MARSHFIELD, Mass.- Mitchell College senior Domenico Santiago (Port St. Lucie, Fla.) was named the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) Male Senior Student-Athlete of the Year, while Elms College senior Vanessa Vurno (Salem, Conn.) earned the honor on the women’s side.
Santiago was a force on the court in his four years at Mitchell. He was a four-year starter for the Mariners, starting in 100 of 101 games. He ended his career in grand fashion, leading his team victory in the NECC Championship game, and an NCAA berth. He picked up numerous awards along the way, notably the NECC Player of the Year award. He was a NECC first team All-Conference selection, and a D3hoops.com All-New England fourth team honoree. Santiago was also a CoSIDA Google Cloud Academic All-District selection.
Santiago finished as the school's all-time leader in rebounds (1,135) and field goal percentage (.609), while also ranking third all-time at Mitchell in scoring (1,653). He was one of only three active Division III players with over 1,000 career rebounds in 2019 and his 54 career double-doubles were the third-most among active players in 2019.
A Business Administration major, Santiago has also proved to be successful in the classroom, earning NECC Academic All-Conference honors in 2017, 2018, and 2019. The distinction is awarded to NECC student-athletes with a minimum 3.4 GPA, with a sophomore class standing or higher. He was also inducted into Chi Alpha Sigma, the National College Athlete Honor Society.
Santiago was a leader on campus, serving as Co-President of the Mitchell Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), and was a resident assistant and admissions ambassador.
Also active in the community, he served as a team captain for Mitchell’s involvement with Team Impact, a non-profit that matches children with serious illnesses with college athletic teams. He also served as a volunteer at the Strides Road Race, and helped organize Mitchell’s Special Olympics Basketball Jamboree in each of its three years.
Mitchell Athletic Director, Dana Fulmer-Garfield, could not agree more with Santiago’s selection, “This award could not go to a more deserving individual. Dom embodies all the concepts an Athletic Director would hope to see in a student-athlete.”
She had high praise for the graduate, “He will be remembered by many for his numerous accolades on the court, as he has rewritten the record books for Mitchell Men’s Basketball. However, for those who know him, he will be missed mostly for his humor, outgoing personality, kindness, ability to connect with people and his huge heart,” said Fulmer-Garfield. “During my time at Mitchell, there has not been an athlete that has come through our department that has impacted the athletics program, the College and the overall student experience on campus as much as Dom Santiago.”
Capping off his senior year at Mitchell, he received the Richard W. Lawrence Memorial Award, which is given annually to a Mitchell graduate who has done the most to uphold and practice those ideals of good citizenship in a democratic society, as well as the Presidential Award for Outstanding Leadership, which is given to a Mitchell student who has demonstrated the qualities of leadership in envisioning how to build a stronger college community. He also received the athletic department’s Wilbur Baratz Award, given annually to the man and woman considered the best all-around athlete in the varsity sports program.
Vanessa Vurno was a highly decorated women’s lacrosse athlete for the Blazers, and made a significant impact the second she stepped on the field. As a freshman, Vurno set the program record for points in a season with 79, tallying 46 goals, third-most in program history, and 33 assists, a new program record at the time. She was named the NECC Rookie of the Year for her efforts.
She continued to excel on the field as an attack for the Blazers, and was named NECC first team All-Conference in each of her four years. She led the Blazers to the program’s first NECC title and NCAA berth in her junior year. Vurno finished her career as Elms’ all-time program leader in points (345), assists (145) and goals (200).
Vurno’s success followed her into the classroom. A nursing major, she was an NECC All-Academic Selection in 2017, 2018 and 2019, as well as a member of the Elms 360 Club, which is awarded annually to individuals who have achieved a 3.6 GPA or higher in two consecutive semesters.
Vurno was a leader in both the athletic and academic realms. She served as team captain on the lacrosse team, and served as co-chair of Elms’ undergraduate Student Nurse Council (SNC). In her role as co-chair, she acted as a mentor to her peers, as well as a liaison between students and faculty, listening to student concerns and working with professors to enact change.
Serving communities near and far is also important to Vurno, who spent her 2019 spring break on a service trip to Mandeville, Jamaica. She spent her break providing service to the Jamaican residents in schools, parishes, nursing homes and infirmaries.
Elms Athletic Director Dr. Michael Theulen is relatively new to the role, coming to Elms in the fall of 2018, but he quickly saw how much of an impact Vurno had on campus. “Vanessa Vurno has been an excellent role model over her four years at Elms College. She has excelled on the field, in the classroom, and in the community,” said Theulen. “Vanessa epitomizes the NCAA Division III ideal: Student-Athlete leader. Our Blazer athletic family is, indeed, very proud of Vanessa!”
Vurno plans to work her way up to an intensive care unit nurse following graduation.
The NECC Senior Student-Athlete of the Year award is given annually to the top seniors in the conference, and is determined by a vote of the conference’s Athletic Directors. The award recognizes athletic and academic successes, while also factoring in leadership and community service components.