Former GVSU soccer player Clare Carlson awarded NCAA Woman of the Year Top 30 Honoree

GVL / Courtesy - Clare Carlson

GVL / Courtesy – Clare Carlson

Robbie Triano

There’s a certain pride that comes with wearing Laker blue and having the Grand Valley State logo placed on every student athlete’s chest.

When GVSU athletic programs begin their recruiting search, there’s a consensus on the three distinct qualities that separate Lakers from athletes in any other program: dominating in their sport, going above and beyond in the classroom, and being willing and passionate about giving back to the community.

Recently graduated GVSU soccer player Clare Carlson not only checked all three boxes, but she did so in fashion as she was recently awarded NCAA Woman of the Year Top 30 Honoree in Indianapolis, Indiana, Sunday, Oct. 22. 

The list of accolades include being a three-time NCAA Division II National Champion, earning GLIAC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2015 and 2016, graduating with a degree in biomedical sciences, earning a 3.91 cumulative GPA, and being an active volunteer with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. 

So when nominations opened up for the 2017 NCAA Woman of the Year, which recognizes exemplary graduating female student athletes, it was a no-brainer to add Carlson’s name into the mix. But if it wasn’t for Walter Moore, GVSU associate director of athletics-compliance,  Carlson’s recognition would not have been heard. 

“I really didn’t know much about it or that it even existed,” Carlson said. “Walter called me right before the end of the application deadline and told me I should really look into it ASAP.”

After being selected as one of the 117 Division II nominees, Carlson’s name went through another month of the selection process to narrow down the list of nominees. On Wednesday, Sept. 6, the list of the top 30 finalists was released, with Carlson being named one of 10 Division II student athletes selected. Although she was clearly qualified, Carlson was still shocked she made the list.

“It just hit me how there has been so many successful athletes here at GV,” Carlson said. “I wasn’t really sure if I would make the top 30 as it came down to the wire, but hearing the news was just an incredible honor.”

GVSU Athletic Director Keri Becker believes that Carlson is the ideal representation of what she expects out of every GVSU student athlete and recruit. 

“She’s the type of product we want to bring out of our athletes,” Becker said. “(Carlson) played defense, which meant she wasn’t really a scorer that got the highlight and glory. She understood that the picture of being a good teammate on and off the field was bigger than herself.”

Along with Carlson being handed her award, the NCAA invited her and the rest of the 30 honorees to a weekend-long stay in Indianapolis. Starting Saturday, Oct. 21, the NCAA held a conference about career-building with panel discussions about current issues and life post-graduation.

To follow along with the strong message about community service, the honorees went to the NCAA national office to volunteer. Shortly after, Becker made the trip down to watch Carlson accept her award, a moment that ranks highly during her second year as the athletic director.

“It’s a day away from being at home, but the trip was just a great reminder of how important what we do is,” Becker said. “I just sat in awe, seeing all the 4.0 GPA students and what they’ve done. These are the people that are going to change the world.”

During her time at GVSU, Carlson had to balance her soccer schedule, rigorous class load and her love to help other people. Although most would shy away from the challenge, Carlson used competition as her biggest motivator to succeed.

“I wouldn’t say that what I did was easy, but I was blessed with where I was at,” Carlson said. “I love to learn, I have a deep passion for my major, the professors around me were great and soccer taught me to compete. I would even compete against myself to get an ‘A’ in a class because I had a hard time settling for anything else.”

But what gave Carlson the greatest life lesson was when she volunteered as a “big sister” in Grand Rapids. As she worked as a mentor once or twice a week with a 10-year-old girl whose mom worked countless and long hours, the simple things began to appear much more important.

“It was just a reminder that when we’re all caught up in school and sports and the rest of the world, we have to just think about how fortunate we really are,” Carlson said. “It’s just eye opening to realize that the type of lifestyle she was living was only 10 minutes away.”

Today, Carlson continues her pursuit in the science world and plans of entering higher education, but there are definitely still days of reflecting on her fruitful career at GVSU. One moment in particular brings an immediate smile to her face, and that revolves around the last five minutes of the team’s 2014 National Championship victory.

“There was just a few minutes left in the game, and we knew that our lead was large enough to seal the deal,” she said. “I just started crying on the field. That game was the best I’ve ever played.”