Unprecedented athletic honors for Bear sports program

Four students receive national ‘Athlete of the Week’ honors in one week by coaches’ organizations

National honors were bestowed in one week on Bear student-athletes (from left) Lucy Cheadle, Drew Padgett, Jackie Nelligan and Lillie Toaspern. (Credit: Joe Angeles/WUSTL Photos)

Over the course of about 24 hours Sept. 22-23, four student-athletes from Washington University in St. Louis were tabbed by national coaches’ organizations as “Athlete of the Week.”

It’s an unprecedented honor in school history that Josh Whitman, the John M. Schael Director of Athletics, calls “inspirational.” To put it into perspective, the university received only six such honors throughout the entire academic sports year in 2013-14.

“Even by the admittedly high standards that we have for our Bear athletic program, this was a remarkable weekend,” Whitman said. “All of our teams and student-athletes competed at an exceptionally high level. To have four National Athletes of the Week in a year, let alone in the same week, is a testament to the dedication, hard work and talent that our student-athletes demonstrate, day in and day out, in their athletic pursuits here at Washington University.

“Perhaps the most inspirational thing about these young men and women is that in addition to being incredible athletes, they are also gifted scholars and committed members of our community,” Whitman said.

The student-athletes achieving the honor were cross-country athletes Lucy Cheadle, a senior in majoring in chemical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science,
and Drew Padgett, a senior majoring in psychology in Arts & Sciences; volleyball player Jackie Nelligan, a junior majoring in mathematics and philosophy-neuroscience-psychology, both in Arts & Sciences; and women’s soccer player Lillie Toaspern, a senior on the global health and environment track in anthropology in Arts & Sciences.

“It’s a really great honor to represent Washington University,” said Padgett, who achieved similiar distinctions last year as a junior, “but it’s not why we train and it’s not why we go to meets. We go to meets and train so we can win a national championship.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Toaspern, whose team is currently ranked No. 1 nationally in Division III soccer. “This is a more of a testament to my teammates,” she said. “We’ve been doing well, and I’m just a small part of it.”

A closer look at the student-athletes:

Lucy Cheadle

Hometown: Seattle
Honor: Division III Women’s Cross Country National Athlete of the Week
Selected by: U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA)
What she did to earn it: Cheadle clocked a winning time of 21:03 on a 6-kilometer course in Warrenville, Ill., to win the women’s individual title at the Wheaton Gil Dodds Invite Sept. 20. She defeated the runner-up in the field of 212 by nearly a minute to lead her team to a tie for first place in the meet. Cheadle’s winning time was just two seconds off her career-best 6K time.
Meanwhile, in the classroom that week: “I filled out graduate school applications,” she said. “The big deadlines really aren’t until December but I wanted to stay on top of it.” Cheadle also led a lab in a chemical engineering class. “It’s challenging to balance it all,” she said, “but it’s a lot easier to answer the alarm at 6 a.m. when you know you’re waking up to run with your best friends.”
Life after Wash U: After her senior year, Cheadle will have a season of eligibility left in track-and-field and will pursue a master’s degree in environmental engineering. Beyond that, she hopes for a career in environmental consulting — and will keep running.

Drew Padgett

Hometown: St. Louis
Honor: Division III Men’s Cross Country National Athlete of the Week
Selected by: U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association
What he did to earn it: Padgett crossed the finish line of the 8-kilometer race in 24:47 to win the individual title at the Wheaton Gil Dodds Invite Sept. 20 and lead the men’s team to a runner-up finish. Padgett won the race by more than 30 seconds over the runner-up in the field of 225 runners. It was Padgett’s third career USTFCCCA athlete of the week honor.
Meanwhile, in the classroom that week: “I just stayed on top of my homework,” he said. “I try to be very regimented in my daily routine and balance my classwork with running, practices, and making sure I’m eating right.” For both cross country teams, the alarm rings early. The teams practice daily at 6:30 a.m.
Life after Wash U: Padgett is taking pre-med classes, too, so possibly medical school or some kind of graduate school, he said. “I’ll take a gap year and figure it out,” he said. “I’m definitely going to keep running though.”

Jackie Nelligan

Hometown: Laytonsville, Md.
Honor: Divison III National Player Of The Week
Selected by: Sports Imports/American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA)
What she did to earn it: In five matches, Nelligan averaged 2.78 kills and 1.00 block per set to lead the volleyball team to a 5-0 record the week of Sept. 15, including a pair of wins over top-15 teams. She finished the week with a .453 attack percentage and 18 total blocks, and was one of six individuals named to the all-tournament team at the 11-team Elmhurst Invite. Overall, Nelligan hit above .400 in four of the Bears’ five matches on the week, and through Sept. 26 had eight matches hitting above .400 this season.
Meanwhile, in the classroom that week: “I had an exam in my statistics class and a quiz in psychology,” Nelligan said. “That was enough to keep me busy.”
Life after Wash U: Nelligan hopes for a career in computational linguistics. “I tell people my ideal job would be working for Google,” she said.

Lillie Toaspern

Hometown: Denver
Honor: Division III Player Of The Week
Selected by: Disney Soccer/National Soccer Coaches Association of America
What she did to earn it: Toaspern helped the Bears, who were undefeated through Sept. 26, by scoring two goals and adding two assists in two wins Sept. 16-19. She had two goals in a 4-0 win at home against Greenville College Sept. 16, then added two assists in the 2-1 victory at Webster University Sept. 19. Overall, she has five goals and seven assists for a team-high 17 points this season for the Bears. Toaspern followed up that performance by netting her 100th career point in a Sept. 23 game against Principia.
Meanwhile, in the classroom that week: Toaspern had three tests to prepare for, in psychology, human evolution and environmental biology. “The biggest thing you learn quickly about being a student-athlete is you can’t procrastinate,” she said.
Life after Wash U: “Eventually a graduate program in public health,” she said, “but I hope to do some kind of bridge program first, like Green Corps or the Peace Corps.”

To read more about athletics at Washington University, visit bearsports.wustl.edu.