Accounting For Greatness (E. Tucker feature article/video, originally published Sept. 2013)
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Elizabeth Tucker didn't play soccer in high school, nor did she rank among the top 100 players in the nation in her prep class. She wasn't even awarded an athletic scholarship when she enrolled at the University of Notre Dame in 2010, instead joining the Fighting Irish women's soccer program as a "recruited non-scholarship" student-athlete.
Four years later, the actions of the soft-spoken Tucker during her college career have said more than her words ever could. As a result, the Jacksonville, Fla., native has stamped her place as one of the most successful student-athletes in the 127-year history of Fighting Irish athletics.
Tucker has been selected as one of 30 honorees (only 10 of whom are from Division I) for the 2014 NCAA Woman of the Year award, becoming just the second Notre Dame student-athlete ever to achieve honoree status (equivalent to being named an award semifinalist). Coincidentally, the first honoree also came from the Fighting Irish women's soccer program -- goalkeeper Jen Renola ('97) achieved that distinction in 1997 when the NCAA Woman of the Year award recognized 52 honorees (one per state plus representatives from the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico).
The NCAA Woman of the Year award honors graduating female student-athletes who participated in NCAA-sanctioned sports and have distinguished themselves throughout their collegiate careers in the areas of academic achievement, athletics excellence, service and leadership. In July, Notre Dame and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) nominated Tucker for the award, with the four-year monogram recipient and two-time team captain garnering honoree accolades on Tuesday.
From the list of 30 honorees, the NCAA Woman of the Year Selection Committee will determine the nine award finalists (three from each NCAA division), with that announcement expected later this month. The NCAA Committee on Women's Athletics then meets to vote for the 2014 NCAA Woman of the Year, who will be honored along with the 29 other award honorees, during a ceremony Oct. 19 in Indianapolis.
"These women are perfect examples of NCAA student-athletes succeeding on the field, in the classroom and in life," said Gloria Nevarez, NCAA Woman of the Year selection committee chair and senior associate commissioner for the Pacific-12 Conference. "We are impressed by their outstanding achievements and, no matter the paths they take after college, we are confident that they will continue to lead their peers for many years to come."
"I am very excited to be named an honoree for the NCAA Woman of the Year award," Tucker said. "Being chosen is an honor that I couldn't have earned all on my own. I am so grateful to everyone at Notre Dame who gave me opportunities, support and encouragement over the past four years, helping me do all that I wanted."
The versatile Tucker, who played forward, midfielder and defender at various times for Notre Dame, helped the Fighting Irish to four consecutive NCAA Championship berths during her career (2010-13), including the 2010 national title and a spot in the 2012 NCAA quarterfinals. She appeared in all 92 of Notre Dame's matches in that four-year span, starting 87 times while finishing with 19 goals and 14 assists.
The 2014 ACC Scholar-Athlete of the Year and recipient of a 2014 NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship, as well as one of five finalists for the 2014 Wooden Citizenship Cup, Tucker earned her Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.) degree from Notre Dame's top-ranked Mendoza College of Business in May 2014 with a spotless 4.00 grade-point average. An accounting major and theology minor, she received Dean's List honors all eight semesters she attended the University. She also was a two-time first-team Capital One Academic All-America selection in 2012 and 2013, making her only the 15th Notre Dame student-athlete in school history to earn first-team Academic All-America honors twice (and just the fourth women's soccer player).
"What an amazing honor for a tremendous young lady," said former Fighting Irish women's soccer coach Randy Waldrum (who now leads the National Women's Soccer League's Houston Dash). "I'm so proud of Liz, as she is a very remarkable person. From the day I started recruiting her, I could tell there was something special about her. I wasn't sure how much she would play, but I immediately changed that thinking once she stepped on campus and reported to preseason. I saw the energy, the drive, the competitiveness inside of her, and she reminded me so much of Ashley Dryer, who was part of my first Notre Dame team in 1999.
"Besides her playing career, winning a national championship and helping us to four NCAA tournaments, Liz simply epitomized what a student-athlete truly is," Waldrum added. "She was just as committed to her academics as she was to her athletics, and yet she still had time to work diligently in the Notre Dame and South Bend communities, not to mention being a captain for our program for two years. I still don't how she juggled everything required of her, and then to do it while maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA at one of the nation's most demanding and prestigious universities -- that's just incredible."
In May, Tucker became the first student-athlete in Notre Dame history to sweep all four of the University's major athletics honors in the same year -- the Byron V. Kanaley Award (senior monogram athlete most exemplary as a student and leader), Francis Patrick O'Connor Award (student-athlete who embodies the true spirit of Notre Dame through contributions to the team), the Community Champion Award (recognizing contributions by student-athletes to the University community and community at large) and the Top Gun Award (highest senior student-athlete GPA).
On campus, Tucker was highly invested in helping younger Notre Dame students reach their goals through the Notre Dame Peer Advisor Program, in which she met with 50 freshmen to discuss their academic progress and social concerns. What's more, within Notre Dame's top-ranked Mendoza College of Business, Tucker served two years as a teaching assistant in two courses -- Managerial Economics and Information Technology Management.
Tucker also was an active member of two highly regarded Notre Dame student-athlete groups -- the Rosenthal Leadership Academy and the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC).
As one of more than 100 student-athletes representing 26 Fighting Irish athletic teams, Tucker participated in the Rosenthal Leadership Academy for two years (2011-12 and 2013-14). The Rosenthal Leadership Academy is one of the nation's premier leadership development programs in collegiate athletics, developing and enhancing strong leadership on Notre Dame athletic teams by providing emerging and existing leaders with progressive annual programming. Programming specifics and logistics are developed in conjunction with administration and coaches, considering unique needs. A student-athlete is nominated through a peer nomination process, after which the final roster is developed with the consultation of coaches and support staff. Targeted growth areas include self-awareness, commitment to institutional and team goals, empathy and perspective taking and skill building through leadership workshops and retreats.
Tucker also served two years on the Notre Dame Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) board. Along with fellow women's soccer captain Katie Naughton, Tucker was selected to participate in the 58-member group. To improve the overall experience for student-athletes at Notre Dame, the SAAC works to improve relationships between and among teams and individual student-athletes, encourages involvement by student-athletes in campus and community service projects, and streamlines and promotes efficient communication between athletics administration and student-athletes to effectively communicate and offer suggestions for programs designed to serve student-athlete needs, all while creating awareness among the campus community about the student-athlete experience at Notre Dame.
Off the pitch, Tucker donated an incredible amount of time to numerous local, regional and even national community service projects, in addition to being an active contributor in several campus groups, both inside and outside the Notre Dame athletics department.
Tucker was closely involved in the Irish Fight For Life program, which pairs teams and student-athletes with a patient in the pediatric Hematology/Oncology unit at South Bend's Memorial Hospital, providing the patients and their families with support as they undergoing treatment for various types of cancers.
Tucker also participated in the Adopt-a-Family, Ronald McDonald House, Pediatric Christmas Party and Perley Elementary Tutor programs. What's more, she was instrumental in leading meet-and-greet events at local area middle schools, as well as soccer clinics throughout the South Bend area, notably with Michiana Special Olympians.
In addition, Tucker was part of the Notre Dame Tax Assistance Program, which annually goes out into the South Bend and surrounding communities to help low-income and disabled citizens with the preparation of the tax returns.
"Liz is an amazing person, who is caring, giving and loyal to the end," Waldrum said. "She has a great moral compass that guides her in everyday decisions, and she is what a role model should be. I'm so proud of her and hope that, even though getting this far is a huge honor, she actually wins the whole thing. I can't think of a better person than Liz to represent Notre Dame as an honoree for the NCAA Woman of the Year."
Tucker now works as a consultant at McKinsey & Company in Chicago, with an eye on pursuing graduate studies in the future.
For more information on the Fighting Irish women's soccer program, follow Notre Dame on Twitter (@NDsoccernews or @NDsoccer), like the Fighting Irish on Facebook (facebook.com/NDWomenSoccer) or sign up for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the "Fan Center" pulldown menu on the main page at UND.com.
-- Chris Masters, Associate Athletic Media Relations Director