Nine student-athletes have been selected as finalists for the 2013 NCAA Woman of the Year award, which will be announced Oct. 20 during a ceremony in Indianapolis.
Three finalists were selected from each NCAA division, in recognition of their accomplishments in academics, athletics, community service and leadership.
The nine finalists are among 30 Woman of the Year honorees who will be recognized during the event. This group of 30 includes 10 honorees from each NCAA division, representing a range of NCAA sports, and was selected from more than 450 nominees.
Following are biographies of this year’s Woman of the Year finalists, including excerpts from their personal statements in the nomination materials.
Conference: New England Small College Athletic Conference
Major: Mathematics, minor in Biology
Sport: Field Hockey
Hometown: St. Louis, Mo.
Excerpt from personal statement: “I learned early on that I must be true to myself and my quiet leadership style has worked well. Playing on a championship field hockey team, leading trips for Bowdoin’s Outing Club, counseling campus survivors of sexual violence and volunteering in underprivileged areas of Central America, I’ve experienced the joy that comes from giving back. I’m grateful for the support and guidance I’ve had to follow my heart in finding my place in life.”
During her four years at Bowdoin College, Elena did all she could to be a role model for kids. She tutored local students in writing, helped students with learning a second language, and even traveled to Nicaragua (after receiving a Global Citizens Grant) to teach math and English. Elena worked with other notable organizations, including Special Olympics and Habitat for Humanity, to make a positive impact on those in her community.
The mathematics major used her strong academic skills to tutor her peers in the Bowdoin math department. She was recognized four times as National Merit Hispanic Scholar and has been recognized as a Gates Millennium Scholar since 2009. She has been involved in numerous research projects, including research modeling disease transmission patterns, and received the Fulbright Canada STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Award in 2013.
Elena was a two-year starter and four-year letter winner as a defensive player for Bowdoin’s field hockey team, helping to anchor the team's back line on its way to the 2010 NCAA Division III National Championship. She was recognized by the New England Small College Athletic Conference as an All-Sportsmanship athlete in 2012, and was voted the team’s Unsung Hero in 2012.
Conference:Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference
Major: Biology and Math
Hometown: Fridley, Minn.
Excerpt from personal statement: “My experiences as a student-athlete have influenced every part of the person I am today. They have shown me how significant the seemingly little choices in life are. Every day you are faced with choices; to work hard or to coast, to participate or to observe, to be happy or to not. Every day we make these choices without much thought, but my last four years have shown me that these small choices are everything.”
As a four-year member of Concordia University, St. Paul’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and a two-year women’s volleyball team captain, Elizabeth was a campus and team leader. Elizabeth’s dedication to help her community led to her participation in more than 15 service projects including a mission trip to Guatemala, where she spent 10 days helping those in need. Other service included Tri-Pi Math Club, Concordia University Science Club, Feed My Starving Children, Gillette Children’s Hospital volunteer and an Immaculate Conception Elementary School lunch volunteer.
Elizabeth was named to the Dean’s List from 2009-2012 and was a four-time Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference All-Academic. In 2013, she received the Willis R. Kelly Scholar-Athlete Award, an award given to the top female scholar-athlete in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. Awarded the NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship, Elizabeth will put the $7,500 scholarship towards a master’s degree in biostatistics at the University of Minnesota. She also earned CoSIDA Capital One Academic All-America first team honors as a senior.
She helped lead the Golden Bears to four NCAA Division II women’s volleyball national championships in each of her years of eligibility and was a NSIC first-team All-Conference in 2012. Additionally, Elizabeth was named to the NCAA Central Region All-Tournament team, NCAA Championship All-Tournament team and was an American Volleyball Coaches Association second-team All-America selection in 2012. Elizabeth was Concordia University’s choice for 2012-13 Female Athlete of the Year.
Hometown: Woodinville, Wash.
Excerpt from personal statement: “Next year, I am teaching ninth grade algebra in Chicago as part of Teach for America. I joined this movement to close the achievement gap because of my college experience. Through my volunteer experiences, classes on education, social justice and other material, and my time spent interacting with members of my softball team and the softball community, I developed a greater understanding for the privileges that I have, the challenges that others face and the potential that I have to pay it forward and improve someone else’s life.”
Kaaren was a campus leader at Pacific Lutheran University, serving three years as a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and mentoring fellow student-athletes. She represented her class each year on the Leadership Council, and held leadership positions with the University Congregation Council and the Student Alumni Association. She volunteered as a softball coach and clinic/camp instructor, in addition to working in local schools as a classroom volunteer. Despite her busy schedule, she still found time to coordinate Special Olympics events and serve as a captain of her American Cancer Society Relay for Life team.
A mathematics major, Kaaren earned a 3.95 GPA, made the Dean’s List each semester, and was inducted into the university’s Pinnacle Society and the Arete Society. A two-time Capital One Academic All-American, she was also a four-year Regent’s Scholar and was a three-time Academic All-Northwest Conference team member.
Kaaren led her softball team on the field as well, earning PLU Female Athlete of the Year in 2012, the same year her team won the NCAA championship. She was a first-team All-American, and was also recognized by the university as the 2013 George Fisher Scholar Athlete and received the 2013 Lute Career Achievement Award. Finally, she received an NCAA Postgraduate scholarship this summer.
Conference:Big West Conference
Hometown: Pine Valley, Calif.
Excerpt from personal statement: “While I was sitting in isolation [after cancer treatment], I realized how truly blessed I was. I was on a top 25 softball team, had a family who loved me and a boyfriend who truly believed in me. After my bout with cancer, I decided to seize the opportunities I had to make a difference around me. I used the cancer story I had been given as a tool to inspire, bring hope, and challenge others to persevere through hard times in life.”
A week after representing the UH softball team for “Best Upset” at the ESPY Awards, Kelly was diagnosed with thyroid cancer the summer after her redshirt freshman year, and that experience led her to become extremely active in the community. She began volunteer work as a motivational speaker in 2010, something she continued throughout her collegiate career, including speaking at schools and the 2013 Pro Bowl Night of Champions. She taught physical education at a nearby school for two years, fed the homeless, and led the University of Hawaii’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Majoring in education, Kelly was named to the Capital One Academic All-America team in 2013, just the third student-athlete in University of Hawaii softball history to do so. She made the Dean’s List every semester, was a three-time University of Hawaii Top Team Scholar Athlete and won the 2013 Jack Bonham Award, which is presented to the university’s top female student-athlete.
As a two-year team captain and center fielder for Hawaii’s softball team, Kelly led her team to three conference championships, and never missed a start in four years. In 2010, she was named the Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year, and went on to lead the nation in career home runs. She currently holds four career records, one single-season record and one single-game record for the University of Hawaii softball program. She earned all-conference honors all four years; was an NFCA all-Region player three seasons; was a conference scholar-athlete and an NFCA Scholar-Athlete for all four years. In 2013 she was named Big West Defensive Player of the Year and was a candidate for the Lowe’s 2013 Senior CLASS Award.
Conference:Big East Conference
Major: Political Science
Hometown: Morlborough, Harare, Zimbabwe
Excerpt from personal statement: “Excelling in sport absent decent academics would never have afforded me a tertiary educative opportunity. I feel obligated to share the importance of ‘student’ and ‘athlete’ to those in my sphere of influence. Employing the leadership aspect afforded through being a student-athlete as a platform to establish a connection with one’s community is something I wish to instill in others.”
Alexandra has parlayed the exposure and leadership opportunities afforded her as a member of the women’s basketball team at Seton Hall to truly make an impact, not just locally but also on an international scale. She represented Zimbabwe for eight years on the country’s Senior Women’s National Team, which she led to its highest-ever finish of 11th place in the All-Africa Games. In addition, Alexandra has devoted her time to developing a successful sneaker drive to collect, transport and distribute sneakers to underprivileged boys participating in a developmental basketball program in Zimbabwe.
Alexandra was a 2013 Seton Hall University Academic Merit Award recipient and a Rhodes Scholar finalist in 2012. A three-time member of the Big East Academic All-Conference team, she earned a 3.8 GPA in political science and will pursue a master’s degree in diplomacy and serve as a graduate assistant for Seton Hall’s women’s basketball team.
Alexandra led Seton Hall’s women’s basketball team on the court, as well. She started all 31 games with the Pirates, twice leading the team in blocked shots per season and rebounds per game. She also received the All-In team award for displaying overall commitment to team success during the 2011-12 season.
Conference:Big 12 Conference
Major: Exercise and Sports Science
Sport: Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field
Hometown: Houston, Tex.
Excerpt from personal statement: “Through countless hours of community service, my experiences as a scholar, an athlete, and being blessed with the opportunity to lead others, I can honestly say that it has truly developed my character and positively impacted my overall outlook in life.”
Ifeatu served four years as a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee at Texas Tech. During her time as a student-athlete, she regularly volunteered with Special Olympics, the local YWCA, a nearby hospital and local food bank. She also served as Texas Tech’s Big 12 Conference Student-Athlete Advisory Committee representative.
Ifeatu was named to the Academic All-Big 12 team four times, and was a finalist for the 2012 John McLendon Scholarship and the 2013 Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar Award. In 2012, she earned the Big 12 Conference Dr. Gerald Lage Award. An exercise and sports sciences major, she graduated magna cum laude and was named in 2012 to the USTFCCCCA All-Academic team.
A four year letter-winner for Texas Tech as a thrower in women’s track and field, Ifeatu was the 2011 Big 12 Shot Put Champion, and was twice named to All-Big 12 First Team.
Conference:Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference
Major: Speech Language Pathology
Sport: Swimming and Diving
Hometown: Franklin, Pa.
Excerpt from personal statement: “I am a perfectionist, and I have been told that it’s extreme to strive for such perfectionism because it doesn’t exist. Although that is true, it is this very drive and determination to overcome challenges that has given me the satisfaction of accomplishing a task I thought was too difficult.”
Kayla impacted her teammates, peers and members of the Clarion University of Pennsylvania community through her various leadership roles. She was involved in the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee from 2010-13 and gave lessons to children in the community as a swimming instructor. Kayla combined her passion for swimming and serving by creating and organizing two swim meets to raise funds for the local cancer center. She was a volunteer with the Salvation Army and Angel Food Ministries, and she gave swimming lessons to special needs children through Special Olympics.
Kayla finished with a perfect 4.0 GPA. She is a two-time PSAC Champion Scholar Award recipient, three-time PSAC Winter Academic Top 10 Award recipient, four-time Clarion University Scholar-Athlete and was named 2013 Capital One First-team Academic All-American.
A backstroke and freestyle swimmer at Clarion for four years on the swimming team, Kayla was a career 15-time NCAA Division II All-American. She earned six All-America honors in 2011, was named 2010 PSAC Freshman of the Year and was a five-time All-American in 2010. Kayla won the 100 backstroke at the PSAC Championships in each of her four seasons and was an 8-time overall PSAC champion.
Conference: East Coast Conference
Major: Criminal Justice
Hometown: San Diego, Calif.
Excerpt from personal statement: “Since attending LIU Post my life has been affected in the positive of ways. I have grown into a person I am proud of and none of that would have been possible without the experiences I have had at this University. Being a part of this University gave me the opportunity to learn and grow both on and off the athletic field.”
Through participation in community service, campus activities and leadership, Bridgett has worked with others and helped them reach their goals while achieving her own. Bridgett impacted the community by participating in multiple awareness walks and coaching youth lacrosse teams and clinics.
Bridgett finished with a 3.78 GPA and was a 2012 LIU Post Pride finalist. She also was a Robert A. Boyar Memorial Scholarship Recipient, Marine Corps Officer Candidate, LIU Post Women of Achievement Honoree, Yellow Ribbon Award Recipient and a LIU Graduating Student Leadership Award Recipient. Upon her graduation, Bridgett was promoted to second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.
As a defensive player for four years on the lacrosse team, Bridgett helped lead her team to consecutive NCAA Division II Women’s Lacrosse National Championships in 2012 and 2013. She also aided the Pioneers in capturing an East Coast Conference Championship in 2010 and 2013.
Conference: American Southwest Conference
Major: Biology and Chemistry
Hometown: Wylie, Texas
Excerpt from personal statement: “My experiences as a scholar, athlete and leader have definitely influenced my life and made me the person I am today. I have learned self-discipline by challenging myself with goals to pursue a double major in biology and chemistry, complete an Honors research project, maintain a high GPA, participate in intercollegiate softball, extracurricular activities, and volunteer work, and grow in my faith.”
Lya was a campus leader at East Texas Baptist University, where she was a three-year member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and president in her senior year. She also held a work-study job on campus while volunteering for the Dallas Fire Department, Habitat for Humanity and Special Olympics.
Double-majoring in biology and chemistry and graduating with honors, Lya earned multiple academic scholarships, was inducted into the National Honor Society and made the Dean’s List each semester on campus, and was voted a Capital One Academic All-American. She was also recognized with the American Southwest Conference Scholar-Medal of Honor, which is awarded to one graduating male and female student-athlete at each member university for most outstanding academic, athletic and leadership records and awarded the Distinguished Scholar-Athlete award given to one American Southwest Conference softball player.
The two-year team captain and four-year starter led the East Texas Baptist University softball team to three NCAA tournament appearances in four years, including winning the NCAA National Championship in 2010. She also won two American Southwest Conference Tournament championships and was named the tournament MVP in 2013. She was given the Top Tiger Award, which recognizes the top overall female athlete at East Texas Baptist.