Area athletes take home hardware at Greater Cleveland Sports Awards

Jan. 23—The 24th Greater Cleveland Sports Awards program staged Jan. 23 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse was an evening select area amateur athletes will never forget.

The accomplishment of any one award winner was no greater than that of the others, so we will report them in the chronological order the awards were presented.

—Soccer star Sophia Sindelar of Rocky River was chosen as the Female High School Athlete of the year. Her competitors were the Brecksville-Broadview Heights gymnastics team and Tessa Knapp of Bay, who also starred in soccer.

Sophia Sindelar, a soccer star at Rocky River, received the High School Female Athlete of the Year award Tuesday night at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

— Jeff Schudel (@jsproinsider) January 24, 2024

Sindelar was named the Ohio Division II Player of the Year, Ms. Ohio Soccer, first-team All-Ohio, Great Lakes Conference Most Valuable Player and a 2023 All-American. She helped her team advance to the state championship match.

"I'm honestly shocked," she said after winning the award. "There are so many talented players here. I'm grateful to be here in the first place and super excited. My initial reaction was it did not feel real in the moment."

Sindelar is a junior at Rocky River. She plans to graduate a semester early and attend the University of Florida to continue playing soccer. Her goal is to play professionally.

—Destiny Leo, a graduate of Eastlake North, was named Female College Athlete of the Year for what she has done on the basketball court with Cleveland State. Leo averaged 17.9 points a game for the Lady Vikings last season while leading the conference in shooting percentage on three-pointers (38.5%) and free throw percentage (91.9). Her 2022-23 team finished a Cleveland State all-time best 30-5, finished first in the Horizon League regular season and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in the history of the program.

As with Sindelar, Leo was humbly gracious discussing her award.

Destiny Leo of Cleveland State and Eastlake North was selected as the Female College Athlete of the Year at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards Tuesday night at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Destiny is recovering from a knee injury. @NHPreps

— Jeff Schudel (@jsproinsider) January 24, 2024

"It felt great," she said. "It was really nice to be recognized with all the great athletes that are here tonight. I'm thankful for the opportunity."

A knee injury suffered in a game Nov. 25 ended Leo's 2023-24 season prematurely. She is red shirting and has two more years of college eligibility.

"Ever since I started playing basketball, one of my main goals was to inspire younger girls and I've been able to do that through different things," Leo said. "I host my own basketball camp (at North) every summer. It's something I really enjoy doing because I like inspiring younger girls."

Leo said she wants to play professionally when her college career ends and then go into coaching.

—Jeannie Rice of Mentor, 75 years old, was honored as the Senior Athlete of the Year. Rice, born in Korea, started running when she was 35 because she noticed she was five pounds heavier than she wanted to be. She hasn't stopped running.

Jeannie Rice, the 75-year-old distance runner from #Mentor, won the Senior Athlete of the Year Award Tuesday night at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards.

— Jeff Schudel (@jsproinsider) January 24, 2024

"Now LeBron James and I have the same award!" Rice said with her typical high energy. "This was a very big surprise when they called me. I won USATF Athlete of the Year before, but Cleveland never recognized runners, so this was very special.

"When I run races, many people come up to me and say, 'Jeannie, you inspire me.' I tell them, 'You just made my day.'"

Rice ran the Boston Marathon in 2023, a few days after turning 75, in three hours and 30 minutes. She proudly says it was the fastest time for anyone in her age group — man or woman. Six weeks before the Boston Marathon, she finished first in the 70-plus age category at the Tokyo Marathon in 3:31:22. She has won many, many other races. So what does she do with all those trophies?

"I keep the medals," she said. "I give the Trophies to the YMCA, but I'm going to keep this trophy.'

—The Courage Award was presented to Olivia Slivinski of Avon Lake. Slivinski suffered three major injuries that forced her to miss 2 1/2 seasons of her high school and club swimming seasons.

Olivia Slivinski of Avon Lake High School won the Courage Award for overcoming multiple surgeries. She said there were times she got discouraged, but her family, friends, teammates and coach helped pull her through. @MJournalSports

— Jeff Schudel (@jsproinsider) January 24, 2024

Slivinski's right ACL was torn during a lacrosse match in March 2021. Her left ACL was torn in June 2,022 and the next day her right shoulder was dislocated.

"To see an athlete bounce back from not one, but two ACL injuries and a shoulder injury, to get back in the pool and now go on to swim in college makes what we do here at Cleveland Clinic Sports Medicine special," Dr. Lutil Farrow, who operated on Slivinski, said in the news release issued by the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission.

Slivinski said there were times when she became discouraged in her rehab, but she persevered.

"I didn't know if I was ever going to get back to where I was, but I had to keep a positive mindset because there was no option to quit for me because I knew I wanted to swim and be in water," she said. "I'm just so grateful for everyone who helped me through my journey."

Slivinski is attending Penn West and studying health science. Her goal is to become a physical therapist.

—On the professional side, Myles Garrett of the Browns was voted Professional Athlete of the Year, beating out Josh Naylor of the Browns and Donovan Mitchell of the Cavaliers for the honor. The Browns clinching a playoff berth on Dec. 28 when they beat the Jets at Cleveland Browns Stadium was chosen as the Moment of the Year in Cleveland professional sports.