June 9, 2014

Duarte earns share of SCAC Woman of the Year honor

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. - In exclusive voting by the Senior Woman Administrators of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, Lilly Duarte of Southwestern University and Shelby Eaves of Austin College have been selected SCAC Co-Woman of the Year.

In addition to being recognized as SCAC Woman of the Year, both will be nominated for the 24th annual NCAA Woman of the Year Award.

The NCAA Woman of the Year Award honors graduating student-athletes who have distinguished themselves throughout their collegiate careers in the areas of academic achievement, athletics excellence, community service and leadership.

Duarte gives Southwestern back-to-back SCAC Woman of the Year honors as Rachel Thibodeau was recognized with the honor in 2013.

A captain for both the cross country and track and field teams, Duarte was a three-time All-SCAC performer in cross country and earned All-Region honors as a junior and a senior. This past season she qualified to compete in the NCAA Cross Country Championships. On the track, Duarte was a six-time All-SCAC performer, culminating with a individual win in the 1,500 at this past year's championship meet. 

She holds the fastest times in school history for both the 5K and the 6K (cross country) and is also the Southwestern record holder in both the 800 and 1,500 (track and field) as well as having been a member of the record-setting 4x400 relay team.

Away from the track, Duarte was equally impressive, graduating this past May with a 3.86 in Physics. She earned Academic Honor roll honors all four years at Southwestern and recently was honored with the Pirate Anchor Award. This award symbolizes the individual who keeps the seas calm in times of turmoil and strife and is presented annually by the Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC) to the male and female athlete who best display a number of traits that embody the spirit and character of the SU community.

Duarte's provided a unique perspective when asked about her experiences at Southwestern - a perspective traced back to a visit to the Williamson County Juvenile Detention Center where she encountered kids not unlike herself.

"Once the stoic silence was shattered, I realized they were just like any other kid; funny, energetic, competitive, and thoughtful," said Duarte as she recalled the visit. "Most notably, I sensed the waning flicker of hope in their eyes. I was too familiar with that look. I saw that in the eyes of the homeless senior I was mentoring at Georgetown High School and in myself years ago. Coming from a socioeconomic background similiar to theirs, all I ever hoped for was a chance. For me, Southwestern University was that chance. Every moment on the track or in the classroom was an opportunity for me to excel and become a better version of myself; and now I have others to do it for. Seeing myself in those kids motivates me to pursue my goal of becoming a successful petroleum engineer, but more importantly, creating a program or scholarship fund for kids needing that small chance."

And at the end of the day, Duarte knows what is really important.

"As a Southwestern Pirate, I've learned that the medals and plaques eanred will never supersede the importance of loving and serving others," continued Duarte. "That's what matters most."

Eaves is the first student-athlete from Austin College to earn the SCAC Woman-of-the-Year honor. A four-year letter winner and starter for the volleyball team, Eaves broke the Austin College record for kills in a career and finished among the national leaders in kills-per-set and total kills this past season. She was a two-time First Team All-SCAC selection, an All-Region pick, and was an Honorable Mention All-America selection.

An outside hitter from Farmersville, Eaves led the SCAC and ranked seventh in the nation in kills-per-set on the year, averaging 4.57 with 704 total kills this season. That number is the second highest single season kill total in Austin College volleyball history. She also set a new program record for career kills this season, and finished her career with the fourth best career kill total in SCAC history.

Eaves, who graduated this past May with 3.85 in Psychology and was honored as a First Team Academic All-Region selection, appreciates the experiences that being a student-athlete has provided.

"Although I felt like a defined individual before I came to college, I have completely grown as an individual while at Austin College," said Eaves. "In the classroom, I was challenged to be a well-rounded student and more importantly, an individual. As an athlete, I was challenged each and every day to never settle. As a leader, especially in volleyball, I was challenged to lead by more than example and I slowly learned to embrace that throughout my career."

Service away from campus was equally important to Eaves.

"My church encouraged me to engage those around me and serve them daily, continued Eaves. "My school encouraged me to serve the community around me through helping out at a women's shelter, after school programs for students, Special Olympics and more and I found so much joy in loving those around me. These experiences and more importantly these people, have taught me to go beyond my little bubble, embrace opportunities given everyday, and most importantly love and serve those around me."

In May, Eaves received the Gene Day Female Athlete of the Year award - the highest honor bestowed upon an Austin College senior female student-athlete.

Duarte and Eaves were two of five outstanding nominees considered by the SCAC Woman of the Year Committee. The other candidates were:

  • Ashley Meadows, cross country/track & field, Texas Lutheran University
  • Jaime Burns, volleyball, Schreiner University
  • Caila Criss, tennis, Colorado College

As SCAC co-winners, Duarte and Eaves will both be nominated for the NCAA Woman of the Year award, one of the most prestigious honors the NCAA bestows. The award recognizes senior student-athletes who have distinguished themselves throughout their collegiate careers in the areas of academic achievement, athletics excellence, service and leadership.

All conference nominees will be forwarded to the NCAA Woman of the Year selection committee. The selection committee will choose the top 10 nominees in each division. From among those 30 honorees, the selection committee will determine the top three in each division. Finally, the members of the NCAA Committee on Women's Athletics will vote from among the top nine finalists to determine the 2014 NCAA Woman of the Year.

The top 10 honorees and the nine finalists from Divisions I, II and III will be honored and the 2014 NCAA Woman of the Year winner will be announced at a dinner in Indianapolis, on October 19, 2014.

In conjunction with the changes in the nomination process for the NCAA Woman of the Year award, the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference Woman of the Year award was established for the 2005-06 athletic season. Beginning in 2006, the NCAA Committee on Women's Athletics (CWA) started receiving conference-designated nominees in lieu of the previous institution- and state-based nomination format.

From 1991 to 2005, each state had a woman of the year honoree and from that group 10 finalists were selected. From the top-10 finalists, the national winner was then chosen. Since 2006, each conference and independent school forwards nominations to the NCAA. 

To read about past winners of the SCAC Woman-of-the-Year award, click here.

Year-by-year SCAC Woman of the Year Honorees: 
2014 - Lilly Duarte, cross country/outdoor track & field, Southwestern University / Shelby Eaves, volleyball, Austin College
2013 - Rachel Thibodeau, volleyball, Southwestern University 
2012 - Sharwil Bell, basketball, Rhodes College / Abigail Loar, soccer, Trinity University 
2011 - Hayley Emerick, diving, Trinity University 
2010 - Lauren Reich, cross country/outdoor track & field, DePauw University 
2009 - Melanie Auguste, basketball, Colorado College / Amanda Stier, swimming, DePauw University 
2008 - Katie Doogan, swimming, DePauw University 
2007 - Liz Bondi, basketball & tennis, DePauw University 
2006 - Christyn Schumann, indoor & outdoor track and field, Trinity University

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