Paul Juda, men’s gymnastics
Coming into 2021 as reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year, the COVID-19 pause did not stop Juda from picking up right where he left off, scoring a season-best all-around 86.55 against Illinois in an early-January meet. Finishing a stellar regular season highlighted by an NCAA-leading 14.950 on parallel bars, the Deerfield, Illinois native picked up the conference’s award for overall Gymnast of the Year (not to mention All-Big Ten academic honors) – alongside CGA All-American honors in all seven events.
Juda expanded an already-strong prominence on the national radar during Michigan’s run to 3rd place at the NCAA finals. Placing second in the pommel horse (13.800) and sixth in the all-around (81.498), the sophomore became a two-time NCAA All-American. Juda was also named to the 2021 Senior Pan-Am Championship team that will be competing this June in Rio de Janeiro, a heightening of the US Junior National team duties he has carried since 2020 (including participation in a Tokyo Olympics Test Event last fall).
Mason Parris, wrestling
Big expectations are far from unfamiliar to Parris. Serving as captain of the Wolverines since his sophomore year, the heavyweight had some more eye-raising achievements as a junior. Throughout Michigan’s one-loss regular season (shortened to 6 matches by COVID-19 pauses), Parris went undefeated for the second time in a row. Unfortunately, the streak came to an end in the Big Ten Heavyweight finals – finishing once again as a runner-up to Minnesota’s reigning national champion in Gable Steveson. Although also ending with the same result, Parris was able to officially establish his reputation at the NCAA Championships – setting up quite the rivalry appeal between the two wrestlers for their senior seasons.
Parris’ biggest strides, however, came in preparation for international competition (in which he could compete side-by-side with Steveson). With a third-place finish at Olympic trials in the 125kg/275-pound freestyle division, the Indiana native made his first U.S. Senior National Team.
Anna Spieker, field hockey
Michigan’s status as a very-close-second to national champions this past spring quite literally would not have been possible without Spieker. With several game-extending saves in numerous do-or-die moments and key corner opportunities, the junior goaltender introduced herself to a national audience as a leader in the Final Four classic against the Louisville Cardinals.
Spieker’s prominence is well-established within the program, however, as she only allowed seven goals all year long, boasting 10 shutouts and the third-highest save percentage in the country (0.836), which earned her second team All-Big Ten honors for the second time. Beyond her own spectacular plays, teammates see Spieker as a reliable source of confidence in pressure-filled moments – something the Wolverines became well-acquainted with in the 2020-21 season.
A native of Brandenburg Germany, Spieker is a two-time All-Big Ten Academic for her studies of ecology, evolution, and biodiversity in the College of LSA.
Kari Miller, women’s tennis
It’s not easy to become a part of the NCAA Individual Championships as a freshman, but Miller soundly distinguished herself as an exceptional talent this spring. A former MHSAA all-state team member, Miller racked up an impressive 18-5 overall singles record to begin her college career just minutes away from her alma mater, Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor.
With an undefeated record on top courts during Michigan’s Round-of-16 run, the No. 57-ranked singles player earned the right to return to the USTA campus. Although she exited the tournament in the second round against No. 19 Georgia Drummy from Duke, Miller did not go down without a fight, defending as many as three match point opportunities in the final two games. It also didn’t come before an impressive straight-sets victory over No. 13-ranked Victoria Flores from Georgia Tech – a hint at the many more feats to come for the phenom.