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Published: May 03, 2009 12:20 am

NU: Gartley, O'Rourke named athletes of the year

By Jonah Bronstein
Niagara Gazette

The highest-flying Purple Eagles this year wore swimsuits.

Ian O’Rourke, a sophomore from Grand Island, and Stephanie Gartley, a senior from Camlachie, Ontario, were recently honored with the Vincent O’Malley Award, given to Niagara University’s top male and female athletes, during the student-athlete banquet at Antonio’s Restaurant in Niagara Falls.

O’Rourke, who holds all of Niagara’s diving records, won Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championships on the one- and three-meter boards. He also won the one-meter event and took third on the three-meter at the Eastern College Athletic Conference Open Championships.

Gartley jumped into the water to swim for the Purple Eagles after completing one of the finest women’s soccer careers in school history.

“She’s a very special kid,” said women’s soccer coach Peter Veltri, who nominated Gartley. “For four years, she was arguably the best player on the team. Every day, she showed up ready to go and never did anything but what was expected. Never took a day off. She had that lunch pale mentality.

“Then you figure, her senior year, when it’s all said and done, she decides to join the swim team. Most kids would’ve said, ‘I’m done. Time to relax.’ She’s too competitive for that.”

Gartley ended her soccer career as the school’s fourth all-time leading scorer with 50 goals. Her 121 career points ranks fifth all-time. After netting 12 points and five assists last season, she was voted first-team all-MAAC.

“She was our leader,” Veltri said. “She was the one we looked at to score goals. When we were up, we put her back there to defend. And nine times out of 10, she responded with the winning goal, or shutting somebody down.”

Having swam in high school, Gartley joined the Niagara team in November after being encouraged by Veltri. Swimming coach Ben Nigro said he knew Gartley was a strong swimmer after watching the soccer team work out in the pool, but was only expecting to get someone who could possibly fill in a lane during dual meets.

“A lot of times you get the opposite of a fish out of water. Really good athletes, but when you put them in the water it’s a different environment,” Nigro said. “But she ended up being a very strong contributor. I was very impressed.”

With one more year of eligibility, Gartley plans to compete for the swim team again while pursuing her master’s degree, Nigro said.

Gartley’s swimming highlight came during an important meet against Canisius, when she tied for first in the 50-yard freestyle race and swam the initial leg for the winning 400 relay.

It was at that meet when O’Rourke met the lofty six-dive scores on the one- and three-meter boards that he set as preseason goals.

“When he wrote them out, we thought, ‘Wow, that’s really high,’” Nigro said. “Then he went out and hit them in mid-January.”

O’Rourke went on to win Diver of the Meet honors at MAACs and ECACs, then showed tremendous improvement in his second run at the NCAA Zone Championships.

“Our goal for next year is to take that next step,” Nigro said, “through the zone championships, and into nationals.


Vanja Lakic (tennis) and Vince Rocco (hockey) received Niagara’s Scholar-Athlete Award, presented to the top graduating athletes.

Lakic maintained a 3.90 grade-point average and will graduate with a finance degree. Rocco boasted a 4.12 GPA and will graduate with a degree in business.


Melissa Markle (softball) and Julian Pagliero (hockey) received the Purple Heart Award, presented by the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee to the individuals who best embrace the Vincentian spirit Niagara was founded upon.


Matt Palmer, coordinator of the N-Zone student section, received the Purple Eagle Award, given to a non-athlete who demonstrated tremendous dedication to the athletics department through work behind the scenes.