Saint Mary’s Presents the 2020 Distinguished Alumni Awards

By Linda Lenhoff / Photography by Cali Godley

Saint Mary’s College of California’s Alumni Association and Athletics Department honored seven deserving Gaels and friends with awards for outstanding service to the SMC community in a ceremony on Saturday, Feb. 15. Congratulations to our 2020 recipients and honorees!

Saint Mary’s Alumnus of the Year, Matthew Dellavedova ’13, is an Australian professional basketball player for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. During his days at Saint Mary’s, the Gaels made the NCAA tournament three times, and in his freshman year, went all the way to the Sweet 16. 

Meritorious Service Award winner Mary Ann Gomez Orta MBA ’02 has been leading the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI) since 2011. Founded by members of Congress, the nonprofit organization fosters awareness of the diversity of thought, heritage, interests, and views of Americans of Hispanic and Portuguese descent. 

The Signum Fidei Award is given to an alumnus/a for outstanding participation in the goals of higher education. It could not be in better hands with Carrie (’87) and John (’84) Matsuo, who have dedicated their lives to the Lasallian mission of education and support of underserved communities. John has worked in education since his graduation from Saint Mary’s in 1984 and has been a school administrator for more than 20 years in the Bay Area and Hillsboro, Ore. Carrie has served as president of the Parent Teacher Club and SunCreek Little League, where she amplified the engagement of underrepresented youth and families.

Presented to a member of the faculty or staff who has demonstrated a personal commitment to the students of Saint Mary’s above and beyond his/her employee responsibilities, this year’s Saint John Baptist de La Salle Award goes to Professor Suzy Thomas MA ’97, PhD.  Thomas has taught at the College since 1998 and challenged hundreds of students to consider the multidimensional aspects involved with supporting the academic, career, and personal/social development of K-12 students; and to recognize issues of privilege, power, and institutionalized oppression that perpetuate inequities in education. In 2017 she was named School Counselor Educator of the Year.  

Emerging Leader Award recipient Jessica Binzoni ’10 founded HOPE + FUTURE International, an organization based in Northern Iraq aimed at advancing hope in conflict zones by empowering displaced people to build a brighter future for themselves, their families, and their communities. She currently serves as the organization’s executive director and lives in Northern Iraq.

The SMC Athletics Hall of Fame inductees represent the history and excellence of the College. Honored this year, Lisa Alipaz served as the head women’s tennis coach at Saint Mary’s from 1999 to 2017, leading the Gaels to a tremendous run of success that has netted her five West Coast Conference (WCC) Coach of the Year awards. She guided the Gaels to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances (a first in Saint Mary’s history) in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013, and after a one-year break, took them back to the postseason with an at-large berth in 2015. 

Also inducted this year is the 2009–2010 men’s basketball team. The team put together what may be the most exciting run in program history when it reached the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. The Gaels entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 10 seed and beat No. 7 seeded Richmond 80–71 for their first tournament win since 1959. They then stunned the country when they defeated No. 2 seeded Villanova 75–69 to advance to their first-ever appearance in the Sweet 16. They finished with a then-program record 28 wins and ranked 19th in the nation.  

Congratulations to all of our devoted award winners. Saint Mary’s thanks and honors you. To read more about our amazing recipients, please go