CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – University of Illinois softball senior Nicole Evans was selected from over 1,200 nominees as the 2017 Arthur Ashe Jr. Female Sports Scholar of the Year, the Diverse: Issues in Higher Education magazine announced on Thursday (April 6).
The prestigious Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholars Awards, which is celebrating its 25th silver anniversary in 2017, was established in the name of the tennis legend to honor undergraduate students of color who best exemplify academic and athletic achievement.
"I am so humbled and grateful to even be considered for this amazing award," said Evans. "Arthur Ashe Jr. exemplified so much that I aspire to exude and contribute as an athlete, and I plan to continue to uphold the legacy of this great athlete."
"Nicole is the prime example of what it means to be a student-athlete," said Illinois head softball coach Tyra Perry. "She is a leader in both word and deed. Having that opportunity to coach her over the past two years has been a privilege. Nicole is very deserving of this honor and will represent the legacy of Arthur Ashe Jr. with dignity and grace."
Inspired by Ashe Jr.'s commitment to education and excellence on the tennis court, the magazine invites every higher education institution in the country annually to nominate outstanding sports scholars. In addition to athletic ability, nominees must exhibit academic excellence and community activism. To be eligible, students have to compete in an intercollegiate sport, maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.2 or higher, be at least a sophomore academically and be active on their campuses or in their communities.
"It is an honor and a privilege to work with Nicole Evans," said Marlon Dechausay, Associate Director of Athletics for Academic Services. "She embodies everything you want in a student-athlete; excels athletically, academically, and always finds time to give back to the community. We are lucky to have Nicole as part of the Illini family and I could not think of anybody more deserving of the Arthur Ashe Award recognition."
A 2016 National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) First-Team All-Midwest and Second-Team All-Big Ten honoree, Evans helped lead the Illini to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010 a season ago and paced the team in almost every offensive category, including batting average (.337), hits (62), doubles (18), home runs (12), RBI (53), total bases (122) and slugging percentage (.663).
As a senior, Evans has picked up where she left off and leads the team in batting average (.380), slugging percentage (.880), RBI (41), triples (two), home runs (12), total bases (88) and walks (17) this season. Evans also ranks second in program history in career home runs and RBI, and is just four homers and five RBI from equaling the all-time records set by Illini great Angelena Mexicano.
The Glen Ellyn, Ill., native owns a 3.8 cumulative GPA in kinesiology and is a two-time NFCA All-America Scholar Athlete and Academic All-Big Ten selection, while also being named a 2016 Big Ten Distinguished Scholar. Looking ahead to her future, Evans plans to be a physician assistant and has already been accepted into the masters program at Illinois.
Along with her athletic and academic achievements, the senior, along with her Illini softball teammates, has also put an emphasis on community service and giving back, working with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and the Down Syndrome Network as well as volunteering around the Champaign-Urbana community and communities the Illini visit during road trips.
Evans has become a leader not only in the softball program, but also in the Illinois Department of Athletics and the University as a whole, serving as the long student-athlete representative in the Illinois athletic director search last year. She was also chosen to serve on the African American Cultural Center Director Search Committee as a student representative last fall and assists as a student-athlete representative for the University Athletic Gender Equity Committee.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary milestone of the award, University of Richmond president Dr. Ronald Crutcher will be hosting an awards luncheon on the Richmond campus on April 11, with former student-athlete and NASA astronaut, Melvin Leland, giving the keynote address. Evans and Male Athlete of the Year Paul Sime of Kentucky men's soccer will have the opportunity for remarks as a part of the presentation.
Release provided by Illinois athletics communication office