The Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) recently announced that Tyra Abraham of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) and Olivia Leyva of Cal Lutheran have been named the league's nominees for the 2018 NCAA Woman of the Year as voted upon by the conference membership.
Established in 1991, the NCAA Woman of the Year award honors graduating female college student-athletes who have completed their eligibility and distinguished themselves in academics, athletics, service, and leadership throughout their careers. According to the NCAA, more than 200,000 women competed in college sports this year.
The 2018 NCAA Woman of the Year nominees include all NCAA divisions, with 251 from Division I, 131 from Division II, and 199 from Division III.
A two-time National Champion in the 100-meter dash, Abraham helped CMS to a fourth-place finish at the 2018 NCAA DIII Track and Field National Championships. The fastest woman in CMS history, Abraham won the 100-meter dash National Title this year with a time of 11.87. She holds the record for the fastest 100-meter dash in program history (11.65) as well as the 200-meter dash record (24.36). In the classroom, Abraham completed her four years at Scripps College this spring, where she majored in Anthropology/Media Studies.
"Track and field has taught me so many lessons on self-discipline, resilience, humility, attention to detail, and drive," Abraham explained. "Additionally, being an athlete has also made me a better scholar and leader. I challenged myself by pursuing a double major, completing a year-long senior thesis, maintaining a high GPA, and devoting myself to track and extracurricular activities. My experiences as a scholar, an athlete, and a leader have empowered me to become the woman I am today.
"As someone who was raised by a single mother, going to college was not always guaranteed. Competing in a sport that is determined by such small margins constantly reminds me of how significant every action is, no matter how unimportant it may seem. Because of this, I have always been passionate about using my skills in order to give back to my community and empower marginalized people to raise their voices."
Abraham pointed to one particular experience outside of athletics that helped shape her path for the near future.
"During the semester I studied abroad in Madrid, I talked to LGBT youth and wrote about their desire for more accessible and safe spaces. For my senior thesis, I focused on victims of police brutality. And in the upcoming year, I will be working at a non-profit organization that assists in ensuring that public school teachers have the necessary school supplies so their students can succeed in the classroom. I am forever grateful for Scripps College, and the overall Claremont-Mudd-Scripps community, for allowing me to find my voice and I look forward to helping others find and use their voices."
A two-sport student-athlete in softball and women's soccer, Leyva recently received her B.A. in English with a writing concentration and a minor in Theatre Arts. Leyva, who was named a 2017 First Team All-SCIAC women's soccer player this past fall, and First Team All-Conference third baseman in softball in the spring, helped Cal Lutheran's women's soccer team secure the top seed in the SCIAC Postseason Tournament, and earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III Championship. Leyva helped anchor a Regals' defense that posted an 11-1-2 record in conference play during the regular season on the pitch, while her .400 batting average was second best on the team and helped Cal Lutheran secure 10 wins in league play in 2018. For her efforts, she also garnered All-West region praise.
"Before I came to Cal Lutheran, I was not the person who I am today," Leyva noted. "I was quiet, timid, and extremely introverted. I just wanted to get by without anyone noticing me. Everyone who knew me personally knew that this was not who I was. Coming into my freshman year, soccer started before school did so I already had a group a friends I could rely on. My roommate that year, specifically, really helped me come out of my shell by introducing ourselves to practically everyone we saw. I garnered more attention through my athletic achievements and gained even more confidence, so much so that I decided to pursue my dream of acting, a secret I had been suppressing because I thought I wouldn't have the courage to do it. Now, I have been in two productions on campus, directed a one-act play, and wrote a one-act play that got produced and praise from my peers and faculty alike, earning the departmental award for Best Playwright.
"Over the years due to financial issues, I had to become financially independent working two or three jobs to support all of my expenses from rent to groceries. One of which was as a teen counselor for a local middle school and another was walking dogs in the local community," she continued. "The middle school job taught me about the serious dilemmas young people face and they are more intelligent than we give them credit for, which is what my one-act play, Mandated Reporter, was based on. My job as an English Department Assistant allowed me to communicate more closely with the faculty, getting to know them outside of the classroom. They helped me with my senior project and I got to present it at a selective national conference in Oklahoma City. I am always happy offering my experiences and advice to anyone whenever they seek guidance, whether that be through proof-reading a paper or how to talk to a coach about a play. I got to travel around Great Britain learning about ancient King Arthur tales, my dream since I was a child.
"Being a student, athlete, and leader on campus has empowered me to be who I am and to not be afraid of what I have to offer the world. I know that I am capable of achieving my dreams and will do whatever it takes to make it happen. I have Cal Lutheran to thank for that. Now, I am going off to participate in the prestigious Disney College Program at Walt Disney World, quite possibly the best company to work for. One day, you'll see me on the big screen. Just you wait!"
The other nominees from the SCIAC included Stacey Zuppa of Chapman, Margaret Loncki of CMS, Catalina Lee Kim and Marisa Rojo of La Verne, and Caroline Ordian of Redlands.
The NCAA Woman of the Year selection committee will choose the top 30 honorees, including 10 from each division. From the top 30, the selection committee will determine the top three honorees from each division and will announce the nine finalists in September. The NCAA Committee on Women's Athletics will make the final decision from those nine.