. The Islip native also helped raise and allocate funds for numerous events and charities such as 9/11 Vets, the EJ Autism Foundation and the annual Midnight Run to help clothe the homeless.

Watts is pursuing his MBA in health care management, holding a 3.8 GPA. He received his undergraduate degree in 2018 with a 3.4 GPA in health science with a concentration in health care policy and management.

During his time at Stony Brook, Watts was put on the America East All-Academic Team, America East Commissioner’s Honor Roll, Dean’s List and America East Honor Roll. He was also a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, the Stony Brook Society of Distinguished Scholar Athletes and a recipient of the Joel Mitofsky Memorial Scholarship.

Stony Brook softball player Danni Kemp died after a battle with cancer. Photo from SBU

The Stony Brook family is mourning the loss of student-athlete Danni Kemp, who passed away on the morning of March 10 surrounded by family following her battle with cancer.

The Seawolves, who had dedicated their softball season to the sophomore, 19, postponed March 10 games against Santa Clara and New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Danni Kemp up to bat for the Seawolves. Photo from SBU

“Our hearts are heavy today and our love goes out to Danni and her family,” Stony Brook softball coach Megan Bryant said. “In all too short of a young life, Danni touched so many in a beautiful way. She fought so hard against this terrible disease, and showed us what true courage is. May Danni only know peace now.”

In July, Kemp was hit in the head by a pitch while playing in a summer league game. When she began feeling dizzy, had trouble focusing and couldn’t keep her balance, doctors tested her for a concussion. An MRI revealed a cancerous brain tumor.

Due to the location, surgery was not an option, and Kemp began radiation therapy Aug. 29, receiving treatment Monday through Friday for a total of six weeks.

A GoFundMe page was created on behalf of the family Aug. 22, and in six months had raised nearly $130,000 of the $150,000 goal, with donations from 1,575 people.

“Danni is the toughest young woman we have all ever met,” wrote Bradley Taylor, who created the GoFundMe page. “Her strong and indomitable will has already proven to be more than enough to battle and beat a rare kidney disease while she was in high school. This will be a battle, but with so many people who know and love Danni and her family, they’ve got an army behind them.”

Since her death, hundreds more dollars have poured in from those touched by the loss of Kemp, even those who didn’t know her.

“I felt very sad when I read the story,” wrote John Colombo.

Janis Matton was also saddened upon hearing the news.

“I am so very sorry for your loss,” she wrote. “Danni was truly an inspiration to all. Prayers for your family.”

“We got an angel in the outfield behind us. Heavy hearts with a little something more to play for this season.”

—Kevin Kernan

Kemp hit .446 as a junior for J.A. Foran High School in Connecticut en route to All-Conference and first team All-State honors. In her first three seasons at Foran, she collected more than 100 hits and 40 stolen bases. She was also a member of the Connecticut Charmers, an Under-18 fast pitch showcase team coached by Neil Swanchak.

As a Seawolf, she scored her first career hit against Charlotte University Feb. 20 of last year; had a double and scored a run at Florida Atlantic University Feb. 26; had two hits, including a bases-clearing double in a win over Columbia University Feb. 27; walked twice and drove in a run at Manhattan College March 30; drew three walks in another contest; and walked and scored a run at the University of Massachusetts Lowell April 16.

Kemp’s death had an impact that reverberated beyond just her softball family. After news of her death spread around campus, many student-athletes took to social media.

Tiffany Zullo, a midfielder on the women’s lacrosse team from Connetquot High School, tweeted: “We all play for Danni and will forever be Danni Strong. Rest in peace to a beautiful soul.”

Kevin Kernan, a baseball pitcher, posted, “We got an angel in the outfield behind us. Heavy hearts with a little something more to play for this season.”

Details for services will be forthcoming once the Kemp family makes arrangements.

“Danni had her entire life in front of her,” Stony Brook athletic director Shawn Heilbron said. “I am devastated beyond words and heartbroken for her family and everyone who loved her. Her valiant fight over the past several months was an inspiration to all of us, and her impact on the Stony Brook Athletics family will be felt for many years to come.”