MILWAUKEE, Wis. (naccsports.org) --- Dominican University's Tania Paez and Milwaukee School of Engineering's Jerica Kotarak have been named co-recipients of the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference Woman of the Year award for the 2018-19 academic year, as chosen by the league's Senior Woman Administrators Standing Committee (SWASC). This is the first time in the 13-year history of the award that multiple individuals have been honored.
Each of the NACC's 13 members may nominate one female student-athlete for the annual award. The SWASC uses a combination of the following criteria in the selection of the award -- athletic excellence, academic achievement, service and leadership, and personal statement -- and moves the award winner forward as the NACC's honoree for the NCAA's Woman of the Year award.
Tania Paez, Dominican women's soccer
"Several people play a sport they love, but once they graduate some completely steer away from it," remarked Paez. They only compete every once in a while or never play again. How can someone who played a sport almost their entire life just walk away? I just recently graduated and what I was expecting to be a great summer full of soccer, I instead found out I tore my ACL. However, this is just a bump in the road because soccer to me means a lot more than just kicking a ball around. It means justice, hope, and empowerment. Through soccer, I have been able to meet people and go to places I would have never imagined. This sport has allowed me to bring to light issues that people may not notice.
"There are barriers that need to be broken between inequality in gender and income. Women do not get the same recognition as men do when it comes to sports and minorities also do not get to compete as such high levels as their counterparts. This summer I hope to challenge that. I was inspired by a professional soccer player, Florencia Galarza, to start a soccer pick-up game beach clean-up at the Chicago Lake Shore, in which we will pick up trash around the beach followed by some pickup soccer games. In essence, I want to use my platform as an athlete to make a difference. Sports unify people to compete, however, sports can unify people to change the world."
The Berwyn, Illinois, native was a four-year member of the Stars soccer team that won two NACC tournament titles and a regular-season crown during her career. The 2018 squad was ranked as high as No. 7 nationally, posted 17 shutouts overall, and went unscored upon during league play as Dominican picked up its maiden regular-season crown. The Stars advanced to the NCAA Division III Championship during both her junior and senior seasons.
After being selected to the NACC All-Freshman Team as a rookie, Paez - a two-time team MVP - finished her career with three consecutive All-NACC First Team honors.
A three-year team captain, she was also a three-time National Soccer Coaches Association of America/United Soccer Coaches all-region selection, being named to the third team as a sophomore and to the second team as both a junior and senior.
"Tania Paez had a wonderful four years as a Dominican University women's soccer player," said Dominican Head Women's Soccer Coach Carlos Carrillo. "She started all four years, yet her growth over that time was truly remarkable. She went from being a hard-working, but very shy, player to being a decisive, vocal leader as a captain her last two years. Anyone who watched a Dominican University women's soccer game could not help but notice Tania on the field. She was always the hardest working, toughest and fastest player on either team. Tania also received the respect of opposing coaches who voted her to the all-freshman team her first year and first team all-conference and all-region during her final three seasons.
"When she arrived, our women's soccer program was just emerging from several disappointing years. When she graduated, she left behind a program that won the conference regular-season and tournament championship and a team that went to the NCAA national tournament her last two years. Tania also leaves as Dominican's all-time leader in assists and ranks top ten in the program all-time in both points and goals. We could not have accomplished what we did without her talent, dedication, and leadership."
Paez graduated in May with a degree in natural science with a concentration in health science as she accumulated a 3.71 GPA and was a four-time NACC Scholar-Athlete. Additionally, she earned second-team United Soccer Coaches Scholar All-Region honors while contributing to four straight NSCAA/United Soccer Coaches Team Academic Awards for the Stars and was named a 2018-19 Arthur Ashe Jr. Sport Scholars nominee (women's soccer, third team) by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. A member of the Dominican University Dean's List throughout her collegiate career, Paez was named Student of the Year within the natural science major and was nominated for DU's Senior Scholar-Athlete of the Year award.
She helped coordinate Dominican's Cans Across The Conference effort the past four years, while also volunteering her time and efforts with the Chicago Homeless Shelter, the Oak Park Food Pantry and Feed My Starving Children. Paez also helped collect, organize and distribute school supplies to underprivileged areas through the Pack The Bus program and helped coordinate a Secret Santa program for students at a local elementary school.
Jerica Kotarak, MSOE track and field
"My goal in life is with a wholehearted passion to pursue my dreams by furthering my faith, my service to others, and my drive to exceed in my service to this country and my career in biomedical engineering," Kotarak said. "Between the 4 a.m. wake-up times and physical training sessions, it takes a special kind of perseverance to immerse yourself into the ROTC lifestyle while handling the rigorous coursework of MSOE, involvement in Greek life, student organizations, and athletic practices. However, behind the surface of such rigor, I was able to see just how amazing and rewarding being so involved was. I was able to help a wide variety of people ranging from homeless veterans in Milwaukee to children in Uganda. It was then that I realized that what I had was something special and that every day is a day to make the most out of every experience.
"I was able to graduate from MSOE's Biomedical Engineering program with a math minor, while also being awarded the Superior Cadet Decoration Award and Distinguished Military Graduate honors. Motivating others in the ROTC program to continue to accelerate in school and the military, as well as the support from my family, coaches, and friends, is what drove me to my own success. School, the Army, and track have all been a crucial part of my development, helping me become the person I am today. With that, I was honored to be able to give back to the MSOE community and many others."
The Wind Lake, Wisconsin, native was a four-year member of the Raiders track and field squad that finished as high as third place indoors and fourth place outdoors during her career. Kotarak won 16 NACC individual titles along the way, sweeping the long jump and triple jump at each of the eight championship meets she competed in during her career, while also claiming overall Athlete of the Meet honors at the 2018 and 2019 indoor championships and Field Athlete of the Meet honors at the 2017 and 2018 indoor championships and both the 2019 indoor and outdoor championships. She also swept Freshman of the Meet honors at the 2016 indoor and outdoor meets.
A 12-time NCAA qualifier, she earned All-America honors in the triple jump at the 2016 NCAA Division III Indoor Championships with a seventh-place finish. An eight-time NACC Athlete of the Week, Kotarak registered 52 individual event victories during her career and graduates holding the NACC Championship and All-Time Records in both the long jump and triple jump - indoors and outdoors - as well as eight different MSOE school records.
"Jerica has been a major asset to MSOE Women's Track and Field over her four years in our program," remarked MSOE Head Women's Track and Field Coach Allie Nicosia. "Athletically, she has accomplished things that others can only dream of. To be undefeated in both the long and triple jump at both the NACC indoor and outdoor championships is something that is close to unheard of, at least in my personal opinion. Jerica has not only been influential in individual points, but has also had a major impact on our relay teams. She is someone who will literally lay her body on the line for her teammates. She not only proved this as she struggled through major tendonitis this past year but also physically laid herself out on the track to increase our team placing as the anchor leg on our 4x100m relay at the 2019 NACC Outdoor Championships.
"Her personality is extremely welcoming to everyone and she has proven many times that if there is time in the day, you can do anything you set your mind to, and be extremely successful at it. She is also in the top 20% of cadets in the nation, which she accomplished as part of our ROTC program. Her impact will leave a major hole in our program, as she was not only a leader in athletics but also paved the way for academic excellence as well; which is truly what we strive for at the NCAA Division III level."
Kotarak graduated in May with a degree in biomedical engineering as she accumulated a 3.38 GPA and was a three-time NACC scholar-athlete and a member of the MSOE Dean's List.
A U.S. Army ROTC cadet, she served as Battalion Executive Officer in the Golden Eagle Battalion based at Marquette University. The most senior cadet at MSOE, Kotarak's duties included managing current and future operations as well as overseeing the entire battalion consisting of 122 cadets. At other points during her time at MSOE, she served as Company Executive Officer, Platoon Leader, Operations Officer, and Squad Leader, and is due to be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Wisconsin Army National Guard. As a part of ROTC's Cultural Understanding and Leadership Program, Kotarak traveled to Uganda in 2018 to work with Ugandan children while also helping aid and train members of the Ugandan People's Defense Force.
On campus, Kotarak also served as a national member and underclassman mentor in both the Biomedical Engineering Society and the Society of Woman Engineers, was intramural chair of the Lambda Zeta Nu sorority, and was an athletic senator in MSOE's student government structure. She also holds membership in Alpha Eta Mu Beta - a national biomedical engineering honor society - as a member of the top one-third of MSOE's senior biomedical engineering class.
In the community, Kotarak volunteered her time and efforts with a number of events and organizations, including the MLK Day of Service, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, Colleges Against Cancer, Lifestriders, Wisconsin Veterans Stand Down, and the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King.
NCAA Woman of the Year Award
The NCAA Woman of the Year award honors graduating female college athletes who have exhausted their eligibility and distinguished themselves throughout their collegiate careers in academics, athletics, service, and leadership.
From the top 30, the selection committee determines the top three nominees from each division and announces the top nine finalists in September. The NCAA Committee on Women's Athletics then chooses from among those nine to determine the 2019 NCAA Woman of the Year.
The 2019 NCAA Woman of the Year will be announced, and the Top 30 honorees celebrated, at the annual award ceremony October 20 in Indianapolis.
NACC Woman of the Year Award Recipients By Year
2018-19: Tania Paez, Dominican & Jerica Kotarak, MSOE
2017-18: Chelsee Wilson, Concordia Chicago
2016-17: Holly Haberkorn, Benedictine
2015-16: Nicci Bermudes, Aurora
2014-15: Loretta Johnson, Aurora
2013-14: Jenee Lange, Aurora
2012-13: Torey DeLozier, Maranatha
2011-12: Carol Cayo, MSOE
2010-11: Cait Hartman, Aurora
2009-10: KC Blahnik, Lakeland
2008-09: Megan Scheele, Edgewood
2007-08: Catherine Chappell, MSOE
2006-07: Emily Henrich, Wisconsin Lutheran