Lia Thomas’ NCAA Woman of the Year Show Is Over, Ivy League Picks Columbia Duel

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The NCAA announced its conference picks for the 2022 Woman of the Year award Monday, naming Columbia University fencing Sylvie Bender as the Ivy League’s pick, over the national champ and the University of Pennsylvania. Transgender swimmer Leah Thomas.

Bender, a senior from Armonk, New York, was among a total of 577 students nominated for the honor earlier this month and was one of eight athletes nominated by The Ivy League Conference.

Columbia's Sylvie Bender celebrates after winning the Foil semifinals during the Women's Division I Fencing Championships at Wallstein Center on the Cleveland State University campus on March 24, 2019, in Ohio.

Columbia’s Sylvie Bender celebrates after winning the Foil semifinals during the Women’s Division I Fencing Championships at Wallstein Center on the Cleveland State University campus on March 24, 2019, in Ohio.
(Jason Miller/NCAA photos via Getty Images)

that NCAA Women’s Foil Champion In 2019, she placed fifth in the Ivy League this season, second in the Northeast Regional, and third in the NCAA Championships with an overall number of 17-6. She was also named the 2022 Kuni S. Manyatti Women’s Award winner as Columbia University’s Best Student Athlete.

Bender has outdone many other athletes for this distinction, including Thomas, whose nomination in mid-July sparked controversy over her eligibility as a transgender female.

Leah Thomas’ nomination for Best Woman in NCAA Is a ‘Slap in the Face’ for Female Swimming: Rails Gains

Thomas set records in the pool during the 2021-2022 college swimming season, culminating in the NCAA Swimming Championships in March and a major discussion about transgender participation in athletics.

As the 2022 season progressed, Thomas—who began hormone replacement therapy in 2019—shattered UPenn’s records in the pool, breaking the university school’s record in 100 free (47.37), 200 free (1:41.93), and 500 free (4:33.24). )), 1000 free (9:35.96) and 1650 free (15:59.71).

Leah Thomas after winning the Women's 500-yard Freestyle during the NCAA Division I women's swimming and diving championships at the Georgia Institute of Technology campus on March 17, 2022, in Atlanta.

Leah Thomas after winning the Women’s 500-yard Freestyle during the NCAA Division I women’s swimming and diving championships at the Georgia Institute of Technology campus on March 17, 2022, in Atlanta.
(Mike Comer/NCAA Images via Getty Images)

At the Ivy League Championships in February, Thomas finished first in points out of 129 swimmers, taking first place in three events. Thomas won the 100-meter freestyle title in 47.63, which was a school and meet record title.

Thomas also placed first in the 200 freestyle, set pool and meet records with a time of 1:43.12 seconds, and in the 500 freestyle where Thomas set a pool record with a time of 4:37.32. Thomas 500’s free time in the Ivy League broke the previous record set by Olympian Kate Ziegler, according to Sports Illustrated.

Ex-college athletes stand up against Leah Thomas being named ‘Lady of the Year’

At the NCAA tournament in March, while Thomas did not experience the same level of success, placing fifth in the 200 freestyle and eighth in the 100 freestyle, Thomas finished first and set an Ivy League record in the 500 freestyle.

Before moving on, Thomas swam for the Penn men’s swimming team for three seasons.

Leah Thomas, left, of the University of Pennsylvania standing on the podium after winning the 500-yard freestyle with other medalists, left, Emma Wyan, Erica Sullivan and Brock Fordy posing for a photo at the NCAA Division I women's swimming and diving championships March 17, 2022, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Leah Thomas, left, of the University of Pennsylvania standing on the podium after winning the 500-yard freestyle with other medalists, left, Emma Wyan, Erica Sullivan and Brock Fordy posing for a photo at the NCAA Division I women’s swimming and diving championships March 17, 2022, in Atlanta, Georgia.
(Justin Casterlin/Getty Images)

Thomas was one of two people nominated for this year’s NCAA Woman of the Year award from the University of Pennsylvania. Tennis player Iulia Pryzgalova was also nominated.

According to the NCAA website, a school may nominate two people for the award if one of them is a “Student Athlete of Color or International Student Athlete.”

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Bryzgalova, whose hometown is Moscow, Russia, had a great season for the women’s tennis team at UPenn, being named to the All-Ivy League first team in both singles and doubles. Bryzgalova finished the 2021-2022 season with an overall record of 23-7 and was named ITA Northeast Region Player of the Year.

Monday’s announcement reduced the field to 151 student-athletes. The Woman of the Year selection committee will now select 10 nominees from each division and the top 30 nominees will be announced in October.

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Leah Thomas enters the 200th freestyle final during the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships on March 18, 2022, at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Leah Thomas enters the 200th freestyle final during the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships on March 18, 2022, at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
(Rich von Biberstein/IKON Sportswear via Getty Images)

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Selection guidelines include a personal statement from each candidate, service, leadership, academic achievement, and athletic excellence.

The winner will be announced in January at the NCAA Conference in San Antonio.

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