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2018 Woman of the Year finalists named

Nine former college athletes have been selected as finalists for the 2018 NCAA Woman of the Year Award and will be honored at an awards dinner Oct. 28 in Indianapolis, where the 2018 Woman of the Year will be named.

The nine finalists — including three from each NCAA division — demonstrated excellence in academics, athletics, community service and leadership throughout their collegiate careers.

Finalists were selected from a group of 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 a record 581 college athletes for the award.

Following are biographies of the Woman of the Year finalists, including excerpts from their personal statements in the nomination materials:

Ade Ayoola

School: University of Chicago
Conference: University Athletic Association
Sport: Indoor and outdoor track and field
Majors: Biochemistry and chemistry
Hometown: Grand Rapids, Michigan                                                        

“I have seen that sports brings people together and empowers them in a way that no other activity can. As I pursue a career in health care, I want to assist other students and young adults in experiencing the opportunities that being a student-athlete provides.”

Ade Ayoola, a former track and field student-athlete at Chicago, became actively involved in campus organizations and research opportunities. She served as a team leader for the chemistry collaborative learning team, coaching and mentoring fellow students in chemistry academic work. She also worked as a research assistant for three years and a teaching assistant. She served on the board for several campus organizations, including Phoenix Biology for two years, which arranged biology-related events and connected students to one another and with professors for mentorship. In addition, she volunteered with Hope City, cooking dinner with middle school students and mentoring them.

Ayoola excelled academically, earning dean’s list honors and University Athletic Association All-Academic team honors (2016, 2017, 2018). She was inducted into two honor societies: the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society and the University of Chicago Maroon Key Society. Ayoola also was named a Clinical Excellence Scholar, QuestBridge Scholar and National Achievement Scholar. In 2018, Ayoola was selected as a recipient for the Knight-Hennessy Scholarship, which will provide her with full funding to pursue a medical degree at the Stanford School of Medicine while participating in the scholarship’s global leadership program.

On the track, Ayoola won one individual outdoor conference title in the high jump in 2017 and contributed to two team indoor conference championships in 2015 and 2018 and the 2015 outdoor conference championship. An all-conference honoree during all four years, she earned U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-America honors in 2018. Ayoola holds the school record in the high jump (1.69 meters) and posted the seventh-highest mark in school history in the shot put (12.29 meters).

Learn more about Ade Ayoola.

Trissy Fairweather

School: Claflin University
Conference: Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
Sports: Cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field
Major: Business administration with a concentration in accounting
Hometown: Hope Bay Port Antonio, Portland Jamaica

“I strongly believe that my purpose in life is centered on helping others achieve their utmost best. I will continue upholding these traits as a leader and continue to contribute to the society, creating a platform for the future which will only improve the society in return.”

Former Claflin track and field standout Trissy Fairweather embraced a variety of leadership opportunities during her time in college. She served for two years as a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and one year as a Claflin University Student Ambassador. Fairweather, an international student-athlete from Jamaica, was a financial advisor for the Claflin Global Student Organization and financial manager for Passport to College, a nonprofit organization supporting international students as they transition to college life. A member of the National Association of Black Accountants, Fairweather also worked for two years as a peer mentor and tutor at the Claflin Academic Success Center.

Fairweather was the 2018 Claflin valedictorian, also earning the Presidential Award for the highest cumulative grade-point average. She also was honored as the student with the most outstanding performance in the business school. Fairweather was the 2016-17 Claflin Scholar Athlete of the Year. She also was recognized four times as a member of the SIAC All-Academic team. Fairweather is pursuing a master’s degree in accounting at Indiana University.

As a walk-on student-athlete, Fairweather — the 2016 Division II national champion in the 200 meters — was twice named SIAC Women’s Track Athlete of the Year (2015, 2016). She earned seven U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-America honors and holds five Claflin track and field individual records, including marks in the 55-meter, 60-meter, 100-meter, 200-meter and 400-meter events. She also was a member of two relay teams that hold school records — the 4x100 and 4x400.

Learn more about Trissy Fairweather.

Delaney Hiegert

School: Newman University
Conference: Heartland Conference
Sport: Softball
Major: Communication, with minors in journalism and criminal justice
Hometown: Topeka, Kansas

“I learned, through my role as a leader on my team and on campus, the power of my voice. The amount of people I had thank me for my work with Kaleidoscope, from student-athletes to families of LGBT+ children, was astounding. I can’t express the pride I feel knowing I helped someone take ownership of who they are. I’ll be chasing that feeling in my career in civil rights advocacy law for years to come.”

Delaney Hiegert assumed a strong leadership role on and off the softball diamond at Newman. As a Cardinal Newman Scholar, she completed 32 hours of service per semester, which did not include her community service through her sport or the multiple on-campus organizations in which she was involved. Hiegert was a founding member of Kaleidoscope, which was Newman’s first LGBT+ organization. She also volunteered as a freshman orientation leader and taught a weekly class for freshman students to help them assimilate to campus life. In addition to her extensive volunteer work on campus, Hiegert coached a youth girls basketball team and youth girls softball team.

A 2018 Google Cloud Academic All-American, Hiegert graduated summa cum laude after earning both Newman president’s honor roll and Heartland Conference presidents’ honor roll recognition for eight consecutive semesters. She received the 2018 University of Kansas School of Law Rice scholarship, given to five incoming students per year who demonstrate outstanding academic performance and proven leadership ability. Hiegert won 17 individual awards from the Kansas Collegiate Media, including categories for investigative reporting, sports news writing and feature writing. With her outstanding academic performance and continuous work with the student newspaper, Hiegert earned the Victor Murdock Communications Scholarship for four straight years and the Society of Professional Journalists Scholarship for her junior and senior years. She was also a four-time Topeka Community Foundation Scholarship recipient, for exemplifying the role of a student leader and maintaining that status throughout her undergraduate career.

On the diamond, Hiegert earned second team all-conference honors her senior year and helped her team qualify twice for the Heartland Conference tournament. As a senior, she was a starting outfielder in 51 games, hitting .261 with 161 at-bats, 42 hits, 24 runs, two doubles, a triple and eight RBIs. In her four years at Newman, she played in 190 games, hitting .251 with 116 hits, 60 runs and 24 RBIs.

Learn more about Delaney Hiegert.

Kayla Leland

School: Whitworth University
Conference: Northwest Conference
Sports: Basketball, cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field
Majors: Health science and Spanish
Hometown: Spokane, Washington

“As an athlete, I’ve become accustomed to stepping out of my comfort zone and pushing through difficult and demanding situations to achieve something greater than myself. … My ultimate goal is to utilize my Spanish-speaking ability to serve as a pharmacist in underprivileged areas of the world where care is most needed.”

Though she was a four-sport student-athlete at Whitworth, Kayla Leland still found time to become actively involved in her community. She volunteered with the Salvation Army food bank and spent four years participating in the Whitworth Community Building Day, assisting various local organizations in Spokane, Washington. Leland coached a youth basketball camp, volunteered every year in college with the Spokane Hoopfest, and served as a team lead for the Trick or Treat So Kids Can Eat annual food drive for Second Harvest Food Bank.

A member of the Whitworth honors program, Leland graduated summa cum laude. She collected six U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Academic All-American awards for Division III, twice in cross country and four times in track and field. She was a member of the Whitworth Laureate Society and earned academic honor roll accolades every year. She was also a recipient of the Whitworth Mind and Heart Academic Scholarship, the highest available academic award. Leland is now continuing her education at the Washington State University College of Pharmacy.

Leland was a 10-time Northwest Conference champion and seven-time USTFCCCA All-American in six events across track and field and cross country. She holds a total of 13 school records, with five in outdoor track and field (1,500 meters, 3,000, 3,000 steeplechase, 5,000 and 10,000), five in indoor track and field (600, 1,000, mile, 3,000 and 5,000), and three in cross country (4 kilometers, 5K and 6K). She also holds two Northwest Conference records, including the fastest 3,000-meter steeplechase time in conference history and the conference meet record for the 10,000. In 2018, Leland was named the Whitworth Senior Athlete of the Year for her outstanding athletics achievement.

Learn more about Kayla Leland.

Kami Norton

School: Angelo State University
Conference: Lone Star Conference
Sports: Indoor and outdoor track and field
Major: Kinesiology
Hometown: Albany, Texas

“The most important lessons I’ve learned and experiences I’ve had cannot be measured in awards or accolades. … It is these lessons that I will carry with me as I take on my next challenge to pursue a graduate degree in occupational therapy, where I hope to continue to impact and empower the lives of patients and communities.”

Kami Norton, a former track and field student-athlete at Angelo State, was a team captain and served for one year on the campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. She demonstrated leadership outside of athletics as well, leading a Fuel Student Ministry small group at PaulAnn Baptist Church and a Bible study for teenage girls. She participated in two mission trips, one in South Africa, where she helped to build a church and drilled water wells, and a second in Guatemala, where she built homes, fed orphans and provided shoes to children who had none.

A kinesiology major, Norton collected several academic accolades during her time at Angelo State. Norton was twice named the Lone Star Conference Academic Athlete of the Year for indoor and outdoor track and field (2017, 2018). She is a two-time recipient of both the conference’s Fred Jacoby Academic Female Athlete of the Year honor (2017, 2018) and the school’s Athletic Academic Excellence Award (2017, 2018).

On the track, Norton won two individual NCAA Division II championships in 2018, in the heptathlon in outdoor track and field and the pentathlon in indoor track and field. She is a 12-time U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-American and 10-time individual Lone Star Conference champion. She helped lead her team to a 2018 outdoor track and field conference championship and a third-place team finish at the NCAA outdoor championship — the school’s highest finish since 2010. In 2018, Norton was named the Lone Star Conference Female Athlete of the Year and Angelo State Kathleen Brasfield Female Athlete of the Year.

Learn more about Kami Norton.

Keturah Orji

School: University of Georgia
Conference: Southeastern Conference
Sports: Indoor and outdoor track and field
Major: Financial planning
Hometown: Budd Lake, New Jersey

“As an active participant in a mentorship program where I was the mentee, I realized mentoring could be the bridge to helping those who had a different upbringing and foundation than I did. In October 2017, I founded a mentorship program called Amara’s Pride at Hilsman Middle School. I discovered my passion for communicating the importance of education to girls from low-income communities where education has not been a priority.”

Former Georgia track and field team captain Keturah Orji served for three years on the campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, including as vice president during her senior year. A four-year attendee of the Student-Athlete Leadership Academy, she founded Amara’s Pride in 2017, an after-school mentoring program for middle school girls, focusing on self-worth, the importance of education, social media influences and the power of perseverance. Orji also worked with an income tax assistance program, spent time with children whose parents were incarcerated during the holiday season, and served as a United Team leader, through which she mentored other student-athletes through weekly small groups and Bible studies.

Orji, a 2018 Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar, was a member of Georgia’s Sphinx Club honor society, the oldest honorary society in Georgia history, and Blue Key Honor Society, whose members are committed to leadership in student life, high scholastic achievement, service to others, citizenship and adherence to principles of faith. She was named the 2018 Southeastern Conference Women’s Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field Scholar-Athlete of the Year, her third honor of this kind, and the university’s Joel Eaves Scholar-Athlete of the Year presented to the female student-athlete who has the highest GPA going into her senior year. She received the SEC’s H. Boyd McWhorter Postgraduate Scholarship, presented to the conference’s top male and female scholar-athletes. Orji was recognized by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association as the 2017 Indoor and Outdoor National Field Scholar-Athlete of the Year, also giving her three of those honors in her career. She is now pursuing a graduate degree at Georgia and is a volunteer assistant with the Bulldog track and field program.

Orji — who competed in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro — is a 15-time First Team All-American and eight-time NCAA individual national champion (four times in the outdoor triple jump, three times in the indoor triple jump and once in the outdoor long jump). Her outstanding performance in those events helped Georgia win a team NCAA championship in indoor track and field in 2018. She holds the American and collegiate records for the indoor triple jump and the collegiate record for the outdoor triple jump. Orji was a four-time USTFCCCA National Women’s Field Athlete of the Year, and she is the only woman in history to be a three-time Bowerman Award finalist.

Learn more about Keturah Orji.

Sidney Peters

School: University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Conference: Western Collegiate Hockey Association
Sport: Ice hockey
Major: Kinesiology, with a minor in biology
Hometown: Geneva, Illinois

“As I prepared for a career as a physician in the United States Air Force, I wanted to take advantage of all the opportunities available to me as a student and to find ways to use my platform as an athlete to help others. … Although it was exhausting balancing my duty as the starting goaltender for one of the top hockey teams in the country with a rigorous course load, two part-time jobs, research and hundreds of hours of community service, it was certainly worthwhile.”

Former Minnesota women’s hockey student-athlete Sidney Peters is the 2018 recipient of the Hockey Humanitarian Award, given each year to college hockey’s finest citizen — a student-athlete who makes significant contributions not only to his or her team, but also to the community at large through leadership in volunteerism. Her contributions off the ice included coaching youth women’s hockey teams and volunteering extensively for the Maroon and Gold Impacting the Community, known as MAGIC, through which she served organizations including the Salvation Army, Special Olympics, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Peters also volunteered as an emergency medical technician in Haiti through Project Medishare and worked for several years as an EMT at the University of Minnesota Health Clinics and Surgery Center. In 2018, Peters received Minnesota’s Big Ten Conference Outstanding Sportsmanship Award.

Peters, a kinesiology graduate who minored in biology, is a four-time Western Collegiate Hockey Association All-Academic team member, four-time WCHA Scholar-Athlete Award recipient and four-time Academic All-Big Ten team member. In 2017, Peters received the Big Ten’s Distinguished Scholar Award. She is an aspiring doctor who now attends medical school at the Uniformed Services University and serves in the United States Air Force.

On the ice, Peters’ goaltending helped carry Minnesota to two NCAA national championships (2015, 2016), the WCHA regular-season championship in 2015 and the tournament championship in 2018. In 2018, she was recognized by the WCHA as the Final Faceoff Most Outstanding Player. A former member of the USA Hockey Women’s Under-18 team who won two silver medals at International Ice Hockey Federation U-18 Women’s World Championships, Peters also attended the U.S. Women’s National Team Goaltending Development Camp in 2015. Peters appeared in 82 games for the Gophers, ending her career ranked fifth in program history in goaltender wins (53), shutouts (16) and saves (1,464). Her .921 career save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average rank sixth.

Learn more about Sidney Peters.

Vanessa Shippy

School: Oklahoma State University
Conference: Big 12 Conference
Sport: Softball
Majors: Finance and marketing, with a minor in accounting
Hometown: Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

“Being a collegiate student-athlete completely changed my life. The experience helped me earn a degree that will make my professional dreams come true and allow me to provide a good life for my family. It has taught me self-discipline, time management, patience and perseverance. I’ve made many friends and mentors that will be in my life for years to come because of my time as a student-athlete. Most importantly, this experience has given me a platform to provide a positive example to numerous young children.”

Vanessa Shippy, a former softball student-athlete at Oklahoma State, dedicated herself to supporting the campus and Stillwater communities. Shippy spent three years as a member of the campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. She volunteered for four years at the Stillwater animal welfare shelter and for two years leading camp games at the local YMCA, and she coached for two years with the Stillwater Steele youth softball organization. Shippy also worked with the Stillwater domestic violence shelter, visited patients at The Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City and spoke at local elementary schools.

Shippy graduated with dual degrees in finance and marketing and a minor in accounting. She was the first Oklahoma State softball player and just the third Oklahoma State student-athlete to earn three Google Cloud Academic All-America honors. Shippy also is a three-time Academic All-Big 12 team member and seven-time President’s Honor Roll qualifier. She was named the Big 12 Softball Scholar-Athlete of the Year for two consecutive years (2017, 2018).

Shippy, a three-time National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-American, was twice recognized as the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year (once in 2018 and once as a co-player of the year in 2016). In her senior season, Shippy led the conference in walks, runs scored, on-base percentage and batting average. Her career performance helped her team reach three NCAA regionals appearances. Shippy holds 12 career and single-season Oklahoma State softball records, including most games played, most games started, highest career on-base percentage, most career walks and most career runs. She was drafted 11th overall by the Cleveland Comets in the National Pro Fastpitch college draft.

Learn more about Vanessa Shippy.

Amelia Wilhelm

School: Bates College
Conference: New England Small College Athletic Conference
Sport: Rowing
Major: Chemistry
Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina

“Throughout my collegiate career, I have been empowered by the strength and resilience of the incredible women on my team. These women and our coaching staff have pushed me to be the best version of myself. Our goal on our team, as outlined by our coach, Peter Steenstra, is not purely focused on medals or rankings but instead centers around making good people better.”

Former Bates rower Amelia Wilhelm served as a member of the campus student government as a senior class representative, worked in the office of admissions for two years providing campus tours to prospective students, and tutored fellow students in chemistry and biology. She was a member of the residence life staff and also worked for two years at the Bates Career Development Center, where she helped students build resumes, provided workshops on interviewing and job searches, and planned events promoting student engagement in the center. Additionally, Wilhelm volunteered at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center for a year.

Wilhelm graduated cum laude with a chemistry degree. The four-year dean’s list student spent one year as a research assistant in the college’s chemistry department, where she explored the bacterium that causes Lyme disease and how it moves from tick to mammal. She was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society and Sigma Xi scientific research society. In April, Wilhelm received the Mary Brushwein Award for Excellence and Achievement in Service and Leadership from the Bates chemistry department for work on her thesis. Wilhelm is a three-time NESCAC All-Academic team member and a two-time recipient of the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association Scholar Athlete Award.

Wilhelm was a member of Bates rowing teams that won three NCAA Division III rowing championships and three NESCAC conference championships in 2015, 2017 and 2018. Her second varsity eights crew took first place at the NCAA championships in 2018, while also winning the National Invitational Rowing Championship regatta and conference championship.

Learn more about Amelia Wilhelm.