Featured Story

Riverhead senior wins prestigious Dellecave Award for excellence in athletics, academics and community service

When Ava Lily Sumwalt’s name was submitted as a nominee for the prestigious Butch Dellecave Award, she was hopeful, yet realistic.

“There were a hundred and three other applicants,” she said of the award Newsday presents to Suffolk County’s top female and male scholar-athletes, “so, you know, you’re thinking, ‘Oh, I’m never going to get it, I’m never going to get it.’ ”

And then, Sunday morning at Villa Lombardi’s in Holbrook, the six female finalists were announced and Sumwalt was one of them. That was when it dawned on her. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this might happen,’ ” she said.

And then it did.

Sumwalt, a lacrosse standout who also played field hockey and ran winter track, became the first Riverheader to receive the award, according to Riverhead girls lacrosse coach Lindsay Rella.

“When I got it, I was shocked,” Sumwalt said. “It feels amazing. I can’t believe I was recognized as one of the top athletes in Suffolk County. That’s insane.”

Sumwalt said: “When my name was called, it just felt unreal. I was getting really emotional. It was crazy. I worked so hard in and out of school to challenge myself and to finally get this award, it just like represents everything that I’ve been doing in the past couple of years.”

Hauppauge swimmer Jake Nielsen was the male recipient of the award, which recognizes excellence in academics, athletics and community service.

Rella was in Maryland for a lacrosse tournament Sunday when Riverhead assistant coach Ryan McCormick texted her the big news. Rella called it “a proud mom moment.” She then called Sumwalt to congratulate her.

Ava Lily Sumwalt scored 75 goals for Riverhead this season. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

“When I called her she was like a little kid on the other end of the phone, like giggling and so excited,” said Rella.

Candidates from 52 Suffolk schools were considered. Sumwalt’s résumé made a compelling case for her. This past season the midfield captain for Riverhead’s girls lacrosse team registered 75 goals and 25 assists. She will go on to play lacrosse for Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Sumwalt was also outstanding in the classroom, earning a 105.10 weighted grade-point average and ranking 12th in her class. Her community service record is extensive. She has done volunteer work for St. John the Evangelist Church; helped coordinate a 5K walk in honor of her younger brother, Miller, that has raised over $20,000 for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation; coached and taught youngsters lacrosse fundamentals; and participated in elementary and middle school assemblies to talk to younger students about the importance of academics and athletics.

“I think the most impressive thing about her is her consistency,” Rella said. “In the two years that I have coached her, she has never had a bad game. She has never had a bad practice. She has never had a bad attitude, you know. She is just consistently a good player, a good teammate, a good leader working hard. She is consistent in everything she does, really.”

As a person, “she’s just so easygoing,” Rella said. “For such a hard worker, someone who’s so smart, so driven, you know, in terms of athletics, academics, she’s super social, has a great group of friends, so close with her teammates, you would think that she would have a type-A personality, very uptight. She is not. She is so laid-back, you know, almost quiet.”

Sumwalt is undecided about a major at Pittsburgh, but is leaning toward exercise science and the medical field, specifically physical therapy. She said she is grateful for all the support she has received from her parents, Janel and Jeff. Her brother Griffin was a sophomore attack for the Riverhead boys lacrosse team this past season. Miller, 8, also plays lacrosse.

How does this honor rank for Sumwalt?

“This is definitely number one,” she said.

After receiving congratulations from students and teachers at school Monday, Sumwalt said: “I think it’s starting to sink in. It’s awesome. I mean, I just can’t just take the smile off my face. Just looking at the award, it just represents everything that I’ve worked hard for.”