Randy York's N-Sider
Just when you think Mary Weatherholt cannot possibly do any more to enhance the reputation of Nebraska Athletics than she already has, the NCAA announces its Top Ten Award winners – the most prestigious individual student-athlete honor because it is based on academic achievement, athletic accomplishment and community service. The Top Ten Award is the king-and-queen-of-the-hill, top-of-the-heap award that Nebraska has claimed more than any other NCAA school.
With the announcement that Weatherholt is one of 10 student-athletes to earn the 2013 honor, Nebraska increased its national lead and now has 17 Top Ten Award winners, two more than second-place Stanford. The award is so elite and so cherished, the NCAA decided to expand the award from Top Five to Top Six and then Top Eight before expanding it a fourth time to a Top Ten honor, the quintessential number for NCAA teams and now the gold standard for individual student-athletes.
“I honestly feel like this is a university award more than a personal one,” Weatherholt told me as she traveled to Sarasota, Fla., as a volunteer coach with the Memphis women’s tennis team. “No person is an island, and whatever is accomplished couldn’t be done on my own. It’s just very humbling. I feel honored, but honestly the most exciting thing about the award is being able to represent Nebraska.”
Leblanc: Top Ten Award Most Prestigious Individual Honor
Dennis Leblanc, Nebraska’s Senior Associate Athletic Director for Academics, said he could not be more thrilled to learn that Weatherholt is now in the same academic/athletic/service category as Sarah Pavan, Richelle Simpson, Nancy Metcalf, Janet Kruse and Virginia Stahr – the first five Husker women to earn such distinction before Weatherholt became No. 6. “The Top Ten Award recognizes individual achievement as a complete student-athlete, and Mary certainly embodies the best in academics, athletics and service,” Leblanc said. “I considered it a great opportunity to work with Mary over the last 4½ years and in my mind, she probably did more for Nebraska than Nebraska did for her.”
Extraordinary credentials enabled Weatherholt to win the award. “She’s helped us expand our national lead in a category that we believe is the most prestigious award a college student-athlete can win,” Leblanc said. “When you think about the pool of 450,000 student-athletes across the United States, this award is about as elite as you can get. Like all of our previous 16 winners, Mary is very deserving of this award.”
Jacobson, Zimmer: Weatherholt is Balanced, Complete
Scott Jacobson has been Nebraska’s head tennis coach for 23 years. He is the winningest and longest serving tennis coach in Husker history, and Weatherholt has proven to be the biggest recruiting catch and highest level performer in program history. “Mary is an amazing individual with tremendous balance in her life,” he said. “It has been truly an honor to have someone with such integrity and class representing our Husker family. Mary’s passion, energy and enthusiasm were contagious and instrumental in helping lead our program to its highest of heights. She is deserving of all recognition that comes her way and I couldn't be more proud of her.”
Keith Zimmer, Nebraska’s Associate Athletic Director for Life Skills, points out that Weatherholt shared Nebraska’s 2013 Heart & Soul Award, the highest individual honor the Life Skills Department can bestow on an annual basis. “In my 25-plus years at Nebraska and working with thousands of student-athletes, I would say that Mary is one of the most complete student-athletes we’ve had in Nebraska history. That’s why the NCAA has given her its highest honor.”
Honoree Succeeds in Academics, in Athletics, in Life
Weatherholt was a Business Administration major. “Playing tennis at Nebraska is the best decision I could have made,” said Weatherholt, a graduate of Shawnee Mission (Kan.) South High School. “I’ve come across people who think that college athletics can hinder your education, but I think it’s just the opposite. I can think of nothing that would have enhanced my learning more than playing tennis and studying hard at Nebraska.”
Leblanc marvels at Weatherholt’s standard for excellence in everything she does, so it’s worth breaking down each area to understand her drive, character and versatility.
ACADEMICS: Weatherholt achieved a GPA of 3.7 while juggling multiple priorities. One of her teachers with a Ph.D. marvels at the perfect score she achieved in the Principles of Macroeconomics despite a heavy schedule. Her instructor described Weatherholt as intelligent, applied, involved, personable and polite. “She’s a student-athlete who deserves recognition for every accomplishment,” he said, “because she respects authority, values relationships and sees her success beyond talent and ability.” Mary’s mom and dad are both professors at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Mary’s aggressive schedule allowed her to receive her Bachelor’s degree when she was 20.
ATHLETICS: Weatherholt is a true trailblazer, rewriting Nebraska tennis history before closing her storied career as the 2013 NCAA Singles runner-up in Urbana, Ill. A fifth-year senior, Weatherholt made the championship match with five straight wins before falling to two-time NCAA champion Nicole Gibbs of Stanford. Weatherholt also led Nebraska’s women's tennis team to a share of the Big Ten Conference title and the school’s first-ever NCAA Sweet 16 appearance. She finished with a 30-2 singles record and paired with fellow senior Patricia Veresova to make it to the Elite Eight in NCAA doubles competition and a joint All-America honor.
SERVICE: Weatherholt insists that Athletics has taught her how important community outreach is. “From coaches, teammates and other athletes to trainers, doctors and staff, I had more care and support than I could have fathomed,” she said, adding that such support enabled her to volunteer frequently for community outreach. The first Nebraska Female Student-Athlete of the Year representing tennis, Weatherholt shared the Heart & Soul Award, the Huskers’ top Life Skills honor with Nebraska football tight end Ben Cotton and with Kelsey Larson, a member of the Nebraska swimming and diving team. “It’s not about me,” Weatherholt said. “It’s about helping others.”
2013 Student Athlete of the Year Overcomes Adversity
Mary Weatherholt has endured her share of adversity, but learned how to overcome hardship with a great work ethic. After tearing her left knee and redshirting as a junior, she developed a positive attitude to become the best teammate she could be and motivated, inspired and helped others. “Not being able to compete was excruciating,” she said. “Even though I couldn’t play, the injury taught me how dependent I really am.”
A month ago, while trying to mix professional competition with her volunteer coaching duties at Memphis, Weatherholt tore the ACL and the MCL on her right knee. “I’m rehabbing again,” she said. “I told myself I’m giving professional tennis a year, so I’ll continue to rehab and evaluate at the end of the year. I’m not going to give up.”
With Weatherholt, obstacles aren’t necessarily hurdles. They’re just temporary restrainers for what she plans to accomplish next. Despite injuring her only good knee, “I feel God is with me,” she said, “and I feel very blessed with everything and everybody around me.”
Nebraska’s Nation-Leading All-Time Top Ten Winners
Weatherholt joins the following16 previous Husker recipients of the NCAA’s top student-athlete award: 2008 Sarah Pavan - Volleyball – Biochemistry; 2006 Richelle Simpson - Gymnastics - French and International Studies; 2002 Nancy Metcalf - Volleyball – Advertising; 1998 Grant Wistrom - Football - Biological Sciences; 1996 Aaron Graham - Football - Animal Science; 1995 Rob Zatechka - Football - Biological Sciences; 1994 Trev Alberts - Football - Communication Studies; 1992 Janet Kruse - Volleyball - Biological Sciences; 1991 Pat Tyrance - Football - Biological Sciences; 1991 Patrick Kirksey - Gymnastics – Finance; 1990 Jake Young - Football – Finance; 1990 Virginia Stahr - Volleyball - Elementary Education; 1989 Tom Schlesinger - Gymnastics – Chemistry; 1985 Mark Traynowicz - Football - Civil Engineering; 1983 Dave Rimington - Football – Economics; 1981 Randy Schleusener - Football - Biological Sciences
Nebraska Ranks First, Stanford Second, Alabama Third
The Top 10 schools in the all-time Top Ten Award category are: 1) Nebraska, 17; 2) Stanford, 15; 3) Alabama, 12; 4-5) UCLA and Georgia, 10 each; 6) Southern Cal, 8; 7-8) Penn State and Brigham Young, 7 each; and 9-10) Florida and Texas, 6 each.
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