Champions of Sport: A Look Back at NCAA Woman of the Year Award Recipients

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As Champions of Sport, Connor Sports believes in building foundations that empower athletes to perform their best both on and off the playing surface. The NCAA shares this belief and acknowledges athletes who have used foundations learned on the surface to build themselves as champions of sports as well as champions of their community, peers and education. Every year, a female athlete who demonstrate these qualities is selected as the NCAA Woman of the Year.

As the official court of the NCAA Volleyball and Basketball Women’s Final Four we see talented female athletes perform at elite levels. We love providing a surface where athletes partake in one of their passions – sports. We receive just as much pride in knowing these athletes have passions and talents beyond the surface.

Since 1991 women from various colleges and sports have been betrothed with NCAA Women of the Year award. Among these recipients are women who have competed is sports close to our hearts – volleyball, basketball and track. Each of these award recipients demonstrated the values of the NCAA Women of the Year and embody what it means to be a champion of sport. As the 2015 NCAA Women of the Year is being selected, we are remembering past champions.

 

1991 NCAA Woman of the Year

Mary Beth Riley, Canisius College

Mary Beth Riley of Canisius College, who successfully battled Hodgkin’s disease while continuing to compete in cross country and track and excel in the classroom, received the first NCAA Woman of the Year Award October 30 in Chicago.

During the 1988 cross country season, the then-19-year-old Riley began feeling ill and eventually learned that she suffered from Hodgkin's disease, a form of lymphatic cancer. Even through nine weeks of chemotherapy, Riley stayed in school and competed in track.  By early 1990, the cancer was in complete remission, and Riley went on to set a school track record at 800 meters during her senior season.

As recipient of the first NCAA Woman of the Year Award, Riley was recognized for her activities as a volunteer with Amnesty International; a founder of ARRUPF House, a Christian service organization; participation in campus ministry activities, and her work with the South Buffalo Community Table Soup Kitchen and an "adopt-a-grandparent" program.

 

1995 NCAA Woman of the Year

Rebecca Lobo, University of Connecticut

Rebecca Lobo, the most outstanding player at the 1995 Women's Final Four, has been selected as the 1995 NCAA Woman of the Year.

"This one is different," said Lobo, who has received numerous honors since leading the University of Connecticut to an unbeaten record and the national championship. "It takes a lot more into consideration than what you do in your sport. It's a great honor."

Lobo graduated from Connecticut with a 3.637 grade-point average in political science. She finished her collegiate career with 2,133 points on her way to winning the Wade Trophy, awarded to the top collegiate women's basketball player. She finished her career with 1,268 rebounds and 227 blocked shots, both Connecticut records.

NCAA Executive Director Cedric W. Dempsey said Lobo is an "outstanding example of what college athletics is all about. Her excellence on the court has become well-known, but that is only one aspect of her incredible ability. She is also an excellent student and an active leader and role model."

 

2002 NCAA Woman of the Year

Tanisha Silas, University of California, Davis

Tanisha Silas' specialty was the 400 meters, but it is her performance in the race of life that makes her stand out.

A six-time all-American and three-time conference champion, Silas also graduated with honors in neurobiology, physiology and behavior -- all while volunteering as a peer counselor and as an intern in the pediatrics emergency room at the UC Davis medical center.

She joined the track team at UC Davis and ran in the 400 meters and in the 1,600-meter relay. On the academic side, she posted four quarters with a perfect grade-point average and 15 consecutive quarters above a 3.000.

"Athletics has given me essential life tools that could not be learned in a classroom -- as well as the keys to achieve my dream. Medical school is my next relay. I'm confident I will thrive there because of my experiences as a student-athlete. Someday, when I am working as a family practitioner in an underserved community, I'll have one word of advice for other young girls: dream," Silas Said.

Far from being even a two-dimensional person, though, she also performed with the UC Davis Gospel Choir. When the choice was performing with the choir at Carnegie Hall in 2001 or competing in the NCAA championships, she chose athletics, helping lead her team to a tie for fourth in Division II

 

2008 NCAA Woman of the Year

Nkolika Anosike, University of Tennessee

Nkolika “Nicky” Anosike, a self-described role player for the two-time defending NCAA champion Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team, was named the 2008 NCAA Woman of the Year at the October 19 awards banquet in Indianapolis.

Anosike, a versatile post player for the Lady Vols who was part of the school’s most heralded recruiting class in 2004 that included Candace Parker and Alexis Hornbuckle, finished her UT career with more than 1,000 points and 800 rebounds. She also was one of just four Lady Vols (joining Parker, Chamique Holdsclaw and Tamika Catchings) to amass more than 600 points, 500 rebounds, 100 blocks, 100 steals and 125 assists during her four years.

Beyond helping Tennessee women’s basketball put its indelible stamp on NCAA history, Anosike believes the program has made a significant contribution to advancing women’s sports.

“We are probably the most televised women’s basketball team in the nation and probably in the history of women’s sports, which is huge for growing the game and the awareness of women’s sports overall,” she said when informed of being a finalist.

Anosike isn’t done making her own mark. She has been accepted into the Teach For America program, a national corps of recent college graduates who commit two years to teaching in urban and rural public schools, as a way of furthering her passion for leadership and desire to make a difference. Though she has deferred entering the program while she continues her professional basketball career (she played for the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx in 2008), Anosike in the meantime plans to use her stature as an athlete to advocate for children living in poverty.

 

2013 NCAA Woman of the Year

Ifeatu Okafor, Texas Tech University

Okafor was named to the academic All-Big 12 team four times. She was a finalist for the 2012 John McLendon Scholarship, which is awarded to senior-level minority students who intend to pursue a graduate degree in athletics administration, and the 2013 Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar Award, which honors undergraduate students who have excelled in the classroom as well as on the athletic field. In 2012, she earned the Big 12 Conference Dr. Gerald Lage Award, the Big 12 Conference’s highest academic honor. She graduated magna cum laude and was named in 2012 to the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) All-Academic team.

“Being a student-athlete and having to perform well in the classroom has definitely helped to develop my character,” said Okafor.”Yes, you’re going to take classes that are hard, but you’re going to have to work through it, because you’re given this opportunity.”

A four year letter-winner for Texas Tech as a thrower in women’s track and field, Okafor was the 2011 Big 12 Shot Put Champion and first-team All-American, and was twice named All-Big 12 first-team, for indoor track and field in 2011 and outdoor track and field in 2012. She currently holds the Texas Tech record in shot put for outdoor track and field.

 

 

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