Northwestern University student Lia Assimakopoulos is the winner of the 2022 Associated Press Sports Editors Student Contest. 

Assimakopoulos is scheduled to graduate from Northwestern on June 13 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in French with a certificate in integrated marketing communications.

Nine days after her graduation, Assimakopoulos starts working at The Dallas Morning News to cover high school sports and women’s basketball. 

“Moving down to Dallas and starting covering Friday Night Lights, which I’m so excited about it,” Assimakopoulos said. “I know it’s a big deal in Texas and just ready to get my own beat and develop those relationships and be able to write some stories about some future stars, which always come out of that area.” 

Her experience heading to Dallas comes from internships with Sports Illustrated, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Washington City Paper. She’s also done part-time work for the Chicago Bulls and NBC. 

Two of her three entries for the APSE student contest came from her stint at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. One was a story from June 12, 2021, titled “Mike Tomlin and Cam Heyward encourage men to combat fatherlessness at annual ManUp conference.” She also did a story on July 16, 2021, titled, “Big Ben’s big leg: How Ben Roethlisberger became the NFL’s best punting quarterback.” 

Her third entry was from SB Nation’s Inside NU, and it was published May 3, 2021. The story’s headline was, “Op-Ed: Northwestern turns a blind eye instead of a corner with Polisky promotion.” 

Assimakopoulos said writing about Northwestern’s Mike Polisky helped solidify the direction she wants for her journalism career. 

“I want to go into your sports investigative reporting and covering that story about the athletic director at Northwestern really helped me determine those long-term goals,” Assimakopoulos said. “I’m really passionate about the intersection of sports and social justice issues, and I want to cover stories that kind of go into a more investigative realm of things in sports. I think sports are a very fascinating lens to look at things like politics and culture and other areas of society kind of beyond what happens in the games.” 

This is the first year a Northwestern student has won the student contest. Previous winners of the APSE Student Contest are Lila Bromberg (University of Maryland), 2021; George Stoia (University of Oklahoma), 2019 and 2020; Kelli Stacy (University of Oklahoma), 2018; and Emily Giambalvo (University of Georgia), 2017. 

Judges praise Lia’s work

Four of the 11 judges for the contest cast a first-place vote for Assimakopoulos’ work. Here are some of the judges’ comments: 

Greg Bowers, former journalism professor: Lia Assimakopoulos knows how to break news. Her column about the university’s new athletic director sent second thoughts across campus. The new AD soon resigned. She also knows how to tell stories: Ben Rothlisberger, perhaps one of the last of the NFL quarterback/punters, and a ManUp program that attracted sports celebrities to help close the gap for fatherless young people, are compelling stories about subjects that many sportswriters might have overlooked.

Nina Pantic, freelance journalist: Attention-grabbing ledes. A succinct and clear writing style that’s both engaging and easy to read. Wrote a column that helped impact real change. 

Dillon Thompson, Yahoo: Lia’s work is confident, crisp and well-paced. In her submitted pieces, she showed a real understanding of the core of great sportswriting — that, at the end of the day, it’s all about storytelling. Her writing balances the emotionality of players and fans with the narrative, scene-setting journalism that keeps readers engaged. Her Op-Ed in particular, about the apparent hypocrisies in Northwestern’s hiring practices, felt like it came from a seasoned, career journalist; not just because it was written well, but because it showed the care and understanding of someone with a real finger on a fanbase’s pulse. 

2022 APSE Student Contest Top 10

There were 27 students that entered the 2022 APSE Student Contest. Each of the 11 judges individually chose a top 10 and ranked them. The winner and final rankings are determined by tallying the ballots.

Here are the final ranking of the top 10 with links to the stories entered: 

1. Lia Assimakopoulos, Northwestern — 90 points, 4 first-place votes | 1 2 3

2. Mason Young, Oklahoma — 59 points, 2 first-place votes | 1 2 3

3. Myah Taylor, Texas — 58 points, 1 first-place vote | 1 2 3

4. Austin Cutright, Oklahoma — 54 points | 1 2 3

5. Kyle Pinnell, Missouri — 33 points | 1 2 3

6. Calum McAndrew, Missouri — 31 points, 1 first-place vote | 1 2 3

7. Emily Leiker, Missouri — 30 points, 1 first-place vote | 1 2 3

8. Nick Coppola, Oklahoma — 29 points, 2 first-place votes | 1 2 3

9. Anthony Kristensen, Missouri — 25 points | 1 2 3

10. Jack Marshall, Montana — 22 points | 1 2 3

Students submitted three pieces of work as a portfolio. The portfolio consisted of three elements: (a) a feature or enterprise story, (b) an event or game coverage story (this can include a column or sidebar), and (c) a wild-card entry, which can be from the above categories or something else. 

Entries came from undergraduate or graduate students enrolled at a college or university during summer 2021, fall 2021 or spring 2022 academic terms. Work came from the period of April 10, 2021, to April 9, 2022. 

Erik Hall is a lead digital producer for sports with the USA Today Network. You can find him on Twitter @HallErik or at hallerik7@gmail.com.