Stevens: Top 12 Moments: Two Super Student-Athletes Gets Post-Graduate Awards

Aug. 1, 2012

NCAA bucks are always nice. Lobos Jael Fanning and Kelly Williamson got a lot of NCAA bucks this past season. which will make the financial burden of graduate school a bit easier down the road.

This also is a prestigious grant. The NCAA doesn't hand out $7,500 post-graduate scholarships to just anybody. The NCAA handed out 58 fall-sports awards nationally. You have to be a special athlete. You have to be a special student. Fanning and Williamson were both for the University of New Mexico. Fanning for Ket Vela's soccer Lobos. Williamson for Jeff Nelson's volleyball Lobos.

When Fanning found out she got the money, she didn't hesitate with her plans to spend it. She plans to stay in school for a while.

"I have wanted to be a physical therapist since I was a junior in high school," said Fanning, a four-time recipient of the Mountain West Academic All-Conference Award and three-time MW Scholar-Athlete Award honoree. "This scholarship is really going to come in handy."

Williamson will go into graduate school, too. But not right away. The First Team Academic All-American is not yet ready to step off the court as an athlete. Williamson has until 2015 to use the NCAA money and plans to pursue a pro career for several years. Her current plan is to go into Conservation Biology as her post-graduate pursuit. She also is considering putting in some time with the Peace Corp. Her plans depend on how her gig goes with pro ball.

To qualify for the NCAA award, student-athletes must excel academically and athletically, be in their final year of eligibility and plan to pursue graduate study. Student-athletes must also maintain at least a 3.2 grade-point average and be nominated by their institution's faculty athletics representative. Williamson and Fanning were at the top of this list.

"Anything you can say about the epitome of what a student-athlete is, Jael encompasses it," said Vela. "She is so deserving of this. She is an incredible person and an incredible student and she grew into an incredible soccer player."

Said Jeff Nelson, UNM's volleyball coach: "Kelly is an amazing and unique person. She gives of herself 100 percent in everything she does. Her commitments to the classroom, to her community, and to her sport are at an unbelievable level."

Williamson, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, is the volleyball programs first two-time Academic All-American and UNM's first repeat recipient. She was a Rhodes Scholar candidate in 2010. She was an All-Mountain West selection in 2011 and is a four-time member of the All-MW Academic team. She has a 4.0 with a major in Conservation Biology.

Fanning has a similar resume of achievement in the classroom and in her sport. The Albuquerque La Cueva High product was Second-Team All-Mountain in 2011 and made the 2011 CoSIDA/Capital One Academic All-District 7 Women's Soccer Team. She has a 4.07 with a major in Nutrition.

"I think what it says is that even though the University of New Mexico might not be as well-known academically as some schools might be, you can still have success here," said Vela. "We have Rhodes Scholars here and post-graduate winners and All-Americans. "Part of this message should be that you can come to UNM and succeed at a high level. It's how hard you work; what you put into it."