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Big Ten CommunicationsPublished: 8/15/2023, Last updated: 9/27/2023
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Illinois' Brown, Indiana's Hayden Nominated for NCAA Woman of the Year Award

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 University of Illinois volleyball player Diana Brown and Indiana University diver Kristen Hayden have been selected as the Big Ten Conference nominees for the 2023 NCAA Woman of the Year Award, the conference announced on Monday.

The pair are among a record-breaking 619 candidates across all three NCAA divisions nominated for this year’s honor, which has been presented annually since 1991 and recognizes graduating female college athletes who have exhausted their NCAA eligibility and distinguished themselves in academics, athletics, service and leadership throughout their careers.

Nebraska volleyball standout Billie Winsett-Fletcher (1996) and Husker track & field great Angela Mercurio (2019) are the two students from a current Big Ten school to have been chosen as NCAA Woman of the Year.

Brown, a Westerville, Ohio native, capped her career as both a Big Ten Wayne Duke and NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship winner. A four-year captain for the Illini, Brown started every match of her career and ranks fifth in program history with 4,247 assists, while her 54 career double-doubles are good for fourth.

A two-time College Sports Communicators (CSC) Academic All-American, Brown graduated with 4.0 grade point average in molecular and cellular biology with a minor in psychology. After collecting four Academic All-Big Ten and two Big Ten Distinguished Scholar accolades, Brown will attend medical school in the Fall.

In addition to her work on the court and in the classroom, Brown has added weekly volunteer activities to her schedule. When not researching substance abuse treatment or serving as Secretary for the Illinois Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) Board, Brown shares her time with residents at Danbury Senior Living and participates in the Westerville Area Resource Ministry Canned Food Drive.   

A two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree hailing from Hillsborough, N.J., Hayden earned the 2022 Big Ten Medal of Honor and was named a First Team All-American after earning a silver medal in the 3-meter springboard at the 2022 NCAA Championships. Hayden made history in 2021, joining Indiana teammate Quinn Henninger for a gold medal-winning performance in the 3-meter synchronized diving event at the 2021 Winter National Championships, making her the first African-American woman to win a U.S. diving championship.

Rebounding from a learning disorder diagnosed in high school, Hayden recently graduated summa cum laude from Indiana with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies arts and sciences. Hayden completed her studies with a 3.994 cumulative grade point average and was named an Indiana University Founders Scholar, reserved only for the University’s most academically distinguished undergraduates.

Hayden’s impact can also be felt in the community, where she uses her story to inspire those around her. Hayden is one of the authors of the book Dear Rebel Girls, a text that uses personal stories to share journey’s of discovery, confidence and self. Hayden has also been an active member of the USA Diving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Board and a keynote speaker at the Disability:IN global conference.

The NCAA Woman of the Year selection committee, comprised of representatives from NCAA membership, will choose the top 30 honorees, 10 from each NCAA division, for this year’s award, with those selections announced in September.

From the top 30, the committee will then determine the top three honorees in each division, with those nine finalists revealed this fall. The NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics will ultimately select the 2023 NCAA Woman of the Year recipient from those nine finalists, with the top 30 honorees recognized and the award winner announced at the 2024 NCAA Convention in Phoenix.