Sarah Payonk (Schwenksville, Pa./Spring-Ford) had one of the most decorated athletic and academic careers of any student-athlete – male or female -- in University of Scranton history when she graduated this past spring. Now, she's eligible for one of the most prestigious awards given by the NCAA.
Payonk was nominated by the Landmark Conference for NCAA Woman of the Year, which honors the academic achievements, athletics excellence, community service and leadership of graduating female college athletes from all three divisions. To be eligible, a nominee must have competed and earned a varsity letter in an NCAA-sponsored sport, must have completed eligibility in her primary sport, and must have earned her undergraduate degree by Summer 2017.
Payonk's athletic and academic resume leads like a laundry list of top achievements. She was a two-time honorable mention All-American selection (2016, 2017) by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association and a two-time All-American selection (2nd team in 2016, honorable mention in 2017) by D3hoops.com. She was also Mid-Atlantic Region Player of the Year by D3hoops.com in 2016 and first-team all-Mid-Atlantic Region in both 2016 and 2017.
The list of Landmark Conference awards Payonk received is quite long on its own. She was the 2016 Player of the Year and the 2014 Rookie of the Year. She was a first-team all-conference choice in 2016 and 2017, and a second-team selection in 2014 and 2015. She was a four-time Landmark Conference Player of the Week and was selected to the conference's All-Decade Team this past season, which honored the top players in the Landmark's 10-year history.
Payonk finished her career having started all 119 games she played in, averaging 11.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.4 blocks. She is the Lady Royals' all-time leader in career rebounds with 1,099, and ranks second in assists (511), third in blocks (165), third in free throw attempts (422), fourth in free throws made (337), sixth in free throw percentage (.799), eighth in steals (221) and 12th in points (1,319). She also finished her career with four triple-doubles (all in points, rebounds and assists), the most in school history for both men's and women's basketball.
Perhaps Payonk's most impressive on-court achievement is this – since the NCAA started keeping track of career stats in 2000, she is the only women's basketball player at the NCAA Division III level to finish a career with at least 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists.
Payonk graduated this spring with a cumulative grade-point average of 3.86 while obtaining a degree in nursing. She was the Landmark Conference Senior Scholar Athlete for women's basketball and was an Academic All-District selection by the College Sports Information Directors of America this spring. An eight-time member of the Dean's List, she was also named to the Landmark Conference Academic Honor Roll three times (2015, 2016, 2017).
Outside the classroom, Payonk was involved with the University of Scranton's Leahy Clinic for the Underserved, the Panuska College of Professional Studies Service Learning Program, the Jewish Nursing Home of Eastern Pennsylvania and volunteered her time at the Montessori Pre School and Kindergarten.
She capped her collegiate career by receiving two prestigious awards from the University – the Peter A. Carlesimo Award for outstanding academic and athletic achievement, and the Frank O'Hara Award as the top female athlete in the graduating class.
The NCAA Woman of the Year nomination process began with Payonk being nominated by the University. That nomination was passed along to the conference level, where Payonk was chosen as the Landmark Conference's nomination. Each conference is allowed to submit two nominations to the NCAA level.
The NCAA Woman of the Year selection committee selects the Top 30 – 10 from each division – from the list of conference nominees, and then three finalists from each division. The Committee on Women's Athletics selects the winner from the Top 9. All 30 Woman of the Year honorees will be recognized, and the 2017 Woman of the Year announced, at an awards dinner at the JW Marriott Indianapolis on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017.
For more information on the NCAA Woman of the Year program, visit http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/events/ncaa-woman-year.