By Martin Stillion

All photos by
Joanie Komura

SPU Athletes Win NCAA Award
Seven of the Past Eight Years

On August 22, Seattle Pacific University cross country runner Heather Wallace won the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Woman of the Year award for Washington state.

In some respects, that shouldn't come as a surprise. Any athlete could be proud of achievements like Wallace's. A three-time Pacific West Conference champion in cross country, she led the Falcons to four consecutive conference team titles and top-10 national finishes. Not to mention that she earned All-America honors, a 3.65 GPA in religious studies, and the Falcon Award for Excellence.

But there's much more to the story. Wallace, 22, is the seventh SPU athlete in the past eight years to be named Woman of the Year. In a state with 13 NCAA schools, that's a remarkable achievement. The award is based on three equally weighted criteria — athletic excellence, academic achievement, and service and leadership. Several Falcon winners also earned NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships or were chosen as finalists for national Woman of the Year honors.

So what's the SPU difference? Why do Falcon women practically own this award?

Wallace and the other winners are quick to credit their coaches: Ken Foreman and Doris Heritage in track and cross country, Laurel Tindall in gymnastics, and JoAnn Atwell-Scrivner in volleyball. The coaches, in turn, are equally quick to praise the athletes. "These are quality people," Heritage says. "They're committed Christians; they're looking for ways to grow. Excellence is important to them. People aren't here for money or fame; they're here because they think they belong here."

Behind the scenes, the Athletic Department staff has worked hard to promote candidates for Woman of the Year. Administrative Coordinator Joy Drovdahl oversees the school's nominating process. She explains: "Since I work with the students' academic experience, I know early on which students are excelling. [Sports Information Director] Frank MacDonald and I talk to determine a short list based on athletics and academics." Then, she adds, "we look at the service/leadership component and determine our nominee."

In other words, a Falcon athlete makes or breaks her chance for Woman of the Year, not in the classroom or on the field, but doing short-term mission work on a SPRINT team or volunteering in a senior center. Thus, the secret to Seattle Pacific's success may lie in the school's commitment to developing servants as well as scholars. Notes 1993 winner Tosca Lindberg: "SPU doesn't emphasize succeeding in the way the world does. Athletes are valued as individuals, and their whole lives are developed — not just their athletic skills, but their academics and spiritual life are cared for too."

That's the SPU difference. It's an approach that seems to be working; these women have encountered as much success off the field as on it. Below is an update on all seven of SPU's Woman of the Year winners.

Heather Wallace '00 (cross country, track) has started work on a master's degree in teaching English as a second language at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, California, where she's also an assistant cross country coach.

Lisa Smith '99 (gymnastics) won an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship and is pursuing graduate studies in counseling at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. She was a national champion in the vault.

Lisa Malmin Cooper '98 (track) also won an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship and is midway through medical school at the University of Texas in San Antonio. Her husband, Matt Cooper '98, is an Air Force officer.

Gina Moody Bolenbaugh '97 (gymnastics), NCAA Postgraduate Scholar and national Woman of the Year finalist, was a national champion in the floor exercise. She earned her master of divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. She's involved in high school ministry at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, California, and has stayed involved with gymnastics as a coach and choreographer. Her husband, Jon, is an electrician.

Heidi Hamlin '95 (track), national Woman of the Year finalist, specialized in running the 800 meters for SPU. She earned a nursing degree and worked as a registered nurse after graduation. She's now a full-time mother of two in Boise, Idaho. Husband Ted Hamlin '95, also an outstanding SPU runner, is an electrical engineer.

Karin Grelsson Strong '94 (track), a two-time NCAA champion heptathlete, lives in Seattle with her husband, Steve. Their first child, Stephanie, arrived in August. Karin is a CPA doing consulting work and Steve owns a computer services company.

Tosca Lindberg '93 (basketball, volleyball) lives on Guam, where she's involved with at-risk teens as a science teacher, church youth worker and coach. She played on Guam's national basketball team in the 1999 South Pacific Games.

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