Brandeis University cross country and track & field student-athlete Emily Bryson and Case Western Reserve University track & field student-athlete Cassandra Laios have been selected as the UAA representatives for NCAA Woman of the Year.
Laios recorded a 3.80 grade point average while earning her Master of Engineering and Management degree after graduating magna cum laude from her undergraduate studies. The hammer throw champion at the 2019 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Laios was named the UAA Most Outstanding Performer in field events at both the indoor and outdoor Association championships in 2017 and 2019.
“Staying at CWRU for my masters gave me the opportunity to gain more confidence in myself and my skills as an engineer. In this season I accomplished so many things that I didn't think I would even be close to doing at this point last year” Laios said. “It reinforced the idea that you can really accomplish what you want to in life, with the most important part being confidence in yourself to get back up when life might push you down, which is a message I now try to spread to everyone around me. On the athletic side, I got to participate in a sport I wasn't sure I would compete in during college. I started to focus on throwing more my junior year then started to see more success in my senior year. Then a fractured ankle drastically changed my plans for the rest of that season. I spent the next few months working toward
s my previously set goals and figuring out where to take my future career.”
"I couldn't think of a more fitting person to be Woman of the Year. Cassandra has been a transformational figure in our women's program over the past five years with us," said CWRU head track & field coach Eric Schmuhl. "She is the embodiment of discipline, resilience, and an unshakable belief in herself to achieve whatever she is willing to make great sacrifice for. The Spartans' track & field program is forever indebted to her for showing what can be done when we hold ourselves to a higher standard than victory."
Laios' community service work included volunteering locally with the Cleveland Food Bank, Cleveland Kids Book Bank, and Playhouse Square, but also globally when she helped install solar panels in Botswana. She was also active on campus with the Case Engineers Council, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) CWRU Chapter, and as a student ambassador with the Office of Student Activities and Leadership. Laios also interned with Current by GE, where she learned more about the supply chain industry and how it can connect to skills as an electrical engineer.
"As a scholar, I was able to pursue a degree that sparked my interest along with meeting classmates that inspired me to put the classroom learning into practice through personal projects in addition to what was done in class," Laios said. "Through my internship I had the chance to perform mock-interviews with high school students to help them gain the skills necessary to make a good impression and figure out where they want their future to go.
"We are so proud of the accomplishments of Cassandra Laios. True grit and determination led her to become a national champion," said CWRU Director of Athletics and Chair of Physical Education Amy Backus. "Cassandra epitomizes the mission statement of the UAA, blending academic and athletic talent seamlessly throughout her career at CWRU. She is so deserving of this honor and we extend a hearty thank you for the pride she brought to our Spartan family."
Bryson graduated with a 3.46 grade point average while double majoring in HSSP (Health: Science Society and Policy) and biology, while minoring in French and francophone studies. She earned four NCAA championships in track & field and earned All-America honors nine times. Bryson totaled 13 UAA championships in seven events, was the only UAA rookie in history to capture the individual title at the women's cross country championships, and was named the UAA Most Outstanding Performer for running events at the 2019 UAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.
"My experiences at Brandeis have truly shaped me into the person I am today. As a scholar, my education at Brandeis gave me a newfound understanding of the world, the problems we face and the need for change," Bryson said. "In my Senior Capstone Project on ways to reduce U.S. infant mortality, I gained an unprecedented awareness of the prevalence of this issue along with the growing racial, ethnic and class disparities surrounding it, and raised potential policy actions to reduce it. As an athlete, I learned that successes and wins go far beyond personal fulfillment. After winning a national championship with my distance medley relay team, I was reminded of the impact I could have on my teammates and the program, inspiring them that with hard work, commitment and trust in each other, success is possible."
"Emily has been a joy to coach," said Brandeis women’s track & field and cross country head coach Sinead Evans. "She left no stone unturned in her efforts to improve and become a national champion. Her resilience has been as impressive as her success, and she grew so much as a leader on and off the track. I can’t think of a better cap to her career than being named the UAA’s NCAA Woman of the Year."
Bryson volunteered for four years with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay, providing weekly mentorship to a local elementary school student to develop a one-on-one relationship that reinforced positive behavior, improved decision-making, and increased self-confidence. She also volunteered throughout her time at Brandeis at The Waltham Group/SPECTRUM, giving biweekly guidance and companionship to children with disabilities through various hand-on activities.
"As a leader, I learned of the large impact I could have on someone's life by serving as a role model to them. As a captain of the cross country and track and field teams, I sought to lead by example, establishing a work ethic that inspired others to do the same," she said. "I served as a constant source of mentorship and support to teammates, helping those who struggled through mental and personal battles. As a Big Sister at Stanley Elementary School, I am reminded of the impact my relationship can have on the life of a 10-year-old, creating a mentorship of trust and guidance that instilled in her a newfound sense of self-confidence."
"Emily is so deserving of this award. She is the epitome of a student-athlete," said Brandeis Interim Athletic Director Jeff Ward. "She has been dominant on the track, but also a great student, a leader on her team, and a caring, giving member of the community. She enhances the lives of everyone with whom she comes in contact."
Bryson and Laios will now join conference selections from all NCAA divisions. The Woman of the Year selection committee, made up of representatives from the NCAA membership, will then choose the top 30 honorees – 10 from each division.
From the top 30, the selection committee determines the top three honorees from each division and announces the nine finalists in September. The NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics then chooses from among those nine to determine the 2019 NCAA Woman of the Year.
At the NCAA Woman of the Year banquet in Indianapolis on October 20, the top 10 honorees from Divisions I, II and III, including the nine overall finalists, will be honored, and the 2019 NCAA Woman of the Year winner will be announced.
Bryson and Laios earned the UAA Woman of the Year selection amongst an impressive list of nominees:
Fiona Muir, Emory University: The 17-time NCAA champion won six NCAA individual titles and swam on 11 championship relays, while earning a degree in neuroscience and behavioral biology and helping the Eagles capture four consecutive national titles. She was a pilot cohort member of EEGL (Ethically EnGaged Leader Program), served on the Emory Student-Athlete Advisory Committee for three years (including as co-president in her senior year), organized and helped run a Special Olympics Day on campus, and was a research coordinator for the Emory Department of Mathematics.
"The opportunity to be an NCAA student-athlete provides an avenue to engage in the community in ways that would otherwise not be possible," said Muir, the 2019 UAA Women's Swimmer of the Year. For my four years at Emory, I participated in Atlanta's Swim Across America, a charity that funds lifesaving cancer research and clinical trials. In my senior year, I organized the first NCAA team entry by rallying the Emory women's swimming team to participate in this event. It was amazing to witness my team come together to engage in our community in such a momentous way, while simultaneously growing my confidence as a leader. As a student, I began conducting research in an elementary school in Scotland, where through Emory's psychology department, I studied the development of empathy. This experience served to be a new challenge as I took a leadership role in a classroom in another country. Last and certainly not least, Emory has provided me with an ever increasing love for learning and has allowed me to build a solid foundation in science. Along with my growth in leadership and confidence, I will more effectively serve others, as I continue to physicians assistant school."
Patty Treevichaphan, NYU: Graduating with a major in sport management and a minor in organizational management, Treevichaphan helped lead her team to four consecutive UAA titles and its first NCAA championship. She was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2017 UAA Women's Golf Championship and shared UAA Women's Golf Player of the Year honors in 2019. She was a three-time Arthur Ashe, Jr. Sports Scholar Award recipient and was named the NYU Junior Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
"The night before the final round of this year's NCAA championship, I gathered my team in my hotel room. We were eight strokes behind our opponent, Williams College, a team that had outplayed us on multiple occasions. The atmosphere of dejection and hopelessness was palpable," Treevichaphan said. "However, the daunting and discouraging odds did not faze me. As an Asian female born and raised in Thailand, I often times find myself a minority among peers. I have to work twice as hard for the same recognition my peers are conferred. Even amongst the Thai community at home, I am expected to be exceptionally talented, since I am one of the rare international varsity athletes. It was this attitude of grit and perseverance that I tried to impart upon my team that night in the hotel. Throughout my varsity career, I have won multiple prestigious individual awards, but my proudest accomplishment and fondest memory will always be that night in the hotel room, captaining my team to the NCAA championship trophy. This experience has inspired me to expand my impact beyond an intimate circle of friends and into the larger community. By golfing for charities, I can leverage my love for golf into creating an external impact. Competing on an international scale would allow me to simultaneously progress professionally in my golfing career while promoting a meaningful humanitarian cause."
Heidi Nassos, Washington University: The three-time NCAA runner-up earned a 3.95 grade point average with a double major in finance and economics & strategy with a minor in environmental studies. As a senior, she received the Olin Outstanding Student-Athlete Award, awarded to the graduate who exhibits strong leadership ability and sportsmanlike conduct, and the W. Alfred Hayes Award, presented to outstanding senior student-athletes who provide constructive leadership by personal example.
"I ended my athletic career a three-time national runner up in the pole vault: a bittersweet honor. At the outset of my career, I set 10 goals for myself. I failed to meet all of them. This year, my team missed two national titles by a combined six points. It was disheartening to come up short so many times," Nassos said. "After not qualifying for the national meet as a freshman, I eventually earned six All-America honors in two events. This year, I led a team comprised chiefly of underclassmen to two national runner-up finishes. I've too often viewed life in terms of the first paragraph, but my experience on the track team has taught me perspective: to see value in what I have accomplished, rather than tying my self-worth to what I was unable to do. Essential to this growth was the discovery of purpose through the pursuit of something above individual goals. I began with the impression that athletic success was independent of teammates. I left recognizing that I'm part of a tradition of success. By leading with confidence and humility, I not only perpetuate this culture but improve it. By encouraging and learning from others, I can help them see life in terms of the second paragraph. Walking away from track, I'm empowered to think beyond myself and to spread this auspicious perspective as I address future challenges in life and the world."