LEWISBURG, Pa. – Recent Bucknell graduate Sune Swart, a captain on the Patriot League champion Bison women's basketball team, is a recipient of the 2017 Patriot League Award of Outstanding Leadership and Character, as announced by the league office on Friday.
The Patriot League established the Award of Outstanding Leadership and Character to recognize and honor those who demonstrate excellence in leadership and service while participating in Patriot League athletics, with one male and one female winner selected each year. Provided the minimum conduct standards are met, any Patriot League student-athlete and/or team is eligible for the award, which was first awarded at the conclusion of the 2011-12 academic year.
This year's recipients are Swart and Lafayette men's lacrosse student-athlete Matt Cortese. Bucknell has had four student-athletes receive the award over the past three years, as Jesse Klug (men's soccer) picked up the honor in 2016 and Ryan Frazier (men's basketball) and Andrea Seifert (women's rowing) earned the award in 2015.
A fan favorite and an inspiring leader, Swart's stellar play and positive influence on her teammates were two of the driving forces that led Bucknell to its first Patriot League title in nine years this past season. The Bison earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, where it received the No. 14 seed and played at No. 3 seed Maryland. It was the highest the team had ever been seeded in the national tournament.
The most successful season in program history wouldn't have been possible without Swart's dominant presence in the paint. Often deemed the most improved player in the Patriot League by head coach Aaron Roussell – a feeling shared and noted by numerous coaches throughout the conference – Swart earned Third Team All-Patriot League honors after helping the team win the league's regular season title. She then earned All-Tournament recognition after average 16.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in wins over Loyola, American, and Navy.
The height of Swart's success seemed improbable early on in her career to those outside the program. She averaged 1.0 points as a freshman and 1.4 as a sophomore while playing sparingly off the bench. It should be noted, however, that even then her presence was felt. Her collegiate playing career may not have been going as she had hoped, but that didn't stop her from being the ultimate teammate. No one on the bench was more excited for the team and individual successes of those around her during games.
But Swart wasn't satisfied with just being a role player. She wanted more for herself and made the most of an opportunity to improve both academically and athletically during the summers after her sophomore and junior seasons. She spent both summers in a research role in multiple departments of the University, while at the same time working on her game with assistant coach Mike Lane. Just as important, she set out to improve her conditioning. The hard work paid off as she was a different player as a junior and then became one of the most versatile post players in the league as a senior.
What most outside of the Bucknell Athletics community didn't know was that Swart was facing more than just the challenges of balancing basketball and academics. Just weeks into her sophomore year, her father, Jannie, died of a heart attack at the age of 51. Jannie, a civil rights activist in his home country of South Africa, brought the family to the United States when Sune was in sixth grade. Jannie was just starting a new career as the associate professor of world mission and evangelism at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary at the time of his passing.
The family tragedy obviously had an effect on Swart that went way beyond basketball during her sophomore year. It would have been understandable if she just packed it in and quit the sport altogether to focus on the rest of her life. Instead, she leaned on her teammates as her family away from home for healing. She turned her attention to putting in the hard work that resulted in her tremendous final two seasons with the Bison.
Coach Roussell has described Swart as the type of person that fans, teammates, and those in the community gravitate towards. She was always the first to volunteer for the team's numerous community service events and often put in her own service work without feeling the need for others to know.
Swart wasted little time in showcasing the improvements she had made in time for her senior season, opening with back-to-back 25-point games in wins on the road against Binghamton and Saint Joseph's. It was the first time a Bison player had opened with at least 25 points in each of the first two games since 2001. She went on to average 11.4 points and 6.1 rebounds for the season.
At the year-end Senior Awards Banquet, Swart received the Ronald J. “Pete” Pedrick Award. The honor is given each year to a student-athlete that demonstrates improvement and special contributions to Bucknell Athletics over a four-year period.