Nine former college athletes have been selected as finalists for the 2016 NCAA Woman of the Year Award and will be honored at an awards dinner Oct. 16 in Indianapolis.
The 2016 Woman of the Year will be named at that event.
Three women from each NCAA division were selected. Their college careers are highlighted by outstanding achievements in academics, athletics, community service and leadership.
The nine finalists were chosen from 30 Woman of the Year honorees who will be recognized during the event. This group of 30 includes 10 honorees from each NCAA division and represents a range of sports. Schools nominated 517 college athletes for the 2016 award.
Following are biographies of this year’s Woman of the Year finalists, including excerpts from their personal statements in the nomination materials:
School: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Conference: New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference
Sport: Women’s swimming and diving
Majors: Electrical engineering and computer science; biological engineering
Hometown: San Diego
Excerpt from personal statement: “Through the last 15 years, 10,000 miles, and countless memories of laughter and tears, swimming has morphed from a personal avocation to my vehicle towards becoming a physician-scientist and pushing the limits of medical technology. … For, through the eyes of a swimmer, there is no limit to the possible.”
Margaret Guo was an Amgen Scholar and Griffith Lab researcher all four years during college and later served as president of the MIT Society of Women Engineers. During her time in college, Guo co-authored two scientific studies and currently has two patents pending in the medical technology field.
Guo earned a perfect 5.0 grade-point average on a five-point scale as a double major in electrical engineering and computer science, and biological engineering. In 2015, she won the NCAA’s Elite 89 Award, now called the Elite 90 Award, which is presented to the student-athlete with the highest grade-point average who is competing at a national championship finals site. She was named a Rhodes finalist and Goldwater scholar in 2015, and received the Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar Award in 2016. In 2015-16, Guo was named the College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-American of the Year for the Division III women’s at-large team.
While competing for the MIT swimming and diving program, Guo was a member of the 200-yard freestyle relay, 400 freestyle relay, the 400 medley relay and the 200 medley relay teams. She and her relay teammates set NEWMAC records in three of her events at the conference championships in 2016. She earned six all-conference honors, and five All-America honors from the College Swimming Coaches Association of America. Beyond her relay achievements, this year also marked the first time in which she has individually qualified for the Division III Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships.
School: Iowa State University
Conference: Big 12 Conference
Sport: Women’s track and field
Majors: Child, adult and family services; psychology
Hometown: Dover, Delaware
Excerpt from personal statement: “As a two-time national champion and summa cum laude graduate, I have succeeded in both my athletic and academic careers; but to me, those are not my most important accomplishments. Rather, I am thankful to have had the opportunity to use my status as an athlete and leader to promote positive change on Iowa State’s campus and in the Ames community.”
Christina Hillman’s experience as a student-athlete provided a platform for her to engage with her community. She spent more than 500 hours volunteering for a Youth & Shelter Services residential treatment facility, where she worked with teenage women battling drug addictions. She was recognized by Iowa State University as a Women Impacting ISU honoree in 2014-15, and received the Gender & Sexuality Equity Change Agent Award in the same year for her work with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied students organization on campus.
A double major in child, adult and family services and psychology, Hillman excelled in the classroom. She earned two CoSIDA Academic All-America first-team honors, and in 2015-16, she was named the CoSIDA Academic All-American of the Year for Division I cross country and track and field. The Big 12 Conference named her to the Academic All-Big 12 Team four times, and in 2014-15, she received the Big 12 Dr. Gerald Lage Academic Achievement Award.
Hillman propelled herself to two national championships in the shot put in the 2013-14 academic year, in both indoor and outdoor track and field, and earned Iowa State University Female Athlete of the Year honors. She is a three-time Big 12 champion and seven-time United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-American. She also has represented the United States at the Junior Olympics, where she won first place in the shot put in 2012. Hillman also holds the school record in the indoor and outdoor shot put events.
School: West Texas A&M University
Conference: Lone Star Conference
Sport: Women’s track and field
Major: Broadcasting and electronic media
Hometown: Amarillo, Texas
Excerpt from personal statement: “I’ve had the opportunity to mentor young students in my community at my church, to play volleyball with students in an impoverished neighborhood in Nicaragua and teach English to children from families in Spain and Italy. All that was about seeing what I could contribute, and contributing whole-heartedly. Being a competitor means loving your team, no matter who that is; working together to achieve a greater purpose.”
Bri Leeper actively engaged with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes organization throughout her time in college, serving as a huddle leader for high school girls and speaking at area middle schools and high schools. She also volunteered with an animal shelter and her campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee’s fundraising efforts for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Leeper embraced leadership opportunities as a two-year member of the Lone Star Conference’s SAAC and was a two-time winner of the Jack B. Kelley Leadership Award.
Leeper graduated with a perfect grade-point average and a degree in broadcasting and electronic media. She was a two-time winner of the Elite 90 Award, presented to the student-athlete with the highest grade-point average who is competing at a national championship finals site. In 2016, she was named the Lone Star Conference Outdoor Track and Field Academic Runner of the Year. She also earned two CoSIDA Academic All-District honors in 2015 and 2016.
A three-time United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-American, Leeper helped lead her team to four Lone Star Conference championships. She was twice named to the all-Lone Star Conference first team, in 2014 and 2015, and in 2016, she received the West Texas A&M University President’s Award. Leeper was also a member of the 4x100-meter relay team that broke the school record and was ranked the second fastest in the country.
School: Limestone College
Conference: Conference Carolinas
Sport: Women’s basketball
Major: Professional biology/pre-dentistry, with a minor in chemistry
Hometown: Marietta, Georgia
Excerpt from personal statement: “Being a scholar-athlete and leader has afforded me the opportunity to positively impact others in various settings. … These experiences have added to my character and expanded my horizon. I know when I put God first and give back, I will be taken care of simply from the joy I get from bettering others.”
Maurissa Lester participated in the student government for four years at Limestone College, assuming leadership roles as class vice president for three years and eventually as the executive president in her senior year. She also volunteered with the Limestone PALS Program by tutoring disabled students and helping them with note-taking. Plus, she found time to travel to Tanzania and Belize on mission trips, where she worked as a dental hygiene presenter in addition to volunteering in the communities and mentoring local children.
A biology and pre-dentistry major with a minor in chemistry, Lester thrived in the classroom, earning CoSIDA Academic All-America honors in 2016. She earned two Conference Carolinas Academic All-Conference honors, and in 2015-16, was named the conference Scholar Athlete of the Year. In 2016, she was named the Woman of the Year by the American Association of University Women. In 2014, she won the NCAA Elite 89 Award, now called the Elite 90 Award. In 2014-15, Lester was named the Limestone College most outstanding junior biology student. She next plans to attend dental school.
On the court, Lester led her team to four conference regular season championships, three conference tournament championships, four NCAA tournament appearances, two appearances in the Elite Eight and one semifinal appearance. She earned three nods as the conference player of the week, was an all-Conference Carolinas first-team selection her senior year, was named to the Division II Conference Commissioners Association all-region second team as a senior, and in 2015-16, was a Conference Carolinas All-Tournament Team member. In 2016, Lester was a finalist for the Murphy Osborne Award, presented to the best senior student-athlete in the conference.
School: University of Miami (Florida)
Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference
Sport: Women’s swimming and diving
Hometown: Austin, Texas
Excerpt from personal statement: “Although my diving career is over, I am now taking a new plunge into another opportunity: research in the medical field. My next step is a Ph.D., followed by teaching and continued advocacy for young women to follow their passions. I therefore thank my collegiate career for making me the woman I am today, and for allowing me to continue to spread this strength to others around the world.”
Kara McCormack embraced her platform as a student-athlete as a way to lead others on her campus, in her community and on a global scale. The University of Miami (Florida) swimming and diving team captain served on the Atlantic Coast Conference Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. She also volunteered as a pen pal with children at a local elementary school, taking advantage of the opportunity to encourage young girls to pursue interests in math and science. In addition, she went on a trip to rural Vietnam as part of the Coach for College program, where she taught ninth-grade physics and encouraged kids to persevere and attend college.
McCormack made the dean’s list every semester and graduated with a nearly perfect grade-point average in mathematics. She earned three nods as a member of the all-Atlantic Coast Conference Academic Team and received the ACC postgraduate scholarship in 2016. She was inducted into multiple honor societies on campus, and in 2016, was inducted in to the Iron Arrow Honor Society, which is the highest honor for a Miami student who exemplifies love of alma mater, character, leadership, scholarship, and humility. McCormack is now in the process of pursuing her doctorate in mathematics.
In 2013, McCormack was named the ACC Diver of the Year after winning the conference championship on the diving platform. The three-time College Swimming Coaches Association of America All-American qualified for the NCAA championships in 2016 in the 1-meter and 3-meter diving events. She also competed at the Olympics trials for USA Swimming in 2012.
School: Carson-Newman University
Conference: South Atlantic Conference
Hometown: Knoxville, Tennessee
Excerpt from personal statement: “My experiences as a college student, NCAA DII athlete, and servant of my community have given me precious memories, deep-rooted relations, and valuable life lessons that will never leave me. Being a student-athlete allowed me to learn and adjust to life’s priorities, especially when one realizes that being a student really does come before being an athlete.”
Elayna Siebert worked diligently to strike a balance during college among athletics, academics and service. She volunteered with Compassion International, sponsoring a child and actively encouraging others to support the organization. She coached a local travel softball team and regularly served breakfast to the homeless. She also went on a weeklong academic mission to South Africa, which she says renewed her desire to serve others.
Siebert, a two-time CoSIDA Academic All-American, majored in accounting. She was on the dean’s list every semester, in addition to being named a Carson-Newman Hope Scholar and Carson-Newman Presidential Scholar all four years of college. She earned multiple academic accolades on the South Atlantic Conference commissioner’s honor roll. In 2016, she was named the Carson-Newman Academic Athlete of the Year and the South Atlantic Conference Softball Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
On the softball field, Siebert was a utility player for her team, helping lead Carson-Newman to a regular season conference championship in 2015. She was named three times to the all-conference team, and was named a Daktronics All-American in 2015. A two-time South Atlantic Conference player of the week, Siebert is second all-time in Carson-Newman history and seventh in South Atlantic Conference history with 14 career triples. She is now serving as a graduate assistant at Auburn University.
School: Kenyon College
Conference: North Coast Athletic Conference
Sport: Women’s swimming and diving
Major: International studies, with a concentration in Islamic civilization and cultures, and a minor in Arabic
Hometown: Greenwood, Indiana
Excerpt from personal statement: “My simultaneous experiences – as a scholar, an athlete and a leader – allowed me to find greater success than I would have from focusing on any one component exclusively. This synergy propelled me throughout my time at Kenyon and during my abroad experience, and will continue to shape my adult life.”
Haley Townsend used her experience as a swimmer to immerse herself more deeply in the communities around her, both in the United States and during a study-abroad experience in Morocco, where she taught English to Moroccan students and joined a swim team to better know and understand the local community. Domestically, she volunteered in the Kenyon College community, tutoring local high school students, volunteering as a swimming camp counselor and hosting future students on campus visits. She also worked with the Middle East Student Association, serving as the group’s journal editor her senior year and redesigning the journal for a digital format.
An international studies major with a minor in Arabic, Townsend graduated summa cum laude and earned a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Fellowship in Turkey, though the program was later discontinued due to unrest in the region. The three-time CoSIDA Academic All-American earned the 2014 NCAA Elite 89 Award, now known as the Elite 90 Award. She also was recognized by the College Swimming Coaches Association of America as a Scholar All-American for four years, and earned a 2016 NCAA postgraduate scholarship.
Townsend, a swimming and diving team captain, helped lead her team to one conference championship and three second-place finishes at NCAA championships. In individual and relay events, Townsend was a seven-time conference champion, and won the 2013 national championship in the 400-yard medley relay. She is a 16-time CSCAA All-American, holds three school records and the national meet record for the 400-yard medley relay.
School: University of Texas at El Paso
Conference: Conference USA
Sport: Women’s basketball
Major: Criminal justice
Excerpt from personal statement: “Education taught me how to live, think, overcome obstacles, and not to give up. Everyone expected that I’d be a girl who would turn to pregnancy, drugs and poverty; stuck in a cycle. Through determination, will, and basketball I became stronger than my environment and have succeeded in life. My next chapter is law school. Like basketball, law is a skill and it rewards talent.”
Cameasha Turner was a natural leader at the University of Texas at El Paso. She graduated in May 2016 with a perfect 4.0 GPA as a criminal justice major with a minor in psychology/legal reasoning. She was involved with organizations on campus and volunteered with Special Olympics, El Paso Children's Hospital, Let’s SAAC Hunger and the UTEP Mini Basketball Clinic. A consistent visitor to Special Olympics, she helped set up activities and games for the children. She also met with kids fighting cancer to help raise their spirits in their time of need.
She became the first Miner women’s basketball player to be named a CoSIDA Academic All-American (second team). Turner also was voted to the CoSIDA Academic All-District and Conference USA Women’s Basketball All-Academic teams for the second straight year. She is now pursuing her dream of becoming a lawyer and ultimately a judge as a first-semester law student at the University of Notre Dame.
Turner helped lead her team to the 2016 regular-season Conference USA championship, a top-25 ranking in the USA Today Coaches Poll and to the quarterfinals of the 2016 WNIT while also equaling the school's single-season record for both overall (29) and conference (16) wins. Turner, an all-Conference USA first team and all Conference USA defensive team honoree, also was named the 2016 UTEP Female Student-Athlete of the Year.
School: Misericordia University
Conference: Middle Atlantic Conference
Sports: Women’s cross country, track and field
Major: Speech language pathology
Hometown: Sugar Notch, Pennsylvania
Excerpt from personal statement: “I’m forever thankful for every opportunity provided for me at Misericordia University as a student-athlete and how it has shaped me to who I am today. I know that I can move forward, with confidence, building upon these past experiences, continuing to help others, while making the world a little happier by being the best person I can possibly be.”
Amy Viti volunteered extensively with the Misericordia University community, including serving as a camp counselor at Peace Camp, spending time with the Blue Chip Farm Animal Refuge and running in various Relay for Life events. She took leadership opportunities in stride by serving on her campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and launching a drive to donate personalized iPods to elders at the Mercy Center, where she worked with dementia patients to develop playlists tailored to their past in hopes of stimulating memory recall. Viti also conducted research in therapy activities to help a client with autism learn to communicate effectively.
Viti, a speech pathology major, was a five-time CoSIDA Academic All-American and twice won the NCAA Elite 90 Award. In 2016, Viti was named the Middle Atlantic Conference Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field Scholar-Athlete of the Year, as well as the Misericordia ECAC Robbins Scholar-Athlete of the Year. She will complete her master’s degree in speech pathology in spring 2017.
In 2013, Viti was named the MAC Outdoor Track and Field Rookie of the Year, and lived up to those expectations in the following years. She helped lead her teams to six consecutive conference championships over the past two years, and she collected another 19 conference titles in individual and relay events. A three-time United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-American, Viti holds eight Misericordia University track and field event records. In 2016, Viti finished second at the Division III Women’s Indoor Track and Field Championships in the 800-meter and third at the Division III Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships in the same event.