Runner could see national award

Ladia Albertson-Junkans is a candidate for NCAA Woman of the Year.

One Gopher athlete inched closer to one of the most prestigious collegiate awards. Senior cross country and track runner Ladia Albertson-Junkans (Stillwater, Minn.) has been nominated for the NCAA Woman of the Year. Albertson-Junkans was chosen to represent the Big Ten for the award. Each school has an opportunity to nominate a student-athlete and the conference determines which woman is most qualified for the award. According to the NCAA, âÄúâÄúThe NCAA Woman of the Year Award honors senior student-athletes who have distinguished themselves throughout their collegiate careers in the areas of academic achievement, athletics excellence, service and leadership.âÄù Albertson-Junkans, who will graduate in August, is a two-time cross country All-American and helped lead the squad to its first Big Ten championship in 2007. She was also a member of three track and field teams which went on to win Big Ten titles in 2006, 2008 and 2009. She was surprised when she found out she had earned the nomination from the University of Minnesota, Albertson-Junkans said. Although she had a successful career, she said she never thought she was in the school or conference spotlight. âÄúI donâÄôt really see myself as a very visible athlete in the Big Ten because there are so many talented athletes,âÄù she said. âÄúI was pretty surprised.âÄù Albertson-Junkans said she thinks the nomination had a lot to do with some of the community service she has done. In the fall of 2008, Albertson-Junkans spent two months in Ethiopia working with the Tesfa Foundation, which provides early childhood education to disadvantaged children. She said she has been participating in various types of community service for years and when the opportunity to travel to Ethiopia came along, Albertson-Junkans jumped at it. âÄúAny time I hear of an opportunity that kind of sparks my interest IâÄôm usually pretty excited and interested in getting involved,âÄù she said. âÄúWhen I heard about the Ethiopia opportunity I was likeâĦâÄòit could provide me with some insight that I havenâÄôt really been able to receive in any other way.âÄôâÄù After becoming a finalist for the award, she said she is still surprised to be in the national spotlight. Fellow runner Heather Dorniden received many honors for her achievements, and Albertson-Junkans said she never expected her own name to be brought up for this award. âÄúI guess I never really thought of myself as someone who would even be eligible or thought of in the first place,âÄù she said. âÄúRunning for me has always just so much been a process that I alwalys forget about stuff like this that sort of looks back on outcome and commends people for the tangible things theyâÄôve maybe done.âÄù Albertson-Junkans is currently working at the ChildrenâÄôs Farm School in Lake Elmo, Minn. She said she is planning to continue her studies at the University and work toward a masterâÄôs degree in the child and maternal health program. The NCAA Woman of the Year will be announced on Oct. 18.