INDIANAPOLIS – Kayla Leland has become the first student-athlete from Whitworth University named as a Top 30 finalist for NCAA Woman of the Year.
Leland (Spokane, Wash. / Gonzaga Prep), a multiple time All-American in cross country and track and field, was announced as the Northwest Conference's nominee for the award in August. Leland was the second Pirate in three years to become the NWC's Woman of the Year nominee, following KC McConnell's selection in 2015-16. Leland is also the first woman from the NWC to advance to this point since Kaaren Hatlen of Pacific Lutheran in 2013.
NCAA member institutions initially nominated 581 women for the prestigious award, the most in the 28-year history of the NCAA's Woman of the Year program. There were 154 honorees put forward from the conferences for the national award, 61 from NCAA Division III. The 154 nominees represent 18 different NCAA sports and Leland is one of 61 nominees who are multi-sport participants.
From the Top 30, three finalists from each of the NCAA's three divisions will be selected in late September. The NCAA will celebrate all of the Top 30 finalists, and announce the 2018 Woman of the Year, at an awards dinner on Sunday, October 28th in Indianapolis.
"I am extremely grateful to have been selected as a Top 30 finalist for this award and for being able to represent Whitworth University at this level of the NCAA is such an honor," Leland said. "I am looking forward to attending the banquet this fall where I will have the opportunity to meet incredible athletes from all three divisions and from schools across the nation."
The NCAA Woman of the Year award is based on four pillars: academics, athletics, service and leadership. It is one of the highest awards given by the NCAA. The Woman of the Year award is unique in its recognition of female student-athletes who are not just successful on the field and in the classroom, but have also contributed to their communities and campuses.
"Kayla is everything we want our Pirate student-athletes to aspire to be," said Tim Demant, Whitworth's Director of Athletics. "Besides being an unbelievable athlete, she is also a great student and a remarkable person of character. We are so proud of her and know she is very deserving of being considered for this prestigious honor."
Leland became a 2018 NCAA Division III Academic All-American in track and field / cross country earlier this year. She graduated in May with a double major in health science and Spanish. She carried a 3.94 GPA into the spring semester. Leland is attending graduate school at Washington State University this fall.
Leland was an All-American in three sports in 2017-18, beginning with a 19th-place finish at the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships. She finished fifth in the 5,000 meters at the 2018 NCAA Division III Indoor Track & Field Championships. Leland closed out her year by taking second place in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2018 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field Championships. In between Leland was the 2018 Northwest Conference women's track Athlete of the Year after she won the 1,500 meters, 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters in less than 24 hours.
Over the course of her Whitworth running career, Leland was a seven-time NCAA Division III All-American in cross country, indoor track and field and outdoor track and field.
Leland was part of many Whitworth SAAC service projects throughout her career, including Trick or Treat so Kids Can Eat, and served as a leader for the cross country and track teams.
"My academic and athletic experiences at Whitworth helped me to develop a competitive drive to reach my full potential," Leland said. "I acquired not only knowledge and skills, but also a deep desire to serve others."