NCAA Announces Top 30 Woman of the Year Finalists | Athletic Business

NCAA Announces Top 30 Woman of the Year Finalists

The Woman of the Year Selection Committee has announced the top 30 honorees for the 2021 NCAA Woman of the Year Award.

Established in 1991, the NCAA Woman of the Year award is rooted in Title IX and recognizes graduating female college athletes who have exhausted their NCAA eligibility and distinguished themselves in academics, athletics, service and leadership throughout their collegiate careers. 

Selected from 535 school nominees — a group that was then narrowed to 154 nominees by conference offices — the Top 30 honorees include 10 from each of the three NCAA divisions. All have demonstrated excellence in academics, athletics, community service and leadership. The honorees represent 12 sports and an array of academic majors, including biology, psychology, mechanical engineering, education, software engineering and anthropology.

"We are thrilled to recognize the 30 honorees selected this year," said John Kietzmann, chair of the selection committee and associate director of athletics for marketing at Metropolitan State University of Denver. "These women excelled in the classroom and competition, while still prioritizing serving their peers and communities despite the challenges they faced during the pandemic. They represent the thousands of women competing in college sports each year, and we congratulate them for their incredible achievements." 

The selection committee will determine the top three honorees in each division from the Top 30, and the nine finalists will be announced this fall. From those nine finalists, the NCAA Committee on Women's Athletics will choose the 2021 NCAA Woman of the Year.

On Tuesday, Nov. 9, during a virtual awards ceremony, the Top 30 honorees will be celebrated, and the NCAA Woman of the Year will be named. Below is a summary of their accomplishments.

Bria Beale

School: University of Hawaii at Hilo
Division II
Conference: 
Pacific West Conference
Sport: Volleyball
Major: Communication

Bria Beale was a 2019 Division II Conference Commissioners Association first-team all-West Region selection and earned first-team all-Pacific West honors in 2018 and 2019. She led the conference in kills (241) and service aces (35) while ranking second in points per set and kills per set in 2021, when Hawaii Hilo won the Hawaii pod. Beale was named the 2021 Hawaii Hilo Female Athlete of the Year. She ranks fifth in program history in aces and sixth in kills. Beale graduated with highest honors and was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District 8 Team in 2021 and 2020.  She spoke at the 2020-21 Student-Athlete Academic Honors Reception and received Academic All-Pacific West honors in 2019, 2020 and 2021. She was selected the school's women's volleyball Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2020 and 2021. A two-year team co-captain, Beale also served for two years as a peer educator for the university Title IX office and helped provide bystander intervention training. She also served meals for the Hawaii Island Home for Recovery and created a virtual support group during the pandemic.

Mikayla Bisignani

School: Johns Hopkins University
Division III
Conference: 
Independent
Sports: Swimming and diving, outdoor track and field
Majors: Molecular and cellular biology; psychology 

Mikayla Bisignani was a two-time College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America All-American, winning first-team honors in 2019. She also helped her team to a program-best third-place finish at the 2019 outdoor track and field championships, placing 13th in discus. In 2021, Johns Hopkins awarded her the Dr. William Howard Award for scholarship and athletic achievement and the Robert H. Scott Award for athletics, scholarship and extracurricular participation. The CoSIDA 2021 Division III At-Large Academic All-America Team Member of the Year is the first three-time first-team selection from Johns Hopkins. In 2019, Bisignani received an Elite 90 Award, presented to the student-athlete with the highest grade-point average competing at an NCAA championship finals site. She was a volunteer research assistant, helping to identify new biomarkers for improved multiple sclerosis prognosis, inspired by her time as a volunteer caregiver with the Johns Hopkins Medical Institute. A three-year member of the campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, she represented SAAC on the Women's Gender Resources Leadership Board.

Kailyn Brandt

School: Washington College (Maryland)
Division III
Conference: 
Centennial Conference
Sport: Field hockey
Major: Biology

Kailyn Brandt was a two-time National Field Hockey Coaches Association All-South Region selection. She was a three-time all-conference selection, receiving first-team honors in 2017 and 2018, and was named 2017 Centennial Rookie of the Year. The 2020 Team MVP holds school records for most points (26) and assists (6) by a freshman. In 2021, she received Washington College's Senior Athletic Award, given to a male and female student-athlete who achieved the most athletically. Brandt also received the 2020 Elizabeth "Bo" Blanchard Memorial Sportsmanship Award for her enthusiasm, dedication and sportsmanship. A summa cum laude graduate, she was a four-time NFHCA Scholar of Distinction, recognizing individuals with a grade-point average of 3.9 or higher, was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and earned a 2021 NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship. She was Beta Beta Beta biological honor society president in 2020-21 and vice president in 2019-20. A team captain in 2020-21, Brandt was a three-year member of her campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, serving as president all three years and representing her school on the conference SAAC. Brandt began working as a nursing technician at University of Maryland Shore Regional Health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anna Cockrell

School: University of Southern California 
Division I
Conference
: Pac-12 Conference
Sports: Indoor track and field, outdoor track and field
Major: Communication

Five-time individual national champion Anna Cockrell became the second woman ever to win both the 100- and 400-meter hurdles at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships when the Trojans won the 2021 national title. She also was part of the 2018 national title-winning team. The 13-time U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association first-team All-American won the 2021 Honda Sports Award for track and field and was a semifinalist for the 2021 Bowerman Award. A 2020 Olympian, Cockrell also won the silver medal in the 400 hurdles at the 2019 Pan American Games. The two-time CoSIDA Academic All-America Women's Team Member of the Year for track and field was also the 2021 USTFCCCA Scholar Track Athlete of the Year and 2021 Pac-12 Scholar Athlete of the Year for track. A four-time team captain, Cockrell was co-founder and co-president of the United Black Student-Athletes Association, which hosted virtual town halls on racism and advocated for more equitable hiring and diverse representation. She also served on Southern California's Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Task Force. Cockrell participated in several national panels on athlete activism and volunteered for two political campaigns.

Kendall Cornick

School: Augustana University (South Dakota)
Division II
Conference:
 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference
Sport: Softball
Majors: Biology; psychology, with a concentration in neuroscience

Outfielder Kendall Cornick helped her team win the 2019 Division II Softball Championship. In 2021, she was named first-team All-American by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association and the Division II Conference Commissioners Association. A finalist for the 2021 Schutt Sports/NFCA Division II Player of the Year, she was the 2021 D2 CCA Central Region Player of the Year and 2021 conference Player of the Year. She earned 34 steals in 2021, ranking second nationally, and set a school record for RBIs in a single game (7). The 2021 CoSIDA Division II Academic All-America Team Member of the Year for softball also earned second-team honors in 2020. She received the 2020-21 D2 CCA Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award and the Northern Sun Willis R. Kelly Scholar-Athlete Award in 2021. A 2021 NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship recipient, she analyzed drug targets for medulloblastoma, a common form of childhood brain cancer, as a student research fellow. She also served as director of community outreach for Augustana's Kidney Disease Screening and Awareness Program, providing free kidney health screenings. Cornick was a surgical services volunteer and pediatric companion at Sanford Hospital, as well as a surgical assistant at Avera McKennan Hospital.

Chelsie DePonte

School: Stony Brook University
Division I
Conference: 
America East Conference
Sport: Soccer
Major: Business management with a concentration in marketing

Stony Book midfielder Chelsie DePonte was a United Soccer Coaches All-Atlantic Region second-team selection in 2021. She started 61 games in her career and contributed to three America East Conference titles, earning first-team all-conference honors in 2021. The 2021 USC Scholar All-American earned the America East Presidential Scholar-Athlete Award, recognizing graduates who achieve a minimum 3.75 grade-point average. She graduated summa cum laude. DePonte received the 2021 Noah Farrelly Spirit of the Seawolf Award, given annually to two student-athletes, one male and one female, who exemplify passion and pride for the Stony Brook athletics experience. She was a four-year member and served as president of Positive Assurance With Support, a campus organization to support mental health. A three-year member of her campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, DePonte served as mental health coordinator, organizing events and initiatives on and off campus. She helped create the campus Women's Leadership Group to raise gender equity awareness and served as a group leader for PACK Mentors, a program to acclimate new student-athletes to campus.

Stefani Deschner

School: University of Notre Dame
Division I
Conference: 
Atlantic Coast Conference
Sport: Fencing
Majors: Pre-professional studies; theology

Stefani Deschner was the 2021 foil fencing national champion and led Notre Dame to team national titles in 2021 and 2018. The 2020 and 2021 U.S. Fencing Coaches Association first-team All-American also won an ACC individual title in 2020 and helped her team win conference titles in 2019 and 2020. Deschner has represented the United States in international competition, first competing on the Cadet World Fencing Championship team in 2014. She received second-team CoSIDA Academic All-America honors in 2021. A member of Phi Beta Kappa, Deschner earned an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship and ACC Postgraduate Scholarship, and she was twice named ACC Fencing Scholar-Athlete of the Year. She was named the Notre Dame Club of St. Joseph Valley Rockne Student-Athlete Award winner for her academic achievements. Deschner worked with Fighting Irish Fight for Life, an organization pairing varsity athletic teams with pediatric oncology/hematology patients. An executive board member and three-year representative on her campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Deschner supported development of mental health resources and organized mental health town halls. Deschner also served as a team coordinator with the Notre Dame Gender Relations Center to facilitate GreeNDot certification for her team in bystander intervention and create a safe, inclusive campus environment.

Favor Ezewuzie

School: Wheaton College (Illinois)
Division III
Conference: 
College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin
Sports: Indoor track and field, outdoor track and field
Major: Elementary education

Favor Ezewuzie was the 100-meter hurdles national champion and ran the third-fastest time in NCAA Division III history at the 2021 outdoor track and field championships. She earned 15 U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-America honors, the most ever by a Wheaton track and field student-athlete. The four-time USTFCCCA Division III Midwest Region Track Athlete of the Year helped lead her team to four CCIW championship titles and holds 17 CCIW individual titles. She also holds 11 school records and qualified for the Nigeria Olympic trials in 2021, making the finals in the 100-meter hurdles. The three-time CoSIDA Academic All-America selection earned first-team honors in 2020 and 2021 after earning third-team honors in 2019. Ezewuzie was Wheaton's first five-time recipient of the conference's Jack Swartz Award for academic and athletic achievement, and she was a 2019 recipient of Wheaton's Dorothy B. Dixon Merit Scholarship, awarded to one education student annually. A team captain, she also organized events for over 200 incoming minority freshmen and mentored 10 freshmen as a 1-2-1 Mentor through the Office of Multicultural Development.

Emma Griffith

School: University of Chicago
Division III
Conference: 
University Athletic Association
Sport: Volleyball
Major: Law, letters and society

Setter Emma Griffith was named a 2019 first-team All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association after an honorable mention nod in 2018. She led UChicago to a No. 1 national ranking and third-round appearance in the Division III NCAA tournament in 2019. The three-time all-conference selection ranks second in program history for assists (3,723). Griffith was a three-time recipient of UChicago's Edith Ballwebber Award, given to one athlete per class based on total contribution to the athletics program as defined by athletic performance, team leadership, initiative, improvement and contributions to the Women's Athletic Association. She earned first-team CoSIDA Academic All-America honors in 2021 and third-team honors in 2019. Griffith was appointed to be a Student Marshal, one of the highest honors at UChicago, for her academic performance and contributions to campus in 2020. She was a four-year member of the Women's Athletic Association, including serving as president and representing the association on the campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. She was vice president of foundation for her sorority and coordinated all philanthropic activities for her chapter. She also was a member of the Maroon Key Society and Public Policy Leaders Program at UChicago.

Shelby Gunnells

School: North Dakota State University
Division I
Conference:
 The Summit League
Sports: Indoor track and field, outdoor track and field
Major: Geology

Shelby Gunnells was a 2020 U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association first-team All-American in indoor shot put and earned second-team honors in 2021 (outdoor) and 2019 (indoor). The 2020 Summit League Indoor Championships MVP, Indoor Field Athlete of the Year and indoor shot put champion contributed to eight team conference titles. Gunnells ranks in the top 10 in school history in four events and was a 2020 Olympic trials qualifier. She is a three-time CoSIDA Academic All-American for track and field, earning first-team honors in 2020 and 2021. Gunnells was a 2021 recipient of the Elite 90 Award, presented to the student-athlete with the highest grade-point average competing at an NCAA championship finals site. She received a 2021 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and earned the North Dakota State Allan C. Ashworth Scholarship as the top senior geology student in 2019 and 2020. In 2020, she was selected as a Fulbright Scholar but declined due to the impacts of COVID-19. Gunnells volunteered with the Salvation Army, Hospice of Red River Valley and FargoMania, an adaptive fitness competition for athletes with disabilities.

Carley Hale

School: Southern Arkansas University
Division II
Conference: 
Great American Conference
Sports: Cross country, outdoor track and field
Major: Art and design, with a concentration in media and marketing

Carley Hale earned eight all-Great American Conference honors, including first-team honors in cross country in 2019 and 2021 and in the triple jump in 2018. She was nominated for Great American Female Athlete of the Year in 2020 and received Southern Arkansas women's cross country Most Outstanding Athlete honors in 2019. Hale recorded 20 career top-three finishes and seven career event wins. She earned second-team CoSIDA Academic All-America honors in 2020 and third-team honors in 2019. Hale was named the Murphy USA Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2019 and 2021. Southern Arkansas professors voted her Outstanding Senior in Art and Design, and she won the College of Liberal and Performing Arts' Field & Leadership Experience Competition. A four-time captain of the cross country team, Hale was a three-year member of her campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, including serving as secretary from 2019 to 2021, and is a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. In 2021, Hale worked with the SAU+VISTA program through AmeriCorps to research, plan and implement a financial literacy program on campus. She also served as communications director and a small group leader for ISI Ministries in 2020-21.

Naomi Hill 

School: North Central College
Division III
Conference: 
Independent
Sport: Triathlon
Major: Psychology and behavioral neuroscience

Triathlete Naomi Hill contributed to team victories at the USA Triathlon Collegiate Club Division III National Championship in 2017 and 2018, including fourth-place individual finishes at both. She was a Collegiate Triathlon Coaches Association All-Region selection in 2017 and 2018. An NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship recipient, the CTCA named her an Academic All-American in 2017, 2018 and 2021. The summa cum laude graduate presented research at the National Council for Undergraduate Research, Midwestern Psychological Association Conference and Rall Symposium for Undergraduate Research. Hill is a member of the Chi Alpha Sigma student-athlete honor society, Psi Chi psychology honor society and Nu Rho Psi neuroscience honor society. She volunteered with the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, supervising calls, researching treatment plans and providing crisis support. She was a two-year member of the Student Governing Association, serving as president in 2019-20, and co-founded The Body Collective, a body-positive support group for student-athletes. Hill was vice president of the Fellowship of Christian Undergraduate Students at North Central.

Julia Ingram 

School: University of Tampa 
Division II
Conference
: Sunshine State Conference
Sport: Basketball 
Majors: Political science; history

Guard Julia Ingram helped her team to a Sunshine State championship title in 2020-21 after a regular-season title in 2019-20 and 2020 Division II tournament berth. Tampa compiled a 70-25 record during her tenure, and she ranks third in program history in career 3-point percentage (.409). A summa cum laude graduate, Ingram was the Tampa Class of 2021 commencement speaker and received the Melissa Vanderhall Spartan Cape Award for most well-rounded student-athlete, as well as the Female Scholar-Athlete Award in 2020. Ingram's thesis on socioeconomic status and assistance from governance providers in Burkina Faso was accepted to the 2020 Midwest Political Science Association conference. She also was awarded the Beiser Award for Outstanding Senior in History. A team captain, Ingram was a three-year member of her campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, including serving as president for two years. She helped SAAC raise more than $3,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and received the athletics department's Freddie Solomon Community Service Award. Through SAAC and her student government, she also organized a virtual 5K during the pandemic, a toy drive for children at Tampa General Hospital and canned food drives for the homeless.

Alison Johnson

School: Adelphi University
Division II
Conference: 
Northeast-10 Conference
Sport: Lacrosse
Major: Childhood education; sociology

Attacker Alison Johnson was a three-time Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association All-American, including first-team honors in 2017 and 2018, and she led her team to NCAA Division II national titles in 2017 and 2019. The 2018 Northeast-10 Player of the Year led Division II in assists per game in 2018 and was a first-team all-conference selection in 2017, 2018 and 2019. She is Adelphi's all-time leader in assists and ranks second in career points. The three-time CoSIDA Academic All-American earned first-team honors in 2021 and 2020. Johnson was the 2021 Northeast-10 Elite 24 Award Winner, an award presented at each conference championship finals site to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average. In 2020 and 2021, she won the NE10 Sport Excellence Award for her outstanding athletic and academic accomplishments. A two-year team captain, in 2020 Johnson received the Division II Athletics Directors Association Academic Achievement Award. In 2021, she became the third Adelphi student-athlete to be named NE10 Woman of the Year. Johnson volunteered with the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation to support her team's adoptee, Lexi. She also helped Adelphi raise the second highest total in the Headstrong Foundation's Game Hair Havoc campaign in her final season while overcoming personal adversity.

Eka Jose

School: Washington University in St. Louis
Division III
Conference: 
University Athletic Association
Sports: Indoor track and field, outdoor track and field
Majors: Anthropology, with a concentration in global health and the environment; biology

Eka Jose was a national champion in the indoor and outdoor triple jump in 2019 and earned U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Women's Division III Field Athlete of the Year for the 2019 indoor season. She was named Most Outstanding Field Performer at the 2019 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships. The five-time USTFCCCA All-American led WashU to second place at the 2019 indoor national championships and holds school records in the indoor and outdoor triple jump and the outdoor long jump. Jose earned first-team CoSIDA Academic All-America honors in 2019, 2020 and 2021. A two-time USTFCCCA Scholar Field Athlete of the Year, Jose was also presented the school's James E. McLeod Ralph Bunche Scholars Award for academic achievement twice. She earned a WashU biology summer undergraduate research fellowship in 2019. The two-year team captain was co-founder and co-president of WashU Black Letterwinning Athletes Coalition. Jose worked with the Missouri Eating Disorders Association to educate and offer resources to over 100 middle and high school students.

Valda Kabia

School: West Texas A&M University
Division II
Conference: 
Lone Star Conference
Sports: Indoor track and field, outdoor track and field
Major: Health sciences

Valda Kabia was a nine-time U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-American, including six first-team honors, and was part of the West Texas A&M team that won the NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field Championships in 2018. Kabia led her team to the 2019 Lone Star indoor championship title, where she won the 60 meters, 200 meters and the 4x400-meter relay and was named Outstanding Female Track Athlete. The six-time conference champion holds program records in the indoor and outdoor 200 meters and the indoor and outdoor 4x400 relay, and she ranks second in the indoor 60 meters. Kabia earned first-team CoSIDA Academic All-America honors in 2020 and 2021. The 2019 Lone Star Indoor Track and Field Academic Athlete of the Year received USTFCCCA All-Academic honors and Lone Star All-Academic honors twice apiece. In 2020 and 2021, Kabia helped conduct research studying the causes of turnover among rural educators. A three-year member of her campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Kabia also worked with an at-risk youth organization in Burnaby, British Columbia.

Abigail Knapton

School: University of Nebraska, Lincoln
Division I
Conference
: Big Ten Conference
Sport: Swimming and diving 
Major: Psychology

Abigail Knapton is a five-time College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America first-team All-American, who achieved All-American recognition in platform diving four times and in 3-meter springboard once. She was named the 2020-21 Nebraska Athletics Best Female Athlete across all sports and Female Student-Athlete of the Year. Knapton is a three-time member of the USA Diving High Performance Squad Tier 2, and she placed fifth on platform and seventh on 3-meter springboard at the 2020 Olympic trials. The 2021 first-team CoSIDA Academic All-American was also a four-time first-team CSCAA Scholar All-American. She received the 2021 Big Ten Medal of Honor and an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship. Knapton was team captain and a five-year member of the Tom Osborne Citizenship Team, which required participating in at least six service or leadership activities each school year. She volunteered with Open Door Mission serving the homeless and developed a proposal for nonpharmaceutical intervention recommendations while volunteering at Tabitha Health Care Services.

Kaelyn Long

School: Bucknell University
Division I
Conference: 
Patriot League
Sport: Field hockey
Major: Early childhood education

Team captain Kaelyn Long was named a National Field Hockey Coaches Association third-team All-American in 2021, leading her team to its first Patriot League title and a regional final appearance in the NCAA tournament. She received Patriot League Tournament MVP and first-team all-Patriot League honors in 2021 after earning second-team honors in 2019. A member of Phi Beta Kappa, Long was a two-time NFHCA Scholar of Distinction and two-time Academic All-Patriot League Team selection. She received the 2021 Alvin F. Jackson Award as the top senior female student-athlete at Bucknell. Long founded Bison Cares, a community service organization for student-athletes. She served as a tutor through the Bucknell Buddies and Essex Place programs and was a student teacher for third- and fourth-grade students during the 2020-21 academic year. She was a four-year sportswriter for the Bucknellian campus newspaper and volunteered with the Lewisburg Children's Museum, a food bank and the Ronald McDonald House. Long was selected for the 2020 Naval Academy Leadership Conference and was a three-year participant in the Bucknell Athletic Leadership Institute.

Jessica Lopez

School: Haverford College
Division III
Conference: 
Centennial Conference
Sports: Indoor track and fieldoutdoor track and field
Major: Anthropology

Jessica Lopez is a U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Mideast All-Region selection in the indoor 200 meters and outdoor 100 meters. The seven-time all-conference honoree has eight marks that rank in the top 10 in Haverford history, including second in the indoor 60 meters and third in the outdoor 100 and indoor 200. She received all-conference academic honors in 2019 and 2020. Lopez was awarded Haverford's 2021 Wyatt MacGaffey Thesis Award in anthropology, recognizing an outstanding senior. She was co-founder and co-president of the Athletes of Color Coalition, working with the university's president, head of admissions, athletics director and coaches to create programming to support minority student-athletes and address disparities on campus. A team captain, the Haverford student body elected her student council officer of athletics. Lopez led and co-managed an eight-week management consulting boot camp. She also co-authored an application for a $360,000 grant application to fund health care for marginalized populations as an intern at The Wellness Center Los Angeles.

Taylor Malasek

School: University of North Georgia
Division II
Conference: 
Peach Belt Conference
Sport: Soccer
Major: Biology, with a concentration in pre-veterinary medicine

Forward Taylor Malasek was a 2019 third-team United Soccer Coaches All-American. A two-time first-team all-Peach Belt selection, Malasek ranks first in program history in career game-winning goals, career penalty kicks made and points in a single match. She made three appearances on the U.S. under-17 Olympic development team in 2017 during a tournament in Brazil. She was a second-team United Soccer Coaches Scholar All-American in 2019 and received the Division II Athletics Directors Association Academic Achievement Award in 2019-20 and 2020-21. In 2019, Malasek was the conference women's soccer Elite 15 Award Winner, awarded to the tournament participant with the highest cumulative GPA. Her paper on late Pleistocene ecosystem dynamics in southeastern North America was published by Quaternary Science Reviews. A member of her campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Malasek was a 2021 North Georgia Paul M. Hutcherson Outstanding Student Award finalist and a 2021 Women of UNG Female Student Leadership Award winner. In 2019, Malasek was among a 15-person cohort of student-athletes selected for the North Georgia Athletics Leadership Academy. She volunteered at the North Georgia Zoo and Petting Farm, caring for animals, helping to develop training materials and leading educational opportunities. In addition, she mentored incoming freshman student-athletes through the HawkEm 101 program, and she volunteered with TLC Humane Society for two years.

Bria Matthews

School: Georgia Institute of Technology
Division I
Conference: 
Atlantic Coast Conference
Sports: Indoor track and field, outdoor track and field
Major: Electrical engineering

Jumper Bria Matthews is a six-time U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-American, earning first-team honors in the outdoor long jump and triple jump in 2021. She won six individual conference titles and was the ACC Outdoor Women's Field MVP at the 2021 conference championships. She was named Georgia Tech's Female Athlete of the Year and Comeback Athlete of the Year in 2019. Matthews is a three-time CoSIDA Academic All-American, earning second-team honors in 2019 and 2021 and third-team honors in 2020. In 2021, she received a Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup, a national award recognizing outstanding role models in athletics, and the 2020 Peach of an Athlete Top Female Award, recognizing student-athletes from Georgia or attending a Georgia school for their character, scholastic achievement, academic success and community service. Georgia Tech presented Matthews a Top Six for Service award, given to ACC student-athletes who excel in community service, in 2018. Matthews helped lead a two-year research project to provide portable solar power to homes in Haiti and traveled to Costa Rica in 2018 with Jackets Without Borders to build a multipurpose court at a high school.

Mekayla Montgomery

School: Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Division III
Conference: 
Liberty League
Sport: Lacrosse
Majors: Psychological science; educational studies

Mekayla Montgomery was named a 2021 first-team All-American by the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association after earning second-team honors in 2019 and third-team honors in 2018. She was the Liberty League Defensive Player of the Year in 2019 and 2021 and helped her team win three consecutive conference championships. Montgomery set William Smith game (12), season (93) and career (233) records for draw controls and a career record for caused turnovers (120). She received the 2021 Winn-Seeley Award, presented to an outstanding senior athlete for achievements in service, leadership, athletics and academics. A 2021 first-team selection for the CoSIDA Academic All-America At-Large team, she was also a two-time IWLCA Academic Honor Roll honoree and three-time Liberty League All-Academic selection. As a research assistant at UC Irvine, she studied how aerobic exercise may treat Alzheimer's disease. The two-year team captain served on her campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee in 2018-19 and was co-president of the One Love Club. She volunteered at the school's Center for Global Education, helping to develop the study-abroad curriculum, and spent a month in Uganda volunteering with Hope for Children and Women of Violence in 2019.

Nazirah Purnell

School: Lincoln University (Pennsylvania)
Division II
Conference: 
Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association
Sports: Cross country, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field
Major: Political science

Distance runner Nazirah Purnell was a two-time all-CIAA selection in cross country in 2018 and 2019. Purnell set school records in cross country and the indoor 1,000 meters in 2018. Before attending Lincoln, she was named the 2017-18 Most Outstanding Distance Runner at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, and she set school records in the indoor and outdoor 800 meters and the outdoor 400-meter hurdles. The summa cum laude graduate is a member of Pi Sigma Alpha political science honor society and Chi Alpha Sigma scholar-athlete society, and she received Lincoln's Community Service Award in 2021. Purnell served as attorney general of the Lincoln University Judicial Board and academic affairs and education policy chair for the Student Government Association Student Senate. She worked to register eligible student-athletes, college students and Pennsylvania residents to vote both as president of Lincoln University's College Democrats and through the grassroots organization RISE. Purnell served as special senator, secretary and treasurer with the Pennsylvania Association of State-Related Students to advocate for state-affiliated and state-funded schools. She also was a three-year member of the Thurgood Marshall Law Society, including serving as president.

Lindsey Ruderman

School: Amherst College
Division III
Conference: 
New England Small College Athletic Conference
Sport: Swimming and diving
Major: Mathematics

Two-time national champion diver Lindsey Ruderman in 2019 was the first woman to perform a reverse two-and-a-half somersault on 1-meter springboard at the NCAA Division III Women's Swimming and Diving Championships. She was named the 2019 College Swimming & Diving Coaches Association Diver of the Year and was a six-time first-team CSCAA All-American. A six-time NESCAC champion, Ruderman was named conference Diver of the Year in 2018, 2019 and 2020 and set the 3-meter conference record in 2020. In 2021, Amherst presented her the Howard Hill Mossman Trophy for her achievements and sportsmanship and the Psi Upsilon Prize for scholarship, leadership, ethics and character. She earned CSCAA Scholar All-America honors in 2018 and 2019. As a research assistant at the Hilton Laboratory at Duke, Ruderman studied the fatty degeneration of shoulder muscles in mice with induced osteoarthritis and was co-first author for a scientific paper examining human rotator cuff muscle pathology. A team co-captain her senior year, Ruderman served for three years on the campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and volunteered with Feeding Durham Together to provide COVID-19 relief.

Avery Skinner

School: University of Kentucky
Division I
Conference
: Southeastern Conference
Sport: Volleyball 
Major: Communication sciences and disorders 

Avery Skinner was named first-team All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association in 2020-21 and helped Kentucky win a national championship the same year. In 2021, the all-SEC selection received the CATSPY Blue Heart Award, CATSPY Elite Performer Award and CATSPY Miss Wildcat Award, given to a female student-athlete who represents the heart and soul of Kentucky athletics and a commitment to excellence. Skinner played on the United States Collegiate National Team Europe Tour roster in 2018. She was a 2020-21 CoSIDA Academic All-America first-team selection for volleyball and a 2020 first-team Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar. Skinner completed over 250 hours of service while at Kentucky and was named to the 2020 and 2019 SEC Community Service Teams for volleyball. She also was a member of her campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and was inducted into the University of Kentucky Frank G. Ham Society of Character. Skinner was the new member and involvement chair for the Kentucky American Sign Language and Deaf Culture Club and volunteered for two years with the Kentucky Early Childhood Lab. In 2019, she participated in a Kentucky athletics mission trip to Ethiopia.

Jenna Taylor

School: Simpson College
Division III
Conference: 
American Rivers Conference
Sport: Basketball
Majors: Accounting; economics, with a concentration in finance

Jenna Taylor earned first-team All-America recognition from the Women's Basketball Coaches Association and was named a first-team All-American by D3hoops.com in 2021. The D3hoops.com West Region Player of the Year and 2021 American Rivers Conference MVP was a four-year all-conference honoree. Taylor averaged 20.1 points and 9.0 rebounds while shooting 48.3% from the 3-point line in 2021 and scored more than 1,000 points in her career. The 2021 CoSIDA Academic All-America Women's Team Member of the Year for Division III women's basketball also earned second-team honors in 2019. Taylor received the 2021 Barborka Award, the highest honor for Simpson senior student-athletes, for her athletic accomplishments, scholarship and character. She also earned the Robert W. Feyerharm Award for outstanding junior in the department of business administration and economics. Taylor was a founding member of Storm Speaks, a mental health advocacy organization for student-athletes at Simpson. She was a peer academic leader for accounting and economics students and an academic mentor for women's basketball student-athletes. Taylor volunteered for Meals from the Heartland and was a member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Sami Williams

School: Iowa State University
Division I
Conference: 
Big 12 Conference
Sport: Softball
Major: Software engineering

Infielder Sami Williams is tied for third in career doubles (79) in NCAA Division I, and her 630 career bases rank fourth. She is the first Iowa State player to be named a National Fastpitch Coaches Association first-team All-American and led her team to its first NCAA regional final in 2021. She is the conference record holder in hits (332), total bases and doubles and holds seven program records. She is the winningest player in Cyclones history, with 128 career wins. Williams was the first Iowa State student-athlete to be named a four-time CoSIDA Academic All-American, earning first-team honors in 2021 and 2020. She was a finalist for the 2021 Senior CLASS Award and was the 2021 and 2019 Big 12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year for softball. As part of her graduate work, Williams completed a research project demonstrating the need for bias mitigation in machine learning to ensure fair results. She volunteered collecting items for a local food bank and wrapped gifts for Adopt-a-Family. She also participated in a 2019 Soles4Souls service trip to orphanages in Ecuador.

Ashton Woods

School: Southern Methodist University
Division I
Conference: 
American Athletic Conference
Sports: Indoor track and field, outdoor track and field
Major: Mechanical engineering

Ashton Woods earned second-team U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-America honors in 2021 after becoming the first SMU 400-meter hurdler to qualify for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships. A six-time all-conference selection, she holds school records in the outdoor 400-meter hurdles, indoor 4x400 relay and outdoor 4x400 relay, and ranks top 10 at SMU in eight events. A 2021 USTFCCCA All-Academic Team selection, Woods was named to the conference All-Academic team four times. Woods served with the American Athletic Racial Equality Action Group, working to eliminate racial inequality and injustice. She was the co-founder and vice president of the SMU Black Student-Athlete Committee and a two-year member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, serving as president in 2020-21. She received the 2020-21 Athletics Director's SPIRIT Award, the most prestigious award presented to one male and one female SMU student-athlete who epitomize the values of service, passion, integrity, respect, innovation and teamwork. Woods was president of the Tent and Boulevard Advisory Board in 2020-21, serving as a liaison between student affairs and athletics.

Jami Wright

School: Southern Wesleyan University
Division II
Conference: 
Conference Carolinas
Sports: Indoor track and field, outdoor track and field
Major: Religion, with a concentration in youth and children's ministry

Sprinter Jami Wright was a five-time U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-American, earning two first-team honors in 2021 and one in 2019. Wright recorded the fastest time in the 200 meters and third-fastest time in the 400 meters in the Division II 2021 outdoor season. She was named the NCAA Division II Outdoor Southeast Region Women's Track Athlete of the Year, and Conference Carolinas named her Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year in 2021 and Indoor Track Athlete of the Year in 2020. Wright holds conference records in the indoor and outdoor 400 meters, indoor and outdoor 4x400-meter relay and outdoor 4x100-meter relay, and she holds eight Southern Wesleyan records. She earned three Academic All-Conference honors and received the Southern Wesleyan 2020 Excellence in Youth and Children's Ministry Award for academics and community service. Wright served as student body president in 2019-20 and vice president in 2018-19. For three years, she served as a small group leader, mentoring girls in middle and high school, and volunteered with the ALIVE Wesleyan Church Student Ministries youth group, organizing events and scheduling volunteers.

Irisa Ye

School: University of the Sciences
Division II
Conference: 
Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference
Sport: Basketball
Major: Biomedical sciences

Guard Irisa Ye earned honorable mention Women's Basketball Coaches Association All-America honors in 2020 and 2019. Ye was the CACC Player of the Year in 2020, leading her team to a conference championship title in 2018 and three conference regular-season titles. The 2019 East Regional All-Tournament Team selection led her team to its first regional final in 2018. She ranks second in program history in field-goal percentage (52.9), third in 3-point percentage (40) and fourth in free-throw percentage (83.2). A 2020 and 2021 first-team CoSIDA Academic All-American for women's basketball, Ye was the 2021 CACC Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year and the 2020 Philadelphia Inquirer Academic All-Area Performer of the Year. She received the Division II Athletic Directors Association Academic Achievement Award three times. Ye was a four-year member of the Black Student Union and the Pilipino Cultural Association. She served as volunteer lead for the Hospital Elder Life Program, coordinating volunteers across four buildings and training new volunteers. As a student researcher in 2017-18, Ye performed guided research to isolate a novel virus from a soil sample and annotate the genome.

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