INDIANAPOLIS -- The NCAA has selected nine outstanding women as finalists for the 2011 Woman of the Year award, which will be presented Oct. 16 in Indianapolis.

The nine finalists, along with the other honorees who made the top 30, will be invited to Indianapolis for the Woman of the Year festivities.  The award weekend will include a community service project that gives honorees the opportunity to interact with young girls in the city of Indianapolis and serve as role models for them. The NCAA will also host a reception in their honor.

The NCAA’s Woman of the Year Award, now in its 21st year, honors female student-athletes who have distinguished themselves throughout their collegiate careers in academic achievement, athletic excellence, community service and leadership.  Every NCAA member institution is encouraged to honor its top graduating female student-athlete by submitting her name for consideration.  Each conference assesses the eligibility of its members’ nominees and selects at least one student-athlete to represent the conference.

To be eligible for the award, a female student-athlete must have completed  eligibility in her primary sport by the end of the 2011 spring season, graduated no later than the end of the summer 2011 term and achieved a minimum cumulative grade-point average of 2.5. The NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics selects the national winner from the nine finalists.

Last year’s NCAA Woman of the Year was Justine Schluntz, a 2010 Rhodes Scholar, swimmer and mechanical engineering major, from the University of Arizona.  

Following are biographies of this year’s Woman of the Year finalists:

Division I

Danielle Blair
School: UAB
Conference: Conference USA
Majors: Marketing, Management and Industrial Distribution
Sport: Soccer
Hometown:  Toronto, Ontario Canada
Excerpt from personal statement:  “As a collegiate athlete, I aspire to apply the skills I have developed through sports – strategizing, organizing and coordinating - to the community in a meaningful way; being competitive in my sport and extending this drive to the development of innovative community learning programs."

As the founder and organizer of Blazer Buddies Mentoring Program, Blair visited elementary schools with other student-athletes to educate children about healthy lifestyles through athletics. Blair also served on the university’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee as the chair of the community service and public relations committees.  The soccer team captain also was involved in many community-service projects.

A triple major in marketing, management and industrial distribution, Blair achieved a near-perfect GPA, graduated summa cum laude and earned Presidential Honors for her academic achievements nearly every semester  She was also named UAB’s Most Outstanding Student for both industrial distribution and management.

Additionally, Blair received the Conference USA Academic Medal of Honor and was on the conference’s Academic Commissioner’s Honor Roll. She was inducted into Sigma Delta, Beta Chapter Industrial Distribution Honor Society, Beta Gamma Sigma International Honor Society and Chi Alpha Sigma National College Athlete Honor Society.

A member of the Trinidad & Tobago national soccer team, Blair was UAB’s Most Valuable Player and received the UAB Coach’s Award in 2009. Blair was named a UAB Student-Athlete of the Week multiple times.

Annie Chandler
Conference: Pac-12
Major: Journalism
Sport: Swimming
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas
Excerpt from personal statement: “Honoring your team can be pouring your heart into practice, striving for academic excellence, leading with integrity, or joyfully serving your community. The ability to contribute is an honor. Community service can open an athlete’s eyes to a world beyond sport – a world incomprehensibly grateful for your contributions.”

She’s an NCAA Division I swimming national champion and record holder in the 100-meter breaststroke, but Chandler’s excellence extends well outside the pool. A top-12 finalist for the University of Arizona’s Outstanding Senior Awards, Chandler excelled in the classroom, graduating cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She also served as managing editor of the Tombstone Epitaph, the school’s biweekly newspaper in 2010, and earned First-Team Academic All-American honors by ESPN The Magazine the same year.

A supporter of her community, Chandler has dedicated countless hours to service, visiting with hospital patients, working with underprivileged children and volunteering at numerous swimming clinics to spread her love of the sport.

Chandler was a leader in athletics as well, serving as team captain of Arizona’s swimming and diving team, and helping freshmen transition into their lives as student-athletes as a Peer Athletic Leader.

In addition to her individual national championship in the 100-yard breaststroke, Chandler won six additional national championships in medley relays during her four-year tenure at Arizona. Chandler, an 18-time All-American also competed internationally in 2008 and 2010 when she was a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team.

Grace Johnson
School: Georgia
Conference: SEC
Majors: Health Promotion & Education
Sport: Gymnastics
Hometown: Aiken, S.C.
Excerpt from personal statement:  “My life-long interest is to serve in underprivileged communities, specifically through missions and non-profit work. Initially, I thought becoming a medical doctor would best prepare me to fulfill my calling; however, it was my work in the community that led me to realize the cost-effectiveness and great need for preventative medicine and education.”

Johnson knows the true meaning of being a champion, helping the Gym Dogs to three NCAA national championship team titles during her collegiate tenure. She also earned numerous individual accolades, including the NCAA balance beam title in 2008 and five All-America honors.  

Selected to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America First Team in 2010, Johnson was also a member of the National Gymnastics Coaches Association All-Scholastic Team from 2007 to 2010. She was named to the University of Georgia Athletics Director’s Honor Roll four consecutive years and earned the highest GPA on the gymnastics team in 2008 and 2009.  In her field of study, she earned a UGA College of Public Health honor student recognition in 2009 and 2010. She earned the UGA Ramsey Scholarship for Athletic and Academic Excellence, which recognizes the top 10 UGA student-athletes who have the highest GPAs.  

In the community, Johnson taught gymnastics to Special Olympics athletes; was a Bible study leader; collected canned food for a local food bank; and was an intern at Mercy Health Center. She also served as a student member of the UGA Athletic Association Board of Directions, a mentor for freshmen student-athletes and a member of the university’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

Division II

Victoria Hansen
School: West Liberty
Conference: West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
Major: Mathematics Education
Sport: Basketball
Hometown: McKean, Penn.
Excerpt from personal statement: “My experiences and opportunities as a high-profile student-athlete in the West Liberty community have transformed my life. Simply put, I’m not the same quiet little girl who came to this campus with the singular goal of developing my basketball skills. Four years later, I have found my ‘voice’ and grown into an outgoing and confident young woman who is ready to guide future generations as my teachers and coaches have guided me.”

A mathematics education major, Hansen took the lead in the classroom throughout college.  

Finishing her degree with a 4.0 GPA, she was the 2010-11 Capital One/CoSIDA College Division Academic All-American of the Year and the 2009-10 NCAA Division II Conference Commissioners Association Atlantic Region Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

Hansen dedicated significant time serving the West Liberty community, volunteering as a mathematics tutor and as an after-school counselor for inner-city youth.  Her passion for children shone as she volunteered countless hours to West Liberty-led service days that created physical activity opportunities for youth, including those with physical challenges.   She also supported her fellow West Liberty student-athletes, volunteering as a sports information student assistant, leading the stat crew for all volleyball matches.

On the court, Hansen was a three-time team captain from 2008-11 and was the 2010-11 Daktronics NCAA Division II Atlantic Region Player of the Year.  She is No. 2 on the West Virginia Conference’s all-time leading scoring list with 2,300 career points and was the nation’s third-leading scorer in back-to-back years during her sophomore and junior seasons.

Hewenfei Elwen Li
School: BYU-Hawaii
Conference: Pacific West
Majors: Biology Pre-Professional and Exercise Sport Science
Sport: Tennis
Hometown: Chengdu, Sichuan P.R. China
Excerpt from personal statement:  “Professors from many disciplines and a coach helped me to understand that success is judged not by what others see, but by how one feels.  I have been privileged that those same professors and the coach cared enough about me as a person to push me outside the lab and the gym.  Because of this, I placed myself in situations where I could serve, where I could learn from others and where I could understand how others think and feel.”  

At Brigham Young-Hawaii, Li had a major presence on the tennis court, in the classroom and in the community.   She earned Pacific West Conference All-Academic honors three consecutive years (2009-11) and was the Pacific West Women’s Tennis Scholar of the Year four years in a row.   She was named to the Dean’s List nearly every semester and graduated magna cum laude.

Li was ranked as high as second nationally in singles and earned top honors in doubles competition her freshman and senior seasons.   She helped her team to second place at the NCAA Division II Women’s Tennis Championships in 2008 and 2010 and a third-place team finish in 2009.  Additionally, she was named the Pacific West Conference Player of the Year and the conference tournament MVP in 2010.   From 2007 to 2011, her record in singles was 105-3 and her record in doubles was 106-4.

Li was a member her school’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, a volunteer teacher for community junior tennis groups and a volunteer who conducted seminars for elementary students on health and wellness.    She also helped build playgrounds for student housing facilities and helped the BYU-Hawaii Student Association with soccer field renovations.  

As a leader, Li was named vice president of her school’s pre-med club. She was also a volunteer counselor with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, responding to calls on mental illness issues.    

Kelsey Ward
School: Drury
Conference: Great Lakes Valley
Majors: Chemistry and Biology
Sport: Swimming
Hometown: St. Charles, Mo.
Excerpt from personal statement: “My passion to be a doctor began when I was very young, and that passion has only grown over the years. My sophomore year of college, my best friend was diagnosed with cancer, and then a second teammate was diagnosed with a brain tumor. These two experiences validated in me how people’s lives are put back together through the dedication of doctors.”   

Ward earned numerous academic honors while at Drury, including being named to the Dean’s List every semester.  Named Outstanding Freshman in Chemistry, she continued to earn accolades and was named a College Swimming Coaches Association of America Scholar All-American her freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years.   She was a two-time nominee for the prestigious NCAA Elite 88 honor and was a finalist for the NCAA Walter Byers Award.   She also earned an NCAA postgraduate scholarship and now is studying medicine in Colorado.

Ward, a team captain, helped Drury to three NCAA Division II national championships during her four years.   She also finished in the top 10 at the national championships her senior year in the 50-, 100-, and 200-freestyle events.   She set national records in swimming and was a member of several relay teams that had top finishes.   

Giving back to the community, she helped organize Drury’s annual blood drive; volunteered with Habitat for Humanity; was a meet timer for the Special Olympics; and organized a volunteer walk initiative for a Leukemia and Lymphoma Society “Light the Night” event.   She was treasurer for the Pre-Health Professions Club; a member of Drury’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee; a member of the American Chemical Society; and a member of the Tri Beta Honor Society.

Division III

Laura Barito
School: Stevens Tech
Conference: Empire 8
Major: Mechanical Engineering
Sports: Swimming, Track and Cross Country
Hometown: Arkadelphia, Ark.
Excerpt from personal statement: “Someone believed in me four years ago. They believed in me as a student, at a challenging school with a rigorous curriculum. They believed in me as an athlete and gave me resources to grow from an un-recruited swimmer to a national champion. I leave with a prestigious degree in mechanical engineering and proof that the underdog can surpass expectations.”

A 22-time All-American in swimming and track, Barito is a national champion in swimming (50-yard freestyle) and track (400-meter hurdles) – Stevens’ first national championships.

An eight-time Empire 8 record holder for numerous swimming events, Barito was named conference Athlete of the Week nine times during her career.  Barito was the hurdle/sprint team captain for track, as well as nutrition representative and service leader for the track and swimming teams.  Selected twice as Stevens Athlete of the Year, she was also the Empire 8 Swimmer of the Year.

Barito served on the school’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, volunteered as a server at a local homeless shelter and tutored underprivileged school children.  At her church, she was a member of the worship band, a greeter and a member of the college ministry team.

Barito, a mathematics enthusiast, appeared on the President’s List from 2007 to 2011 and was named a NCAA Scholar All-American from 2008 to 2011. CoSIDA/ESPN The Magazine named Barito to the Academic All-America First Team and the Empire 8 named her a Senior Scholar winner.  Barito, a Stevens Honors Scholar, was also a member of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society and Pi Tau Sigma Mechanical Engineering Honor Society.

Michaela Calnan
College: Bowdoin
Conference: New England Small College Athletic Conference
Major: Neuroscience
Sports: Field Hockey and Ice Hockey
Hometown:  Melrose, Mass.
Excerpt from personal statement: “Throughout my college career I have been presented with extraordinary opportunities and I have been able to follow my passions to the fullest on the field, in the classroom and in my community. While following my passions, I have created a unique identity for myself on campus – I am not just another athlete, scientist, or volunteer. Instead, I think of myself as a well-rounded woman and a contributing member of my community.”

A Sarah and James Bowdoin Scholar, Calnan was named to the New England Small College Athletic Conference All-Academic Team for ice hockey and field hockey multiple times. Calnan, a neuroscience major was named a National Field Hockey Coaches Association Academic-All American each of her four years at Bowdoin and graduated with honors.

While attending Bowdoin, Calnan served as a McKeen Fellow for Community Engagement for the Center for Common Good from 2009 to 2011. She was the treasurer of Circle K, a community service and leadership program, and she served as a group leader for a middle school mentoring program.  Calnan also participated in a book drive for Ghana and worked a sports station at a Girls and Women in Sports Day event.   She was a member of a committee that organized workshops to help underclassmen gain or refine skills to help them succeed in college, and she was a facilitator for a group that encouraged discussions with women’s athletic teams about sexual assaults and violence.

Calnan led her team to three NCAA Division III field hockey national titles.  As ice hockey team captain, she also received the Seventh Player Award in 2010 and the Christopher Charles Watras Memorial Women’s Ice Hockey Trophy in 2010 and 2011. Calnan was named to the NESCAC All-Sportsmanship Team for ice hockey in 2011 and to the NFCHA Second Team All-Region squad in 2010.  In addition, Calnan received an Unsung Hero award for field hockey in 2010.

Hayley Emerick
School: Trinity (Texas)
Conference: Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference
Major: Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing
Sport: Diving
Hometown: Portland, Texas
Excerpt from personal statement: “My academic experience taught me hard work, perseverance, and determination while my athletic experience taught me to set my goals high and to create a plan for reaching them step-by-step.  It has given me patience and the ability to plan well into the future, and I have realized that rigorous preparation, though tough, eventually pays off.”

A six-time All-American, Emerick achieved academic and athletic excellence while a member of Trinity University’s diving team, serving as its captain for the 2010-11 season.  She competed in the NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Championships all four of her years on the team, winning the three-meter diving title in 2010 and placing second in the three-meter and one-meter events in 2011.  She was also an outstanding member of the community, serving the San Antonio and Corpus Christi areas in a variety of capacities, including work for the YWCA, YMCA and Habitat for Humanity.

The summer before her senior year, Emerick spent five weeks in Costa Rica with the Cross Cultural Solutions Volunteer Abroad program.  She worked on marketing development for a small business in the country, while volunteering at a local orphanage and teaching English at a local university.

She excelled in the classroom as a member of Alpha Lambda Delta honor society and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and was a founding member of the Delta Sigma Pi business fraternity on Trinity’s campus.  She was a 2009-10 ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American and is the recipient of an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship.