BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Aug. 16, 2021) - Two student-athletes from the Southeastern Conference are among the 152 nominees for the 2021 NCAA Woman of the Year Award.
Kayla Smith of Georgia, who competed in indoor and outdoor track & field for the Bulldogs, and Avery Skinner of Kentucky, who was member of the Wildcats' volleyball program, represent the SEC in the pool of candidates in Division I. The NCAA Woman of the Year program has recognized graduating female student-athletes for excellence in academics, athletics, community service and leadership since its inception in 1991.
The Top 30 honorees, comprising 10 women from each division, will be named by the Woman of the Year selection committee. The selection committee will then narrow the pool to nine finalists - with three from each division - in early October. From those finalists, the NCAA Committee on Women's Athletics will select the 2021 Woman of the Year.
Smith graduated Cum Laude with a bachelor's degree in sociology with a minor in Spanish and also earned a master's degree in Nonprofit Management and Leadership with an emphasis on community development. She was named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll and the UGA J. Reid Parker Director of Athletics Honor Roll (2015-21) and was a three-time USTFCCCA All-Academic honoree. Smith was named to the 2018 SEC Student-Athlete Advisory Committee as well as the 2019 UGA SAAC Co-President. She was tabbed an NCAA First-Team All-American in pole vault for outdoor track in 2017 and 2021 and indoor track in 2021. While recovering from injuries during her collegiate career, Smith served as the event planner for a student-organization that worked to fight human trafficking, planned multiple events to educate and inspire UGA students and secured summer internships with a local convention center and with a nonprofit in Honduras in 2018. While working on her master's degree, she participated in two internships: one working at a San Diego food bank to develop a new program to meet an increased need during the pandemic; and one with a local nonprofit in Athens to provide free books to students K-12 to mitigate the effects of "learning-loss" during the summer months.
Skinner, a member of the 2020 NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship team, graduated with Summa Cum Laude honors this past spring, earning a degree in Communications Sciences and Disorders. A six time member of the College of Health Sciences Deans List, she was Kentucky's female nominee for the 2020-21 SEC H. Boyd McWhorter Scholar-Athlete Postgraduate Scholarship. Skinner earned a spot on the Fall SEC Academic Honor Roll three times as well as the 2016-17 First-Year SEC Academic Honor Roll. She was a member of the 2020-21 AVCA All-America First-Team, the 2020-21 AVCA All-Southeast Region Team, the 2020-21 All-SEC Team and the 2017 SEC All-Freshman Team. Skinner completed over 250 community service hours at Kentucky, and was a member of the 2019 and 2020 SEC Volleyball Community Service Teams. She participated in a week-long mission trip to Ethiopia with fellow UK student-athletes, feeding children who were malnourished, visiting orphanages to deliver supplies as well as play with children and babies, and made home visits to families living in Korah, which is an extremely impoverished part of Ethiopia. Skinner also worked with the American Sign Language Deaf Culture Club, the Lexington Hearing and Speech Clinic, St. Joseph East Hospital, Breckenridge Elementary School, the Center for Child Development of the Bluegrass, Habitat for Humanity and Special Olympics of Kentucky.