Homer Glen’s Liz Phillips honored as NCAA’s Woman of the Year
By Jeff Vorva For Sun-Times Media October 18, 2012 9:12PM
Lockport graduate Liz Phillips accepts the NCAA Woman of the Year award Oct. 13, 2012, in Indianapolis. | WUSTL Sports Information
Updated: November 20, 2012 10:56AM
When it comes to trying to juggle two sports and maintain a perfect 4.0 grade-point average in college, Homer Glen native Liz Phillips prided herself on being prepared.
On Sunday night, however, she was unprepared for something that had been in the works since May.
The track and cross country star who graduated from Washington University in St. Louis was named the NCAA’s Woman of the Year during a ceremony in Indianapolis. She went up to the podium and gave an unrehearsed speech.
“I didn’t have a speech prepared because I honestly didn’t think I was going to win,” Phillips said. “In retrospect, it’s probably not a good idea not to prepare for a speech. The award recognizes a combination of athletic, academic, service and leadership, but I was sitting next to some very special athletes and I said, ‘Oh, well, I’m probably not going to win.’ I thought it was just great to be there and be a part of it. But when I did win, it was such a surprise.
“I think my speech turned out OK,” Phillips added. “I probably said a million words a minute but it went all right.”
Phillips is the first athlete from her school to win the award and just the third Division III athlete in the 22-year history of the award to capture the honor.
Phillips graduated with a degree in biomedical engineering and won seven All-America honors for indoor and outdoor track. She also won several academic All-America honors, helped the cross country team win the National DIII Championship, volunteered her time on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, served as a coach for Girls on the Run (a running program for girls 8 to 13 years old) and was a vice president for the Society of Women Engineers.
More than 430 athletes were nominated in May. In June, Phillips learned she was representing the University Athletic Association conference. In August, she was one of 30 finalists selected, and in September she was one of the final nine invited to Indianapolis, joining Hillary Bach (Arizona State), Grace Collins (Barry University), Kate Griewisch (Lenoir-Rhyne), Kelsey Kittleson (Luther College), Sarah Jane Otey (U.S. Coast Guard Academy), Brooke Pancake (Alabama), Alexi Pappas (Dartmouth) and Verena Preikschas (Cal State Stanislaus).
Phillips attended Homer Junior High and Lockport High School and was a standout in both running and soccer. At first she said she found running to be “kind of boring” and enjoyed soccer more. At Lockport, however, cross country coach Evon Schlotter changed that quickly.
“She was so amazing,” Phillips said. “She taught me to love running and that running is about the team and not individual performance. That took so much pressure off and made it a much more enjoyable sport. I gave up soccer after my freshman year even though it was my favorite sport, but it worked out OK for me.”
Phillips finished fourth, eighth and fifth in the state meet in cross country her first three years at Lockport. As a senior in 2007 an injury limited her and she claimed 53rd in the state.
In track, her 2008 time in the 1,600 meters of 4 minutes, 57.23 seconds is tied for 19th in state history.
Phillips is in the first year of medical school at Penn and can’t stay away from running. She is a volunteer assistant coach for the Ivy League school’s cross country program.
“I can’t give up running totally,” she said. “It’s an informal position. I just help them out. I drive the van. I run with them most days at practice. I feel like I’m somewhere between being an athlete and a coach.
“It’s good to stay involved in something I’m really passionate about.”