BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Tennessee basketball player Cierra Burdick and Alabama gymnast Kim Jacob are the Southeastern Conference's nominees for the 2015 NCAA Woman of the Year award, it was announced Thursday.
Now in its 25th year, the 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. The NCAA encourages member schools to honor its top graduating female student-athletes each year by submitting their names for consideration for the Woman of the Year award.
Conference nominations will be forwarded to the NCAA Woman of the Year selection committee. The selection committee chooses the top 10 honorees in each of the three NCAA divisions. From among those 30 candidates, the selection committee then determines the top three finalists in each division. Finally, the members of the NCAA Committee on Women's Athletics will select the 2015 NCAA Woman of the Year from the top nine finalists. The 2015 NCAA Woman of the Year will be announced at an awards dinner in Indianapolis on Sunday, October 18, 2015.
Six women in SEC history have been named the NCAA's Woman of the Year since the advent of the award in 1991.
A 2015 second-round pick of the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks, Burdick now plays for the Atlanta Dream. She was Tennessee's nominee for the 2015 SEC H. Boyd McWhorter Scholar-Athlete Post-Graduate Scholarship and was the winner of the NCAA Jim McKay Scholarship as well. Additionally, she was a CoSIDA Academic All-American, a University of Tennessee Torchbearer, a two-time member of the SEC Community Service Team and a four-time SEC Academic Honor Roll recipient.
"If you are trying to show someone what a true student-athlete looks like, Cierra Burdick would be a fantastic model," Tennessee head basketball coach Holly Warlick said. "She always has displayed a strong commitment to being the best student and the best player she could possibly be and a great representative for the University of Tennessee. She has been selfless in her quest to offer a helping hand to others, and it is wonderful to see her recognized for that compassion."
Burdick averaged 11.0 points and 7.6 rebounds, hit 82.5 percent of her free throws and led Tennessee in assists with 91 as a senior. She also was third with 38 steals, earning AP Honorable Mention All-America and first-team All-SEC accolades from the league's coaches. She led the Big Orange with nine double-doubles in 2014-15 and wound up with 1,072 career points.
During her career at Tennessee, Burdick enjoyed a 113-29 overall record, helping the Lady Vols win two SEC regular-season titles and a pair of SEC tournament trophies. UT also was 61-8 at home during her tenure, including 18-0 at Thompson-Boling Arena in 2014-15, and the Big Orange women made three NCAA Elite Eights and one Sweet 16 during her four-year stint.
"It's a blessing to be able to represent the SEC and the University of Tennessee amongst so many great athletes and women," Burdick said. "My four years as a Lady Vol were some of the best times of my life, and I'm beyond grateful for the experiences I had, the relationships I built, and the growth I made.
"As athletes, we have such an amazing platform to give back and make a difference. My time at Tennessee will not only be remembered for the diploma I earned and the championships I won, but more so for the communities I served and the youth I mentored."
In the community, Burdick's activism was a constant throughout her time in Knoxville. Not only did she mentor and coach youth, visit sick children, sing Christmas carols to nursing home patients and assist on Habitat for Humanity builds, among other service projects, she co-founded DREAM Team. That unit was a hand-picked group of 12 student-athletes committed to being drug, alcohol, tobacco and violence free, and willing to speak to groups or do service around the area.
"Cierra Burdick is the real deal," said Donna Thomas, Senior Associate Athletics Director and Senior Woman Administrator at Tennessee. "She is an outstanding student, a gifted athlete and an incredible leader. She is committed to making a difference in every aspect of life. Her development and implementation of the Dream Team is a classic example of her ability to impact her peers and our world. Having Cierra represent the University of Tennessee and the Southeastern Conference is an honor to both organizations, as she represents the best of intercollegiate athletics."
Jacob was one of the all-time great Alabama gymnasts, earning 11 All-America honors, an NCAA all-around championship while leading Alabama to four top-four NCAA finishes including back-to-back national championships as well as a pair of SEC team titles during her career.
Jacob was also an amazing student, carrying a 4.0 grade point average while pursuing a degree in exercise science, which led her to being the first student-athlete in league history to earn SEC Gymnastics Scholar-Athlete of the Year honors three-times in a row. An NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship winner, Jacob earned a place on the SEC Community Service Team in her junior and senior years.
"I am so proud to be a part of the University of Alabama's tradition of excellence and to be recognized in this amazing way by the Southeastern Conference," Jacob said. "I am truly awestruck by the championship legacy that I have had the privilege to be a part of both at Alabama and as part of SEC. I have to thank my family, my teachers, my coaches and especially my teammates for everything that I've accomplished. Their support, love and constant encouragement provided the platform for all the success that I enjoyed."
After earning the 2014 NCAA all-around championship to close out her competitive career, Jacob went on to earn the Honda Award for Gymnastics, given annually to the nation's top gymnast. That in turn made her one of the 12 finalists for the Honda Cup, which goes to the collegiate woman athlete of the year. On July 1, 2014 in Los Angeles, Calif., during a live broadcast of the ceremony, Jacob became the first Alabama student-athlete to win the Honda Cup.
In addition to earning the Honda Cup on the first day of July, she was honored as the nation's top scholar on the last day of that month when she was named the Capital One Academic All-America of the Year. The award recognizes the top student in all of NCAA Division I, regardless of sport or gender.
"I am incredibly excited that Kim has been honored by the Southeastern Conference as its NCAA Woman of the Year candidate," former Alabama head gymnastics coach Sarah Patterson said. "To me, she represents what this award is all about - balancing everything it takes to be a champion in the classroom, community and as a competitor. Kim was one of the finest leaders I had the opportunity to work with because she was the epitome of excellence in all areas of her life. Now she is being recognized as the best of the best by the nation's finest conference - an honor of which she is most deserving."
A two-time member of the Capital One Academic All-America At-Large Team, Jacob was the third Crimson Tide student-athlete in a row to be voted the Academic All-America of the Year, making Alabama the only school in the history of the honor to win it three consecutive years and one of just two schools to earn the honor three times.
Jacob - who served as a student coach for the Crimson Tide in 2015 - was named an NCAA Today's Top 10 Award winner in November 2014. The award recognizes student-athletes for their successes athletically, academically and in the community. The award, which was previously known at the NCAA Top VIII, honors the nation's top 10 senior student-athletes, regardless of NCAA division or gender.
"The word that describes all the amazing honors Kim has earned is excellence," Alabama head gymnastics coach Dana Duckworth said. "It is an awesome accomplishment that she made history as the first student ever to be named both the National Woman Athlete of the Year and NCAA Division I's top scholar. She is once again being recognized for her amazing career as the SEC's nominee for the NCAA Woman of the Year. Kim Jacob is a shining example of the fact that at Alabama, you can truly have it all. We applaud Kim for all she's done and I am beyond proud to have her as a part of my first staff. She is a shining example to us all."
Learn more about the award and selection process online at www.ncaa.org/WOTY.