Kirk Chosen As Top College Woman Athlete

June 21, 2004

By BEN WALKER
AP National Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Tara Kirk set the world record in the 100-meterbreaststroke, swept four straight NCAA titles and became a favorite to make theOlympic team.

Still, when it came to the Stanford swimmer winning the Broderick Cup as thenation's collegiate woman athlete of the year, her mother was concerned aboutthe competition.

'We watched the women's Final Four and saw Diana Taurasi. She wasoutstanding. When Tara told us that she'd won, we were like, 'Really?' We weresurprised,' Margaret Kirk said.

With her parents watching, Kirk accepted the Broderick Cup in ceremonies atColumbia University on Monday.

Kirk credited her teammates and competitors for making her better, andthanked her mom and dad for years of their daily ritual of 'up at 5 a.m.,driving me to swim practice.'

Kirk will turn 22 next month, during the U.S. Olympic team trials. She hopesto go to Athens in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events, and has alreadycommitted to training for the 2008 Beijing Games.

'I'm excited to race with some fast girls,' she said. 'It will take anAmerican record to make the team.'

Kirk was among five finalists, a group that included North Carolina soccerstandout Catherine Reddick, Florida State softball player Jessica van derLinden, Southern California volleyball star April Ross and Taurasi, who ledConnecticut to three straight national championships.

Taurasi, however, was declared ineligible for the honor and received novotes because rules call for the winner to attend the trophy presentation. Shedeclined to travel to New York.

Taurasi, the two-time Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four and the No.1 pick in this year's WNBA draft, plays home games for the Phoenix Mercury onTuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

'She put her team ahead of the award,' Mercury spokeswoman Tami Nealysaid. 'She didn't want to miss a day of practice.'

Mary Ellen Gordon, who won the singles and doubles national tennis titles atEmory, was chosen as the Division III athlete of the year.

'I'm looking for a job right now,' she said. 'As far as competitivetennis, 'I think I'm done.'

Chanda Gunn, who overcame epilepsy to become a star goaltender onNortheastern's hockey team, won the Inspiration Award, sponsored by Honda.

Gunn began her college career at Wisconsin. But when her seizures increased,the coaches did not want to reinstate Gunn because of her condition. So shecontacted other schools and found a spot at Northeastern.

'I don't think of myself as an inspiration,' she said.

Someone else who could've won that award was distance runner Zoila Gomez ofAdams State College, the Division II winner.

Born in Mexico and one of 16 children, her father died when she was 6.

Now 25, she's had a busy year. She cared for a younger sister, prepared tobecome an American citizen and get her degree, and won Division II crowns inthe 5,000 and 10,000 meters outdoors and 5,000 indoors.

All the while, she kept her job as a custodian on the campus at Alamosa,Colo.

'I start at 6 a.m. when I come into the office to pick up the trash. Then Idust-mop the floors and clean the windows.

'I am no different than anyone else,' she said. 'I am not ashamed of whatI do. I work hard.'

Gomez thanked Mildred Mondragon, the supervisor of the school's custodialstaff and the woman who acts as a surrogate mother. A beaming Mondragon was atColumbia, too.

'You see her every day and watch her, she does not act like she is sospecial,' Mondragon said, 'but she is.'

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