Nine student-athletes have been selected as finalists for the 2014 NCAA Woman of the Year award, which will be announced Oct. 19 during a ceremony in Indianapolis.
Three women from each NCAA division were selected to form the nine finalists. Their college athletics careers are marked by outstanding achievements in the pillars of the Woman of the Year award: 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. Schools nominated 446 student-athletes for the 2014 award.
Following are biographies of this year’s Woman of the Year finalists, including excerpts from their personal statements in the nomination materials.
College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin
Majors: Political Science, English
Hometown: St. Charles, Illinois
Excerpt from personal statement: “Athletics reveal the quality of traits like character and toughness to others, but more important to the athletes themselves. I’ve found this truth more valuable, barring my family and my faith, than anything else in my life so far. It is precisely these truths about myself and others that have inspired my passionate commitment to people -- from Nicaragua to Illinois Wesleyan University.”
A two-year captain of the Illinois Wesleyan University women’s basketball team, Alexa Baltes embraced her leadership role both on and off the court. Baltes served one year on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, but her greatest leadership role was one in which she mentored and financially supported a young child in Nicaragua. She was later named to the All State Good Works Team.
The political science and English literature double-major excelled in the classroom, making the Dean’s list every semester and graduating summa cum laude. She also earned multiple Academic All-America honors and joined Pi Sigma Alpha, the political science honor society, and Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society. In 2012, at the NCAA national championship for women’s basketball, she was awarded the Elite 89 award, which recognizes the student-athlete competing in the championship with the highest GPA.
Baltes was a four-year letter-winner for the women’s basketball team. She was a member of the team that made a Division III national semifinal appearance in 2011 and won the national championship in 2012. She recorded the first triple-double in school history and was named the team’s co-most valuable player in 2014. She was also a finalist for the Josten’s Trophy, a national award given to an outstanding basketball student-athlete for excellence on the court, academic ability and community service.
Big Ten Conference
Major: Learning and Organizational Change
Hometown: Rolling Hills Estate, California
Excerpt from personal statement: “I am humbled and grateful to be receiving one of the most prestigious educations in the country while simultaneously pursuing my passion on the softball field. I stepped foot on this campus with the goal of giving back and impacting those around me – my team and my community. Little did I know the lessons learned through those experiences would transfer to all avenues of life, enhancing me personally by encouraging me to radiate positivity and optimism and view each day as a Northwestern student-athlete as an opportunity to better myself and make a difference for others.”
Marisa Bast, a softball student-athlete at Northwestern University, served for three years on her campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Her senior year, Bast spearheaded the launch of an ongoing anti-bullying campaign, Reach Out and Reinforce Respect (ROARR), which pairs Northwestern student-athletes with local middle and elementary schools to advocate against bullying.
Bast was named three times to the Academic All-Big Ten team and was a two-time Big Ten Distinguished Scholar. She was nominated for the Senior CLASS Award, and received the Eggemeyer Family Endowed Scholarship and Walter K. Smart Endowed Scholarship, which is awarded to a junior or senior student-athlete to recognize devoted interest in college athletics.
The four-year softball star ended her athletics eligibility ranked sixth among active NCAA Division I players in runs batted in with 194 during her career. She was named three times to the All-Big Ten first team. She finished one home run shy of the Big Ten Triple Crown in 2012, leading the Big Ten as the batting champion and RBI champion in 2012 and being named an NFCA All-America selection.
Krista Bellefeuille (Stoltz)
Upper Midwest Athletic Conference
Major: Elementary Education
Hometown: Lino Lakes, Minnesota
Excerpt from personal statement: “A legacy is a lasting impact impressed upon others and within myself. With others, I learned the incredible benefit of extending unconditional love, authentically investing in lives, and building lifelong friendships that will support and encourage. Within myself, I believe the opportunities I was involved in as a scholar, athlete, and leader have shaped me into a woman of character.”
Krista Bellefeuille, a two-year captain for Northwestern-St. Paul’s women’s volleyball team, wanted to establish a legacy of leadership and service off the court during her time in college. She spent several years mentoring elementary students and tutoring them in reading, volunteering as a club volleyball coach and leading a children’s small group at Eaglebrook Church. Bellefeuille also participated for three years in a leadership development program and served for two years as an admissions ambassador.
Bellefeuille made the Dean’s list every semester and received high honors in elementary education. She earned Capital One Academic All-America honors and American Volleyball Coaches Association All-America honors, and the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference Scholar-Athlete Leadership Award in 2014. She was a recipient of the Linda Beschorner Memorial Scholarship, the Charles and Ellora Alliss Education Scholarship, and the Wade Wahl Memorial Scholarship.
The setter for the women’s volleyball team was a four-year letter winner and three-time conference champion. She was the UMAC Player of the Year and conference tournament Most Valuable Player in 2013. Bellefeuille was a member of the first Northwestern-St. Paul team to earn a berth to the NCAA tournament, and her class was the first to earn four consecutive berths. Bellefeuille graduated as the NCAA Division III leader among active setters for career assists and sets, and earned the Northwestern Eagle Award, presented to the school’s top female student-athlete for service, leadership, and academic and athletic accomplishments.
Sunshine State Conference
Major: International Relations
Hometown: Petrie, Australia
Excerpt from personal statement: “My experience as a collegiate golfer has shaped me into someone who looks beyond individual results, having learnt the importance of working hard for the collective success of a team. I recognize now that this has been one of the greatest and most valuable lessons presented to me. I will continue throughout my life as someone who believes in giving back and helping others, motivated by the opportunities that have come my way as scholar, athlete and leader in the community.”
Ellen Chambers, an Australian golf student-athlete at Lynn University, dove into American politics during her collegiate career. She served all four years of her eligibility on her campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, joined the Lynn University College Democrats while serving Organizing for America, and served as vice president of the International Affairs Society for two years. Chambers volunteered at the 2012 U.S. General Election Final Presidential Debate, after which she was selected to provide a number of local, national and international interviews discussing foreign policy. She also spent two years mentoring female high school students with Lynn’s Leading Ladies.
Chambers earned a perfect 4.0 GPA in college, was a member of the university’s honors program and made the Dean’s list every semester. In 2011, Chambers presented research at the 20th Annual Women and Society Conference. She was inducted into the Lynn University Honors Society in 2012, and represented Lynn at the University of Pennsylvania’s Model United Nations conference. She presented to the Broadcast Education Association Regional Conference in 2013 and was inducted into the Lynn University President’s Honor Society. In 2014, Chambers was named to the Women’s Golf Coaches Association Scholar All-America team, was named Lynn University’s Scholar Athlete of the Year and also won the Division II Elite 89 Award.
As a four-year golf student-athlete, Chambers won two NCAA team national championships, and was the first Super Region 2 individual medalist in school history. She finished fourth individually in the 2013 national championship to help propel her team to the national championship, and was a member of the first team in school history to win the Sunshine State Conference championship in 2014. The team also tied the Sunshine State Conference record with seven consecutive team tournament victories. Her senior year, Chambers was named the Sunshine State Conference Female Scholar Athlete of the Year.
Majors: Retailing and Consumer Sciences, Family Studies and Human Development
Sport: Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field
Hometown: Sheridan, Oregon
Excerpt from personal statement: “I now know that I am more than just a student-athlete. I am a member of a greater community and have a greater calling. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had and I hope that my journey inspires others to take advantage of the opportunities that are before them.”
A four-year team captain for University of Arizona’s track and field teams, Alyssa Hasslen led her peers off the field as a peer athletic advisor, mentoring freshmen student-athletes during the transition to college. She also served for one year on Arizona’s campus SAAC and was named the ambassador of the year for the Terry J. Lundgren Center, where she acted as a liaison between companies and students within the retailing and consumer sciences program.
Hasslen graduated magna cum laude, after making the Dean’s list six semesters and also earning an honorable mention for the Dean’s list another three semesters. Hasslen was named an Arizona Athletics Academic Champion four times, and was named to the Pac-10 All-Academic team in 2011. In 2014, she won Arizona’s Home Depot Marketing Team Challenge, earning the opportunity to continue the challenge at the national level. She was also twice named to the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-Academic team.
A discus thrower and shot-putter, Hasslen recorded the second-furthest shot put throw and sixth-furthest discus throw in Arizona history. The four-time All-American was runner up in the shot put in the Pac-12 four straight years, and was also a finalist in the discus all four years. She competed internationally all four years of her college career, including the USA Junior World Team in 2010, the USA Pan-Am team in 2011, the USA NACAC team in 2012 and the USA World Championship team in 2013. She was also a finalist in the 2012 USA Olympic trials, and continues to work toward her dream of competing in the Olympics after her graduation from Arizona.
University Athletic Association
Majors: Anthropology, Human Biology
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
Excerpt from personal statement: “Although my athletic career is coming to an end, the takeaways will last well into my graduate studies and into the field. I owe much of my previous success in the classroom and in my leadership positions to my sport. Moving forward into public health, I believe that all kids deserve this same opportunity… It takes just one ball to change a child’s life.”
A two-year softball team captain for Emory University, Megan Light established herself as a campus leader both on and off the field. She served four years as the softball team’s representative on Emory’s campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Off the field, she volunteered at a homeless shelter and Global Health Action, where she worked with donors on the Left-Behind Children program in China.
Light earned two Capital One Academic All-America honors and made the dean’s list every semester. Light was a recipient of Emory’s Brittain Award, Emory’s highest student honor, which recognizes a graduate who has demonstrated exemplary service to the university and the greater community. She was also named to the Mortar Board Senior Honors Society, which recognizes 50 seniors based on leadership, scholarship and service, and was the 2010 Atlanta Sports Award Female Scholar Athlete of the Year. She went on to earn the 2014 Charles Shepard Scholarship as she pursues her graduate degree.
On the field, Light was a four-time conference champion and earned three All-America honors from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association, including two first-team nods. Light is Emory’s career leader in home runs, slugging percentage, runs batted in, doubles and total bases. She also holds seasonal records for Emory in homeruns, slugging percentage and runs scored. In 2013, she competed for Team USA at the Maccabiah Games, and she received the 2013-14 Partin Award, which recognizes a student-athlete for an outstanding career or season performance in a team-based sport.
East Coast Conference
Hometown: Wantagh, New York
Excerpt from personal statement: “Since becoming a collegiate athlete, I have had numerous opportunities to partake in various community service events and volunteer activities… Through taking part in these community service events, I have realized that it is my true passion in life to help others whether it be through coaching or counseling. I feel compelled to a certain degree to look out for the wellbeing of others and remain humble and selfless.”
Jackie Sileo saw sports, and specifically lacrosse, as an opportunity to make a difference during her college career. She volunteered at lacrosse clinics for children of all ages, taught special needs children to ride bicycles, and helped raise money to fund a middle school lacrosse team, while also volunteering at a local Ronald McDonald House and assisting with relief efforts following Hurricane Sandy.
Sileo was named to the Dean’s list five times and received Academic All-America honors in 2012. She was inducted into Psi Chi Honor Society in 2013 and Chi Sigma Iota Society in 2014, and is currently pursuing her graduate degree in School Counseling.
Sileo played four years for LIU Post’s women’s lacrosse team and was a team captain in her junior and senior seasons. She was a member of two national championship teams and earned All-America honors from the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association in each of her years in a Pioneer uniform. Sileo holds an NCAA Division II championship record for number of points scored and was named the Most Outstanding Player at the 2012 championship. Sileo was a three-time East Coast Conference Player of the Year and Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association Attacker of the Year, and a two-time Division II Women's Lacrosse Honda Player of the Year. As a junior, Sileo broke the NCAA Division II all-time assist record, and this past year shattered the career points record across all divisions. She rounded out her storied career with 195 goals and 369 assists.
Atlantic Coast Conference
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
Excerpt from personal statement: “Although I will not have the responsibilities of a Division I student-athlete next year, I hope to take with me the lessons I’ve learned from these past four years. Namely, that the path opened up to me by my particular talents will not only allow me to achieve my greatest personal success, but will also provide me with the most fruitful opportunities for helping those around me and the community in which I live.”
Notre Dame women’s soccer student-athlete Elizabeth Tucker gave back to her campus and community through numerous activities and leadership roles. She served for two years as an executive board member on Notre Dame’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, provided support to a patient at the South Bend Memorial Hospital in the oncology ward, and worked at a local public library to assist low-income and elderly taxpayers with their tax returns. She also participated for three years in the Rosenthal Leadership Academy, which offers workshops for student-athletes to impart skills, insights and strategies necessary to create and sustain effective leadership.
Tucker earned a perfect 4.0 GPA and graduated as a valedictory finalist for her class. She made the Dean’s list every semester and was awarded an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship and the Atlantic Coast Conference Postgraduate Scholarship. Tucker received the 2013 Eugene D. Fanning Scholarship Award, recognizing exceptional achievement in business communication in Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, and the 2012 Notre Dame Accounting Excellence Award, recognizing the top 20 accounting majors. She was selected for the 2014 Tara K. Deutsch Award, given to a Notre Dame accountancy senior who displays exemplary social consciousness and devotion to those less fortunate, and the 2014 Top Hamilton Award for accountancy for having the highest cumulative GPA, among many other accolades.
Tucker was a member of the 2010 NCAA Division I national champion team in women’s soccer, and was named to the 2010 BIG EAST All-Rookie team. She went on to win the 2014 Byron V. Kanaley Award, for leadership in Notre Dame athletics, and the 2014 Francis Patrick O’Connor Award, for embracing the spirit of Notre Dame athletics. She was also a member of the 2012 United States U-23 women’s national team player pool.
Lone Star Conference
Major: Kinesiology Pre-Physical Therapy
Hometown: Danbury, Texas
Excerpt from personal statement: “Throughout my undergraduate experience I have been shaped by challenges in the classroom and on the field as well as through my service and scholastic community experiences… Being a student-athlete has allowed me to grow into a woman who upholds her moral character, works diligently and intensely on all tasks, knows the importance of giving back, and is a leader with a purpose.”
A three-year captain for the softball team, Bailey Vrazel led her peers off the field as well. She participated for three years on the Texas Woman’s University campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, while coaching a 16U softball team, volunteering with the Brazosport Regional Medical Center Physical Therapy group, the Good Samaritan Nursing Home and the Angleton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center. Vrazel joined the Athenian Honor Society and was named the 2013 Honors Student-Athlete of the Year.
The kinesiology major plans to pursue a higher degree in physical therapy. She graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA and was named every semester to the Chancellor’s list, which recognizes students with a 4.0 average. For three straight years, she won the Texas Woman’s University Chancellor’s Award, the highest accolade given to a student-athlete recognizing excellence in sports, the classroom, and the promotion of athletics. Vrazel was also recognized by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association with All-America Scholar honors three times. She received the Division II Athletics Directors Association Academic Achievement Award three times, and was selected as the 2013 recipient of the Division II softball Elite 89 Award. She went on to win the 2014 Texas Woman’s University Outstanding Senior Award, in recognition of her academic excellence, involvement in extracurricular activities and contributions to the life of the university. She received multiple Academic All-America honors, and received the 2014 NCAA Ethnic Minority and Women’s Enhancement Postgraduate Scholarship. She rounded out her academic accolades as the 2014 Capital One All-America of the Year for softball.
Vrazel made her mark on the field as well. The three-time NFCA All-American currently holds the Texas Woman’s University and Lone Star Conference career and single-season records in stolen bases and hits, in addition to the university’s single-season records in runs, walks and consecutive stolen bases. She is ranked second overall in Division II in career stolen bases and for two consecutive years (2011 and 2012), she was awarded the NFCA Division II Golden Shoe Award as the nation’s top base stealer.