These student-athletes in the Conference of Champions boast excellence on and off the court.
The Pac-12 still has four teams slotted in the top 11 of the latest AP top-25 poll: No. 5 Stanford, No. 8 UCLA, No. 10 Arizona and No. 11 Oregon. But this week we’re recognizing some of these players’ efforts that extend beyond the court.
Four student-athletes from the Conference of Champions have been selected as candidates for the 2021 Senior CLASS Award, which recognizes a NCAA Division I senior who has notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.
The acronym itself stands for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School. It’s dedicated specifically to seniors who are demonstrating their prowess in both athletics and academics. Winners are determined by a selection process that includes NCAA DI coaches in each respective sport, national media and fans. That’s right – fans can vote. Public fan voting takes place on the award’s website annually in the month leading up to the NCAA Championship. That’s right now!
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Last year, Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu took home the honor. This year, one of 30 women will be selected, including the Pac-12’s own Aari McDonald, Sam Thomas, Kiana Williams and Michaela Onyenwere.
Aari McDonald, Arizona
McDonald is currently working toward her masters degree in applied behavior analysis. She stands out as a leader of her team and assumes the role of a coach on the floor.
When she’s not solidifying herself as a top five scorer in Arizona history, she’s helping her team have the most community service hours out of any team in the Wildcats athletic department.
McDonald remains an unstoppable force on the court, scoring double-figures in 73 straight games – the longest streak in the nation.
McDonald was also named to the 2021 Naismith Women’s Defensive Award midseason team.
Sam Thomas, Arizona
Thomas actually graduated in just three years with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and boasted a 3.97 GPA. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership.
As Co-President of the Arizona Athletics Student Athlete Advisory Committee and a team captain since her freshman year, Thomas knows a thing or two about being a leader. She’s also racked up 139 hours of community service.
Thomas was voted to the All-Pac-12 and Pac-12 Defensive teams in 2019-20 and is the only player in Arizona history with 100 three’s and 100 blocks.
Her grind hasn’t faltered since earning Pac-12 All-Freshman team honors in 2017-18 and she ranks in the top 10 in program history for games started.
Kiana Williams, Stanford
Williams has rocked a 3.3 GPA throughout her time at Stanford and has been named to the Pac-12 Academic Honor Roll not once, but twice.
Head coach Tara VanDerveer speaks highly of Williams’ ability to rise to the unique challenges this season has presented to collegiate athletes across the country.
“Throughout the toughest season we’ve all faced in our lives, Williams has risen to the occasion and been a tremendous leader for our team. Williams has a strong connection with her teammates, who look up and respect the work she does both on and off the court. I’m impressed by her growth as a leader during a time when leadership is of the utmost importance.”
Williams has been involved with a few different community service organizations, including Nustar, Feed the Homeless and Haven for Hope. She also helped run a basketball camp in her hometown of San Antonio.
Williams is a constant on the court for the Cardinal, making 104 consecutive starts and ranking fourth in program history with 272 made three’s and 18th with 1,628 career points. And this isn’t the only award she’s up for – she is also currently on the Naismith and Wade Trophy watch lists for best player in the nation.
Michaela Onyenwere, UCLA
Onyenwere will graduate with a degree in sociology and a minor in African American studies, but she hopes to enter the dental industry one day.
Onyenwere is a team captain and has played a significant role in mentoring sophomore guard Charisma Osborne as well as early-entry freshman Dominique Darius this season. She is also respected as the face of UCLA women’s basketball due to her regular appearance in weekly media sessions and cooperation with a range of media outlets.
Onyenwere has made it a point to push for social justice during her time as a Bruin. She helped establish the team’s More Than a D.R.E.A.M. initiative in response to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor last year. Its goal is to raise awareness to racial injustice, promote prominent Black societal figures and highlight Black-owned businesses in Los Angeles. Onyenwere’s leadership skills shine in her discussions with team alumni about social justice issues and the future of Black culture in America.
On the hardwood, she currently ranks in the top 15 on UCLA’s all-time scoring list with 1,654 points and is on watch lists for the Naismith Trophy, Wooden Award, Wade Trophy and Cheryl Miller Award. This season, Onyenwere is averaging 18.9 points per game and is second in the Pac-12 in scoring and rebounding. She took home Pac-12 Player of the Week honors back on Jan. 4.
Pac-12 games to watch this weekend:
Friday, Feb. 12
- No. 8 UCLA at Utah, 10 a.m.
- Washington at Arizona State, 4 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
- USC at Colorado, 5 p.m.
- Washington State at No. 10 Arizona, 6 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
Saturday, Feb. 13
- No. 5 Stanford at Oregon State, 6 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 14
- Washington at No. 10 Arizona, 11 a.m. (Pac-12 Network)
- Washington State at Arizona State, 11:30 a.m.
- No. 8 UCLA at Colorado, 12 p.m.
- USC at Utah, 3 p.m.
Monday, Feb. 15
- No. 5 Stanford at No. 11 Oregon, 4 p.m. (ESPN2)
All times listed are in Pacific Standard Time.