Oct. 17, 2010

The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- Justine Schluntz won the NCAA Woman of the Year award on Sunday night, becoming the third Arizona swimmer to capture the honor in the past four years.

A 16-time NCAA All-American, Schluntz helped the Wildcats win the national title in 2008. The Rhodes Scholar also made the Pac-10's first team all-academic swim team for three consecutive seasons.

Arizona became the first school with four NCAA Woman of the Year winners. Schluntz joins high jumper Tanya Hughes (1994) and swimmers Whitney Myers (2007) and Lacey Nymeyer (2009) on the exclusive list among the 20 recipients of the honor.

"When I chose Arizona, it didn't have anything to do with swimming or academics," Schluntz said. "It was the team, which is a family. I was lucky. Whitney and Lacey were ahead of me. I just followed their lead.

"When you swim for Arizona, you have a family for the rest of your life."

The award is given to a student-athlete who has completed her eligibility and demonstrated academic and athletic excellence while providing extraordinary community service and leadership.

Schluntz majored in mechanical engineering at Arizona and graduated summa cum laude. She was a finalist for the NCAA's Walter Byers Postgraduate Scholarship and the NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship.

After suffering a season-ending injury during her freshman year, the Albuquerque, N.M., native began mentoring younger athletes while becoming involved in community service. She volunteered for Big Brothers/Big Sisters, taught swim lessons to children and volunteered with Casa de los Ninos, an organization that offers services that promote child safety and family stability.

Schluntz was one of nine finalists selected from a pool of 30 by a committee of representatives from NCAA schools and conferences. The process began with 131 student-athletes representing all three NCAA divisions in multiple sports.

Schluntz confessed that after meeting her peers before the ceremony, she didn't believe there was a need to write an acceptance speech.

"That was the highlight of all this - meeting all the unbelievable girls who make the NCAA what it is," she said. "They told us to write an acceptance speech, just in case, but I didn't think I had a chance."

The other finalists were Iowa State runner Lisa Koll, Alabama softball player Brittany Rogers, Indianapolis golfer Lyndsay McBride, Concordia volleyball player Mary Slinger, Grand Valley State soccer player Natalja Stanski, Wartburg College track athlete Hannah Baker, Emory swimmer Ruth Westby and Melissa Mackley, who played hockey for Gustavus Adolphus College.