INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (vstateblazers.com) — Valdosta State junior softball infielder Nicole Pennington was named a nominee for the 2021 NCAA Woman of the Year Award, the national office announced.
Established in 1991, the NCAA Woman of the Year award is rooted in Title IX and recognizes graduating female college athletes who have exhausted their NCAA eligibility and distinguished themselves in academics, athletics, service and leadership throughout their collegiate careers.
The nominees competed in 24 sports across all three NCAA divisions, including 251 nominees from Division I, 107 from Division II and 177 from Division III. Multisport student-athletes account for 141 of the nominees.
Pennington, a native of Palm Bay, Fla., helped lead the Blazers to a 38-11 record overall and the program's fifth trip to the College World Series. VSU won the 2021 NCAA South Regional in thrilling fashion, defeating rival West Florida twice on the final day to claim the region championship. The Blazers tied for the Gulf South Conference regular season title with a 25-5 record and were ranked as high as No. 2 in the NFCA Top 25 during the season. VSU finished sixth in the final NFCA Top 25.
In a historic season both as a team and individually, Pennington led the nation in home runs with 24, while VSU hit 109 home runs as a team for a new school and conference record to also lead the nation. Pennington's 24 blasts marked the third-most in program history in a season and tied for third-most in GSC history for a single season. She finished second nationally in home runs per game at a 0.49 clip.
Pennington earned GSC Offensive Player of the Year honors, D2CCA South Region Player of the Year and South Region Tournament Most Outstanding Player. She then was named a First Team All-America selection by both the NFCA and D2CCA and was a Top 15 Finalist for the 2021 Schutt Sports/NFCA Player of the Year.
For the season, she played and started all 49 games and led the team with a .406 average. She had 58 hits with 58 runs scored, five doubles, one triple and 24 home runs. She drove in 60 (6th nationally) and finished the season with a .958 slugging percentage (6th nationally), while reaching base at a .527 clip (28th nationally) with 34 walks (20th nationally) and was hit four times. She finished third nationally in total bases (137) and her .958 slugging percentage broke the school-record for slugging percentage in season.
Next, conferences will select up to two nominees each from their pool of member school nominees. All nominees who compete in a sport not sponsored by their school's primary conference, as well as associate conference nominees and independent nominees, will be considered by a selection committee. Then, the Woman of the Year selection committee, made up of representatives from the NCAA membership, will choose 10 women from each division to make up the Top 30.
The selection committee will determine the top three honorees in each division from the Top 30, and the nine finalists will be announced this fall. From those nine finalists, the NCAA Committee on Women's Athletics will choose the 2021 NCAA Woman of the Year later this fall.