CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Illinois seniors Taylor Edwards and Michael Paradise are the 2020 Big Ten Medal of Honor winners. The distinguished honor is the crowning achievement for one graduating male and one female at every conference school, recognizing success both in competition and in the classroom.

Edwards just wrapped up her fifth year as an Illini, playing one season with the women’s basketball team after four as a pitcher with softball. The Arcola native helped softball make three NCAA tournament appearances, she’s among the Illini all-time leaders in earned run average (3.41, ranking seventh), victories (37, seventh), pitching starts (61, seventh) and most appearances (101, sixth). On the basketball court, Edwards played in six games this past season, making an immediate impact as a leader for the Illini squad. She follows Illini all-time greats Ashley Berggren, Gia Lewis-Smallwood, Vanessa DiBernardo and Nicole Evans to win the Medal of Honor

“Getting to have my name etched next to theirs is really special and I think back to being a freshman and how much of an honor it was just to simply be a student-athlete at Illinois,” Edwards said during a media Zoom on Thursday. “Then to finally be in a place where I will forever to get say I’m an Illinois student-athlete but to get to add a couple more honors next to that is really fulfilling.”

“Taylor came into a team that needed a strong voice, and her natural leadership and determination were contagious,” Illinois women’s basketball coach Nancy Fahey said in a statement. “Beyond the confines of a basketball court, Taylor sees the big picture of what the spirit of a Fighting Illini is, giving back and paying it forward. She became the face of our program in our community. I truly believe we will continue to see Taylor Edwards’ impact on our Fighting Illini family for many years to come.”

Paradise leaves Illinois as one of the school’s greatest pommel horse competitors. The Bartlett native was named a three-time All-American, leading the Illini to the 2018 Big Ten championship. He was a team captain this season, before COVID-19 ended competition right before the postseason was scheduled to start. Academics played a huge part in Paradise’s college life as well, he has a 3.8 grade-point-average as an aerospace engineering major.

“That was something that was very important to me when I came to the university,” Paradise said during the Zoom call. “So being recognized for my accomplishments both in and out of the classroom, just really kind of sums up my four years here and I’m just very honored to be honored.”

“Michael has been a model student-athlete, excelling in the gym, classroom, and community at the highest level,” Illinois gymnastics coach Justin Spring said. “In the gym, Michael was a leader by example from day one and his work ethic was unparalleled. Academically, Michael is a legend in our program, studying Aerospace Engineering at the No. 7 ranked program in the country. He has performed at the highest level, earning a 3.8 GPA in this incredibly demanding major, while also helping to tutor his teammates. Michael is a model example of the kind of student-athlete we want to be a part of our Illini athletic programs.”