Kristin Day, a recent graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania who competed as a college diver while majoring in chemistry, is the 2015 NCAA Woman of the Year and 25th recipient of the award since the program began in 1991.
The Woman of the Year Award recognizes female student-athletes for outstanding academic achievement, athletics excellence, community service and leadership. Day is the 11th women’s swimming and diving college athlete and fourth Division II athlete to be named NCAA Woman of the Year in the 25-year history of the program.
“It’s such a humbling experience to be here and among the Top 30, who are all so impressive,” Day said. “I’ve had so many people help me along the way, and I can’t be thankful enough for all of them and for the NCAA for helping me get to this point. It’s just been incredible.”
The Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania, native attended Clarion University for two reasons: the academic offerings and the swimming and diving program. She chose the program in part because it is led by Mark VanDyke, who has coached national championship-winning divers in 23 of his 26 years of coaching.
“My junior year, we were able to sweep the whole championship for men and women, which was great because Coach has only done that a few times during his career,” Day said. “We wanted to be able to do that for him because he does so much for us, and bringing it together as a team was awesome.”
Day left her mark on the swimming and diving program at Clarion as an eight-time All-American and three-time NCAA national champion. She won the 1-meter dive in 2014 and 2015 and the 3-meter dive in 2015 with 539.35 points, an NCAA record. Before the national championship her senior year, she and her teammates challenged themselves to sweep the diving events for their coach – and with Day’s leadership and outstanding performance, they did just that. In 2014, the College Swimming Coaches Association of America named her the Division II Diver of the Year.
Day also competed internationally in trampoline and won a team gold medal at the Loule Cup in Portugal while representing the United States. Her sophomore year, she elected to stop competing in the trampoline to focus on academics.
“I ended up retiring because for world championships, we had to miss two weeks of school,” Day said. “I figured that wasn’t going to work with me being a chemistry major and missing labs and other classes during those two weeks. I chose to focus on school and diving.”
Day graduated with a 4.0 grade point average and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, concentrating in biochemistry. In 2014, Day won the NCAA Elite 89 Award, presented to the college athlete competing at an NCAA championship who has the highest GPA. She earned Capital One Division II At-Large Academic All-America of the Year honors in back-to-back years, and she received Clarion’s Undergraduate Award for Achievement in Organic Chemistry and Analytical Chemistry. In 2015, Day received the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference’s Pete Nevins Award for Scholar Athlete of the Year.
“I wasn’t someone who was always in the lab because I spent so much time in the pool, so academic awards were very special,” Day said. “I’m thankful for everything I learned with taking hard classes and practicing all the time, and it’s definitely helping me now in medical school. It’s the same amount of ‘busy-ness,’ but it’s only studying now, and I feel prepared to go after my career goals.”
Day comes from a close-knit family that has long believed in giving back to the community. Since 2006, her family has hosted an annual ATV Ride for Research event, which raises funds for the fight against cancer and several other diseases, including Alzheimer’s and juvenile diabetes. Day serves as the chief financial officer for that event, which has raised more than $60,000 to date.
Day volunteered as part of her campus community as well, serving on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee for two years and leading her team in efforts to raise funds for a local cancer treatment center. She also provided swim lessons and tutoring services to local children throughout her four years at Clarion.
Day is now attending medical school at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, after receiving an NCAA Post-Graduate scholarship. She hopes to work in orthopedic medicine in central Pennsylvania area after she graduates.
“I had my first surgery on my elbows when I was 11,” Day said. “My orthopedic surgeon really cared about my health and getting me back to my sports as quickly as he could. He showed me what kind of physician you can be and what kind of impact you can have. It inspired me to want to be like him and bring that back to my hometown since we don’t have a sports doctor. While I’d like to specialize in sports, in a small town I’ll end up doing all orthopedics. People will still need hip replacements because people need to walk, and I’ll want to be able to get them back as soon as possible as well.”
The NCAA Woman of the Year Selection Committee chose the nine finalists from the top 30 national honorees. From the nine finalists, the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics, comprised of representatives from NCAA schools and conferences, selected Day as this year’s NCAA Woman of the Year. An event Sunday in Indianapolis celebrated the top 30 honorees, who had been selected from a record pool of 147 conference nominees.
To be eligible for the award, a female student-athlete must have completed eligibility in her primary sport by the end of the 2015 spring season, graduated no later than the end of the summer 2015 term and achieved a minimum cumulative grade-point average of 2.5. Last year’s NCAA Woman of the Year was Elizabeth Tucker, a soccer player from the University of Notre Dame.