INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Former Mount Holyoke College swimming & diving student-athlete Cathleen Pruden has been named a Top 30 honoree for the 2016 NCAA Woman of the Year Award. It marks the first time in school history that an MHC student-athlete has been honored in the Top 30. Now in its 26th year, the NCAA Woman of the Year Award recognizes graduating female student-athletes for excellence in academics, athletics, community service and leadership.
A record 517 school nominees were submitted this year, which was whittled down to 142 conference nominees. The committee selected 30 women from that pool – 10 from each of the three NCAA divisions – representing 13 sports and a host of undergraduate majors, including biology, accounting, criminal justice, education, engineering and computer science. The top 30 honorees have demonstrated excellence in academics, athletics, community service and leadership.
"This year's top 30 honorees have achieved remarkable things during their time in college," said Sarah Hebberd, chair of the Woman of the Year selection committee and director of compliance at the University of Georgia. "They are model student-athletes for generations of young women to come, and we are immeasurably proud of their accomplishments."
The selection committee will name nine finalists – three women from each division – in late September. From the nine finalists, the NCAA Committee on Women's Athletics will select the 2016 Woman of the Year, who – along with all of the Top 30 honorees - will be announced Oct. 16 at a ceremony in Indianapolis.
Pruden, who graduated magna cum laude in May 2016 as a dual major in Psychology and Education, carried a cumulative GPA of 3.97 for the 2015-16 academic year. A native of Raleigh, N.C., she was one of 15 recognized to the CoSIDA Academic All-America First Team. Pruden was the only selection among this year's honorees to have earned Third Team as a sophomore, Second Team as a junior and First Team for her senior season.
The First Team honor capped an incredible 2015-16 season and collegiate career for Pruden, who earned National All-America and Honorable Mention All-America recognition at Nationals in March. Additionally, she placed no lower than 18th in her three events, including a third-place finish in her signature event - the 400-individual medley.
The former Ravenscroft School standout had an incredible start to her final NCAA Championship on March 16. In the 200-yard individual medley, she finished 14th overall in the event to earn Honorable Mention All-America with a time of 2:05.41.
Pruden then moved on to the 400-IM the following day, where she battled to finish third in her best event with a time of 4:22.21, becoming the only swimmer in Mount Holyoke history to earn All-America honors in three consecutive years. The Lyons' captain then concluded her career in the 1650-free, finishing 18th overall with a time of 17:18.03 on Saturday.
She went into Nationals after posting another outstanding effort at the NEWMAC Championships where she was named the conference's Swimmer of the Year for the second straight season. During that meet, she posted three school records, achieved two NCAA B Cuts and defended her title in the 400-IM event for the fourth straight year with a meet and conference-record time of 4:21.77.
Additionally, Pruden finished no less than seventh in any of the seven events she competed. Among her top performances, included the 400-IM, a win in the 200-IM for the second straight season (school record time of 2:04.40) and placing third in the 1650-free with a season's best time of 17:15.78.
A dominant force for the Lyons during her senior campaign, Pruden recorded 41 first-place finishes, including 33 individual wins. In addition to finishing third or better in 48 of 54 total races, she placed no less than seventh in any event - with the exception of the 1650-free at NCAA's. She recorded at least two wins in all 11 dual meets, including 10 with three or more victories.
Pruden had an outstanding campaign in 2014-15, highlighting the year with her second straight National All-America honor after finishing eighth at the NCAA Championships in the 400-individual medley to become the only swimmer at that time to earn All-America (top-eight) honors twice.
The NEWMAC Swimmer of the Year in 2014-15, Pruden powered her way to 37 victories in the pool that season. In addition to achieving 10 school records, she also defended her NEWMAC title in the 400-IM, posting a conference meet and open record time. She was also the conference champion in the 200-IM and the 1650-freestyle. Among her other top performances was at the 2015 Seven Sisters Championships, where she claimed victory in five events, setting two meet records and achieving two NCAA B Cuts as well.
In 2013-14, Pruden became the first swimmer in program history to finish in the top-eight at Nationals, garnering All-America in the 400-IM. She was a four-event winner at the Seven Sisters Championship, as well as the NEWMAC Champion in the 400-IM.
During her rookie campaign, she was named the NEWMAC Rookie of the Year – the first-time ever by an MHC swimmer – after winning two events in record fashion. Pruden, who was a three-time Swimmer of the Week honoree in the conference, also posted two victories at Seven Sisters.
In her career, Pruden was a three-time NCAA National All-American in the 400-IM. A three-time CSCAA National All-America First Team honoree, she was also an eight-time NEWMAC champion, as well as a two-time conference Swimmer of the Year recipient. Pruden was an eight-time NEWMAC All-Conference First Team selection, as well as a 17-time Seven Sisters Champion.
Named the NEWMAC Swimmer of the Week 15 times during her career, including six during the 2015-16 campaign, she holds the records in five Seven Sisters events. Pruden also holds 13 of Mount Holyoke's 23 school records, including nine individual.
Pruden, a three-time NEWMAC Academic All-Conference Team selection, further etched her name into the record books with her third straight Academic All-America honor, becoming just the second individual in Mount Holyoke history to reach the feat three times. She joins former volleyball standout, Michelle Johannes '92, who earned Third Team (1990), First Team (1991) and Second Team (1992) during her career.
In addition to serving on the Mount Holyoke Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, including as its Chair, she is a head coordinator and volunteer swim instructor for Project SPLASH! Pruden also received the 2014 Psychology and Education Department Award for Academic Excellence, was named a Sarah Williston Scholar, and also earned the 2016 Mount Holyoke Student Leadership and Service Award.
A Special Olympics Clinic Volunteer at the 2016 NCAA Division III Swimming & Diving Championships, Pruden also spent four years serving as an MHC Youth Learn-to-Swim and aquatics safety instructor. She was a speaker for the MHC Athletics Department at various events, and was also a Mount Holyoke Admissions Ambassador during her career.
Additionally, Pruden – who was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society in 2016 - was named the 2016 Laurie Priest Alumnae Association Scholar Athlete winner, given to an exceptional athlete who displays great character and leadership, exemplary scholarship and is an outstanding representative of the school and athletic program.
Pruden is one of two nominees from the NEWMAC that was selected for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award Top 30. She, along with MIT's Margaret Guo - also a swimmer - are now just the eighth duo from Division III to be selected for the Top 30, from the same conference in the same year. Both are still in contention to be selected as this year's winner, which will be honored at the 2016 Woman of the Year Award ceremony on October 16 at the Westin Hotel in Indianapolis, Ind.