April 30, 2010
The Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics announced today the six finalists for Fighting Illini Female Spirit Award. Some make their voices heard louder than everyone else, leading the team's charge. Others lead by example with their hard work and tremendous determination in the face of adversity and struggle. No matter what, these unique athletes stand out to everyone around them.
The following six female Fighting Illini athletes represent the power of the human spirit in the sports they represent. On every team, there is an athlete who exudes a level of passion and enthusiasm for their sport unmatched by their fellow teammates. They are: Ashley Edigner, volleyball; Megan Fudge, tennis; Krystin Miller, soccer; Tamika Robinson, track and field; Lacey Simpson, basketball and Laura Woolf, gymnastics.
It is a distinct possibility that senior volleyball player Ashley Edinger knows nothing else but to be persistent. After all, that is the best way to sum up her accomplishments at the University of Illinois. Battling through two seasons without a PCL, Edinger played well enough to finish as the career dig leader at Illinois, as well as be considered for an All-Big Ten selection. It is the same persistence that led her to not only becoming involved with SAAC, but eventually the chair of the committee representing the University of Illinois. Considered to be the heart and soul of a team that advanced to the Sweet 16 this year, Edinger's contagious enthusiasm and passion for Illinois volleyball has been a critical reason for the recent recruiting success of the program.
It isn't everyday that a student athlete changes the entire culture of a team from the moment they arrive to campus. However, that is exactly what senior tennis player Megan Fudge did upon her arrival to the University of Illinois. Fudge's feistiness and unwavering competitiveness has transformed Illinois from an unranked program that lacked the fire to improve just four years ago, to a nationally ranked squad brimming with confidence and raised expectations. Even to the amateur tennis fan, Megan's passion for tennis and her teammates is palpable. Despite being demoted to #2 singles her junior year, Fudge fought without complaint to regain her spot as #1. As her career comes to a close, Fudge's competitive spirit will have a lasting impact on Illinois' women's tennis program.
If you were to look up team player in the dictionary, you would probably see a picture of junior soccer player, Krystin Miller. Throughout her career on the women's soccer team, Miller has accepted her role with full conviction. This is evident by her selection as the Jeremy Daly Award recipient the past two seasons, an honor specifically awarded to a soccer athlete for their commitment to a team's core values and irreplaceable intangibles on and off the field. Playing a combined 48 minutes over her first two years at Illinois, Miller worked tirelessly during the offseason going above and beyond the sport's requirements in order to improve. Her example is one that her teammates strive to replicate, and her incredible work ethic and discipline continues to drive her.
In a wide-ranging sport, and on a squad of 55 individuals, junior Tamika Robinson has emerged as one of the leaders on Illinois' women's track and field team. Consistently energizing the crowd and starting the team chant at meets, Robinson values the camaraderie of sport and does her best to promote it within her own team. Like each of the finalists, she has battled through her fair share of obstacles during her time at the University of Illinois. Tamika walked-on to the track team as a freshman, and has fought through nagging hamstring injuries to emerge as one of the top five hurdlers in the nation.
While her performance on the basketball court established her as one of the best players in the Big Ten, it is her actions off the court that make senior Lacey Simpson a finalist for this year's Female Spirit Award. Despite her struggles with injuries, that included a season-ending surgery freshman year, and academics, Simpson worked hard to be successful in every aspect of her life. Her two Academic All-Big Ten selections, as well as her interaction with the local Champaign community attest to this determination. Simpson has also been an extremely positive influence on her younger teammates. In many ways, she has been a role model for lllinois' young basketball recruits by showing them the ropes on campus. Outside of the team, Lacey continues to take the time to connect with kids at local elementary schools, utilizing the lessons she obtained from the Champs Life Skills Leadership Camp she participated in as a sophomore.
Spend some time with senior gymnast Laura Woolf and it will quickly become clear why her teammates look up to her so much. While her impact may go unnoticed to the casual fan, it is her unwavering positive attitude behind-the-scenes that has helped transform the Fighting Illini's women's gymnastics team into a national contender. As a senior leader, Woolf has embraced the role of being a maternal figure to her teammates. Certainly, the grind of college athletics can be very tough on student athletes, and Woolf has always been there to comfort and guide her teammates in their times of need. As a walk-on to the program, and an athlete who has dealt with various injuries since her high school days, she has learned to maintain the brightest of smiles in the face of adversity. Laura Woolf's impact on Illinois' women's gymnastics program truly exemplifies the power of an unflappable spirit.