NCAA honors all-around excellence

David Butler II/USA TODAY Sport

Seton Hall's Alexandra Maseko, a basketball player from Zimbabwe studying international diplomacy, will find out Sunday in Indianapolis if she is the NCAA Woman of the Year.

Bridgett Soares is waiting. First, the LIU Post lacrosse player is waiting to enter basic training for her new career in the Marine Corps, in which she hopes to go into counterintelligence. Second, Soares is waiting to hear if she will be named the NCAA's Woman of the Year.

The daughter of two Marines said her lacrosse training gave her an advantage during an introductory boot camp, which happened to come right after the end of her season.

"I did well with all the physical stuff at boot camp," Soares said, "so it definitely helped to play a sport."

On Sunday in Indianapolis, the NCAA will select its 2013 Woman of the Year from an impressive list of nine finalists, who have all completed their athletic eligibility. Some have their degrees, while others are completing their studies, in majors ranging from math to political science. Like Soares, they have spent four or more years balancing school and sports. She majored in criminal justice, was promoted to second lieutenant in the Marine Corps and was part of two Division II championship lacrosse seasons.

"You find a balance," Soares said.

The NCAA selected the candidates based on their academic performance and athletic achievement, as well as factors like leadership and community service. Many were asked to fill out an application by their athletic director or another administrator; they  were notified by email as they made each subsequent cut.

"I've been in shock," nominee Alexandra Maseko said. "I kind of applied and forgot about it, I honestly didn't think I had a chance."

Maseko, a basketball player from Seton Hall who is originally from Zimbabwe, majored in political science. She's now in the first year of a graduate program in international diplomacy.

Maseko hopes someday to get into nonprofit work and to provide an avenue for other smart and talented students from Africa to find scholarships to study in the United States.

As if sports and academic success weren't enough, many of these women enriched their educational experience through volunteer work.

Elena Crosley spent 30 hours training for her role as a peer counselor for survivors of sexual violence, in addition to playing field hockey for Bowdoin.

"It's something, sexual violence and that culture, that I hadn't known much about before going to college," Crosley said. "I've had friends at other colleges that have had pretty bad experiences, so I wanted to get involved."

Crosley hopes to stay involved in the issue as she moves into the next phase of her life, not unlike Maseko.

"Sports is absolutely a vehicle and a tool," Maseko said.

One that they have used wisely.

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