November 15, 2018

Former Gorloks track runner nominated for NCAA Woman of the Year

During her four-year career as a Gorlok, Meghan Illig found success in distinguishing herself through winning awards, such as the All St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) First Team, multiple Runner of the Week awards, and even a conference championship in 2017.

In two weeks, she will have the opportunity to add one more award to her trophy case: the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Woman of the Year Award.

With this distinction, Illig will not only be the lone athlete at Webster University to be nominated, but she is the only female student-athlete within the SLIAC to be in the running.

The award takes into account not only athletic success, but also leadership, community service and excellence within the classroom, where Illig produced a 3.93 GPA in marketing and advertising. When Illig, a 2018 SLIAC Women’s Track Athlete of the Year, was asked about her initial reaction, she found the nomination to be a humbling experience.

“I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” Illig said. “The NCAA is obviously a big title, so when I saw that my name was affiliated with an award like that, it made me feel really humbled that somebody had nominated me for that type of award.”

Illig will be in competition with 581 different nominees this year. In its 28-year existence, the NCAA Women of the Year Awards have never had as many nominees. It also reached its highest amount of student-athletes selected within Division III, with 199 nominees in that division alone.

Many of Illig’s teammates vouched for her strong impact as a leader both on and off the field.  Senior Megan Schramm called Illig an inspiration, and assisted her in finishing multiple races during their time together, even if she had been battling an injury.

“I definitely aspire to be like her because she’s a great runner, a great student, and an overall great person,” Schramm said. “Plus, if you tell her she’s this awesome, she will always be humble about it. I definitely think she’s a perfect candidate for the Woman of the Year award.”

The method towards crowning a winner focuses on a process of elimination. In each division, the NCAA selection committee will pick ten representatives from each of the three divisions, before the Women’s Athletics Committee narrows it into a top three, where a winner is announced.

The annual ceremony for the NCAA Woman of the Year will take place on Sunday, Oct. 28. Each of the nominees will be invited to attend a dinner in Westin, Indianapolis.

This season, the women’s cross country team has had to adjust to life without Illig, who graduated this past spring, as well as another All-SLIAC runner in Holly Goergen. The impact of both players was described as “irreplaceable” by Head Cross Country Coach Dan Graber.

In Illig’s absence, Schramm said that despite losing their Track Runner of the Year teammate, the team has used what they learned in the past from Illig and others to guide them into their future.

“(Goergen) and (Illig) definitely left a legacy to live up to,” Schramm said. “I think a lot of our runners stepped up and we’re still just as competitive. Plus, the freshmen really filled in gaps well so that we’re still a team to watch out for in the SLIAC.”

Illig would cite her support system for being one of the key reasons for this nomination. Along with Graber and Head Women’s Track and Field Coach Nick Niehaus, she said her parents going the extra mile to support went a long way towards motivating her.

“My parents really are my main reason for everything,” Illig said. “They were at all of my meets from the four years in high school to the four years in college. They would travel everywhere, and they’d be supportive of all my other teammates. They made it all possible for me, and with every step, they were there.”

Though she can no longer perform at the collegiate level, Illig said that if the opportunity presents itself, she would love to go into coaching and mentoring for track and field in the future. Until then, she will have the opportunity to be recognized by the NCAA in the coming weeks for what she was able to contribute during her time at Webster University.

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