Outstanding Student Athletes Honored

SOCORRO, N.M. May 6, 2015 – Brigitte Ek of Albuquerque and Kyle Benalil of Socorro were named New Mexico Tech Sportswoman and Sportsman of the Year at a year-end barbecue for Tech’s 16 sport clubs. Both seniors played soccer for NMT teams and in addition to their on-field heroics contributed significantly to logistical operations of their respective teams. Honorees were selected by a special committee comprised of sport club members. The offices of both Student and University Relations and Research and Economic Development lent support to the event.


2015 Sportsman of the Year Kyle Benalil, 2015 Sportswoman of the Year Bridgette Ek and Sports Club Coordinator Dave Wheelock.


New Mexico Tech’s sport club program is administered by the Department of Physical Recreation. The 2014-2015 academic year saw 16 sport clubs in action on campus as well as at various competitive venues around New Mexico and beyond. Sport clubs included baseball, bicycling, caving, climbing, golf, paintball, women’s and men’s rugby, shooting, women’s and men’s soccer, street hockey, track and field, ultimate Frisbee, and women’s and men’s volleyball.

Special recognition in the form of an engraved crystal plate was presented to Virginia and James McLemore for many years of service and mentorship to the Tech shooting sports club. The husband and wife team has mentored many marksmen and women since 1980.

In addition to pursuing their particular passions, clubs are encouraged to get active in their local community. In this area Tech’s bicycling and soccer clubs excelled. With the helpful guidance of club advisor Dr. Dave Burleigh, bike club members manned a weekly bike workshop, installed a maintenance station on the campus, and contributed their labor to the construction of a “pump track” at the City of Socorro’s Clark Field. Tech’s soccer clubs also helped with a variety of city and university projects including Socorro Fest, Community Arts Party, St. Patrick’s Day celebration, and Keep Socorro Beautiful. Some members even helped judge Science Fair and Science Olympiad projects for public school students.

Brigitte Ek, known affectionately by some as Briggie Smallz, played three years of soccer at the Vienna International School in Austria before graduating from Rio Rancho High School in 2009. Brigitte was born to Mishele and David Ek in 1991 and calls her parents “my biggest support system and the best people I know.”

In total she has played soccer for 19 of her 24 years, primarily as a defender before moving up to the midfield at New Mexico Tech. She participated in volleyball and track in high school and added intramural softball during her college years.

In a letter nominating Brigitte Ek for Sportswoman of the Year, a teammate wrote “She's always supportive and encouraging, and offers ways to improve. Her attitude is positive, whether the game was a win or a loss.”

Playing soccer at Tech “was a really good outlet for stress and I was playing with all of my friends.” Brigitte enthusiastically served as club president, saying “I genuinely enjoyed doing it because I enjoyed the people I was doing it for.” The Tech women’s soccer team showed remarkable dedication by practicing on weekdays under Coach Deolu Akerele and traveling most weekends to compete in the Albuquerque Soccer League, where they won most of their matches.

A self-described “avid space supporter,” Brigitte Ek will graduate with honors on May 9. Brigitte will enter the work force at the Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Maine, while keeping alive her dream of a career in the space industry. Her simple secret of success? “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

Kyle Benalil was born to Jane and Nouraddine Benalil in Socorro on September 20, 1993. He began accumulating credits at Tech while in high school and was valedictorian of his Socorro High School class. During his four years  at Tech, Kyle chalked up numerous academic honors and scholarships, including being named Tech’s top engineering student this year by the Society of Professional Engineers. (Ron Hruban, president of the climbing club, was ranked third.) He has co-authored, with Dr. Nadir Yilmaz, two peer-reviewed papers and has been the holder of a Macey Scholarship, Tech’s highest academic achievement award. Among his numerous roles at the university have been tutor, peer facilitator, teaching assistant, and student government conflict resolution mediator.

Benalil served as president of the men’s soccer club the last three years he attended Tech, taking a holistic approach to his responsibilities. In nominating letters for the top sports award teammates noted that Kyle “has created multiple opportunities for volunteering for both the men's and women's soccer clubs” and “has put a lot of hard work into not only the club teams but also the Tech and Socorro communities.”

Kyle credits his father Nouraddine for supporting his progress.

“My dad always pushed, helped, and supported me in everything I've ever done.” Other strong influences include his brother, Alan, holder of a Tech engineering degree and past president of the soccer club, and former coach Brad Winton of Socorro, who after leaving the post to pursue other interests continued to make himself available to Kyle for advice. 

Benalil will begin his professional career in the nuclear engineering program at the Puget Sound Naval Yard in Bremerton, Washington.  His advice for under classmen: “Organize your time and ask questions of those who have already experienced it.”

– NMT –

By Dave Wheelock/Tech Club Sports Director