By: Michelle Schmitt, Santa Clara Athletics
Assuming that the "extremely urgent" UPS express envelope delivered to her house was for her parents, when she looked at the package more closely Tanya Schmidt was surprised to see her own name as the recipient. She opened the envelope slowly, careful not to make any unnecessary rips to the package. As she read the letter on official NCAA paper, a huge smile appeared on her face. Santa Clara's Tanya Schmidt had been named one of the Top 30 nominees for the 2012 NCAA Woman of the Year Award. The Top 30 were selected from a list of almost 430 university nominees that had been paired down to 133 conference nominees in early August. Ten nominees from each NCAA division are represented in the Top 30, and on the list, Schmidt is one of just two Division I volleyball players. Click here for the release on the Top 30 list.
The Top 9 will be selected in mid-September and announced by the NCAA. The NCAA Woman of the Year will be announced at the NCAA Woman of the Year Awards Dinner in Indianapolis on Sun., Oct. 14.
Schmidt, a four-year letterwinner with the Bronco volleyball team, graduated from Santa Clara in June. An English major with minors in Classical Studies and Religious Studies, she received summa cum laude honors with a 3.97 grade point average. Schmidt was honored with an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship in March and also named the West Coast Conference Female Postgraduate Scholarship winner in June.
"I was happy to be selected as Santa Clara's nomination for the award, and then grateful again to be chosen as one of the two West Coast Conference nominees. Now, to be one of the national Top 30, wow! Thank you," said Schmidt. "If named the 2012 NCAA Woman of the Year, I wouldn't accept the award lightly. I would view it as an incredible honor, and a powerful affirmation of the lifestyle I've tried to lead the past four years. Additionally, I would see it as a challenge to continue to represent myself, Santa Clara, and NCAA women's athletics with style and class. I am and will always be an advocate for women's sports and gender equity, and I understand that being named to the Top 30 gives me a much larger platform by which to do so.
"After I read the letter, I looked online at the history of the award, and I am honored to be included in the company of these incredible, impressive young women," continued Schmidt. "I am excited to meet the other finalists in Indianapolis at the NCAA Woman of the Year Awards Dinner weekend (Oct. 13-15). We will have plenty of chances to spend time together and get to know one another over the weekend. I look forward to hearing their stories about who they are, both as student-athletes and as individuals who are involved in their communities."
Schmidt was a Rhodes Scholar finalist in November, 2011, a West Coast Conference First Team selection in 2010, and a four-time Gold Honoree on the WCC Academic Honors List.
"Tanya Schmidt is one of those very special student-athletes who makes a positive impression on everyone she meets from the moment you shake her hand," said West Coast Conference commissioner Jamie Zaninovich. "She is not only a phenomenal volleyball student-athlete, but, more importantly, her passionate involvement with social justice issues on campus and her community service efforts both locally and internationally have made a significant, meaningful impact. Based on her combination of superior athletic performance, remarkable academic commitment and enthusiastic dedication to her community, we knew she would be a strong candidate for this honor. We are thrilled she has been named to the Top 30 for the NCAA Woman of the Year, and we are looking forward to following her path as she applies her talents as a Santa Clara and West Coast Conference graduate."
"This is another great honor for Tanya. Going to the NCAA for this special weekend in October will be a really good opportunity for her personally as well," said Bronco volleyball coach Jon Wallace. "She has worked her whole life to be a great person, student and athlete and it's such a tremendous honor to be named to the Top 30. It shows others are recognizing that she works to be the best person she can be."
SantaClaraBroncos.com recently sat down with Schmidt to talk about the accolades she has received this year, what she is currently working on and what her plans are in the next year.
SCU: So many accolades have come your way since you finished playing, including being selected as an NCAA Woman of the Year finalist (Top 30). Had you heard about the NCAA Woman of the Year award before being nominated for it?
TS: I actually found out about the NCAA Woman of the Year award earlier this year, when I was looking at the NCAA website for scholarships for graduate school. It's a great award, and I am honored to be nominated for it in this really exciting time for women's sports.
SCU: The NCAA established the Woman of the Year Award in 1991 to celebrate the achievements of women in intercollegiate athletics. Where do you see women's sports now, and the future of women's sports? Talk a little bit about this.
TS: The NCAA Woman of the Year award is a great award and a great statement for how far sports equality has come. Women's sports has made huge strides since Title IX. In high school I had the opportunity to hear tennis legend and Title IX advocate Billie Jean King speak. It was at a Positive Coaching Alliance awards ceremony that I attended to honor my high school coach, Theresa Smith, who was receiving the Double Goal Coach award. One of my high school teachers, Dr. Naomi Schatz, had given me a copy of the 1974 inaugural issue of womenSports, which featured Billie Jean King on the cover. King signed the magazine cover for me. She had a lot of energy. She was excited to meet the young female student-athletes who were at that dinner, and she encouraged us to follow our competitive athletic dreams.
People all over the world, myself included, were captivated by various female Summer Olympians. As a volleyball player, I loved watching Kerri Walsh-Jennings and Misty May-Treanor win their third Olympic gold on the beach. They have been my favorite athletes for a long time, and I grew up watching them play on television. In addition, it was also exciting to follow the US women's soccer team in their journey to defeating Japan, in a re-match of last year's final game of the World Cup. I could go on and on about so many more athletes I enjoyed cheering on and supporting!
Kerri Walsh-Jennings, Misty May-Treanor, and players on the U.S. Women's Soccer Team have talked about how proud they are to have increased the fan base for their sports by huge margins throughout their careers. The thousands present at their games are a testament to how much the publicity, support and following for women's sports has grown. It's incredible. At the same time, there is still a lot to be done - a long ways to go for equity. I read a column by Mark Purdy in the Merc a couple weeks ago that said that though something like 66% of the gold medals were won by female athletes, the support for them will fade after the hype of the Olympics is over.
SCU: What does it mean to you to be a female student-athlete at Santa Clara? Talk a bit about the tradition of the women's volleyball program at Santa Clara and the path you took to come here.
TS: I am grateful to all the student-athletes and advocates who worked hard to pave the way for female student-athletes to succeed. I mean, without them I wouldn't be playing a sport in college! The Santa Clara women's volleyball program has a strong tradition, and I was attracted to coming here to be a part of this legacy. I still remember going to the Santa Clara v. Stanford match at Stanford in 2005. I was in high school at the time. I remember stressing a bit about where to sit when the match was beginning, because I was being recruited by Stanford and Santa Clara. I had a lot of respect for the coaches of both programs, and I didn't want to show favoritism to either team. Even though the referee stand blocked some of my vision of the court, I decided to sit behind the stand because that is in the middle of the court, evenly between the two teams! It was an exciting match, Santa Clara won, and proceeded on to the 2005 Final Four. When I arrived at Santa Clara as a freshman, I was so excited to have the opportunity to play with several of the Santa Clara players who had gone to the Final Four. I learned a lot from them.
SCU: You have had an amazing time on the Mission campus. What is one of your favorite memories of Santa Clara?
TS: The common denominator between all of the experiences is the caliber of people. So many people at Santa Clara, from various departments across campus, contributed to why my experience was so memorable. It is hard to choose just one memory to say is my favorite, but I will talk about one memory from my fall quarter, freshman year, because this experience introduced me to the type of close-knit community that I could be a part of at Santa Clara.
In my first quarter at Santa Clara, I often missed significant community events in my Residential Learning Community because I was traveling as a student-athlete. Around Halloween-time, even though I knew that I would not be on campus for the festivities, I asked my Community Facilitator (CF) about his costume. He said he would be a cheerleader. He was a tall, well-built, athletic senior, so I thought that this was going to be pretty funny. I was bummed to miss it, but wished him a good time. On Halloween, we played at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles. We were just about to begin the match when, all of a sudden, I see my CF and several others from my dorm floor, running down the steps of the LMU gym, waving the Bronco foam fingers. My CF's voice carried through the gym as he affirmed: "I told you I would be a cheerleader!" They had road-tripped to Los Angeles from Santa Clara, spent the night in a tent in Santa Barbara when it was raining. Their generosity and kindness blew me away. When I couldn't be at Santa Clara, they brought the community to me. I don't remember the specifics of that game, but I remember that I made sure I played really well for them!
SCU: You climbed Half Dome this summer with your Bronco volleyball teammate Megan Anders. As a student-athlete who is so busy during the school year, have you been doing anything new this summer?
TS: I have been exploring other options of staying in shape such as going to Zumba classes with my mother! It's hilarious, fun, and awesome to be able to go with my mother. We also tried Tai Chi classes, but those are harder for me to get used to because the pace is so much slower than anything I've ever done. Maybe it's good practice in slowing down for me, though!
I am also planning a road trip to Ashland, Oregon, with my father, for the first week of September. We are going to Ashland for the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival. My father and I are scheduled to see Romeo and Juliet and As You Like It, among others. We also plan to take a backstage tour. I wrote my senior thesis on a Shakespeare play, and I plan to continue studying Shakespeare in graduate school, so I am very much looking forward to the trip!
SCU: Now that it's almost the end of summer, what are your plans for the coming year? You're going to graduate school, but not until next fall.
TS: Right - I will attend NYU for a two-year Master's program in English and American literature, but beginning next year, in Fall 2013. I deferred graduate school for one year in order to travel, potentially through the opportunity of playing professional volleyball in Europe. In this gap year before graduate school, I also plan to do some writing and work toward publishing.
SCU: Where do you want to be in five years?
TS: Either teaching English at a high school, or in a doctoral program to prepare for a career in teaching at the university level. My experience at the NYU Master's program will help me to determine whether or not I want to continue on to a Ph.D. program. If I decide that I want to pursue a doctoral degree that would be an additional five years of school.
SCU: Do you have any advice for Santa Clara's student-athletes getting ready to start their season?
TS: Represent Santa Clara with pride! Time management may be difficult, practices and conditioning may kick your butt, but, please do not take your opportunity to be a Bronco student-athlete here for granted.