Bellinder Wins NCAA Elite 88 Award

Alyssa Bellinder

Nov. 21, 2010

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State senior Alyssa Bellinder became the latest Wildcat to be recognized for her hard work in the classroom on Saturday evening at the NCAA cross country national championship banquet receiving the NCAA Elite 88 Award as the top student-athlete in her sport with a perfect 4.0 GPA.

“I was always taught to do everything to the best of my ability, and I carried that over to college,” Bellinder said. “I never let myself not do my best in anything whether it’s running or grades. This is something I’ve been working so hard at, and it’s paid off. It’s been a great season and I’m so happy to be here with a great team and, I’m glad I made the decision to join the team because I didn’t think I could do it.”

The Elite 88 Award recognizes the true essence of the student-athlete by honoring the individual who has reached the pinnacle of competition at the national championship level in his or her sport, while also achieving the highest academic standard among his or her peers. The Elite 88 is presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA’s 88 championships.

Head cross country coach Michael Smith said this award is a testament to the type of person Bellinder is and the commitment she has made to excellence in all walks of life. He also thanked the NCAA for recognizing its athletes for being exemplary students.

“We often measure success in athletics through competition. I commend the NCAA for coming up with a way to recognize kids for their hard work in the classroom,” Smith said. “This is the NCAA championship of the students. We haven’t even run the race yet but we’re bringing home some hardware.”

Smith added that the award is significant to him as a coach because Bellinder almost chose not to compete in athletics, and now she has achieved the pinnacle in her sport competing at the NCAA Championship and being recognized as her sport’s top student.

“There’s a whole lot more to the story than Alyssa’s GPA,” Smith said. “These kids had to run their way here. There is another side to that coin. The work that goes unnoticed day after day and year after year is the daily grind in the classroom. Tonight Alyssa won a national championship in cross country.

“On Monday, we are going to run one race and crown a team and individual champion. Alyssa has been running the Elite 88 race in the classroom for four-plus years and along the way never received anything less than an A. She came to K-State and didn’t think she could handle running and school at the same time. How ironic that here we are four-and-a-half years later, not only is she doing both; she’s doing both at the highest level.”

K-State Athletics Director John Currie said the award is among the highest honors a student-athlete can achieve and it shows the dedication the coaches and student-athletes make to being great both athletically and academically at K-State.

"What a tremendous honor for Alyssa, our cross country program and Kansas State University," Currie said. "To qualify for the National Championships athletically and then be honored as the top student at the event is the highest of honors a student-athlete can receive and yet further demonstrates the total commitment of our coaches and student-athletes towards athletic and academic achievement."

Bellinder, a fifth-year senior who is double-majoring in math and education, said this award is special to her because all the hard work is coming to fruition and something she did not think was possible happened to her.

 “I’m really excited about it,” Bellinder said. “I never thought this would happen, but it’s all coming together. I’m glad I’m here this last year and it’s been an awesome season. It’s cool because it’s something I put a lot into on the track, on the course and in the classroom. It’s something I’ve been working at and it’s paid off.”

Eligible student-athletes are sophomores or above who have participated in their sport for at least two years with their school. They must be an active member of the team, traveling and a designated member of the squad size at the championship. All ties are broken by the number of credits completed.

Bellinder won the award on the credit hours tie-breaker rule as four other student-athletes had perfect 4.0 GPA’s. She has completed 122 credit hours double-majoring and will begin her student teaching in the spring and look to become a teacher in the fall.

Smith said wherever she goes, the school that hires her will be very fortunate.

“We’re very proud of her accomplishments,” Smith said. “It’s been a long journey for her. She’s a good example of perseverance. How lucky is the school that gets her as one of their teachers?”

K-State’s women’s cross country team will compete in the NCAA Championship on Monday morning in Terre Haute, Ind., taking on the top teams in the nation. The Wildcats will be representing K-State as a team for the first time since 2000. Fans can watch the race scheduled for an 11:08 a.m. start on CBS College Sports.