2021 NCAA Today’s Top 10 Award honorees named
In January, 10 exceptional former student-athletes will be honored during the NCAA Convention as the 2021 Today’s Top 10 Award winners.
The award recognizes former student-athletes for their successes on the field, in the classroom and in the community. Recipients will be recognized during a virtual Honors Celebration awards show on Wednesday, Jan. 13. The show will be streamed at 7 p.m. Eastern time on the NCAA Twitter account and on the ESPN app.
The honorees are selected by the NCAA Honors Committee, composed of representatives of NCAA member schools, conferences and distinguished citizens, including past awardees.
Before 2013, the award recognized eight student-athletes and was known as Today’s Top VIII. The NCAA Honors Committee expanded the award to include 10 honorees to recognize the growing number of college athletes, sports and championship opportunities. This year’s recipients competed in 10 sports, including one emerging sport.
The following former student-athletes are the 2021 Today’s Top 10 awardees:
School: University of Pennsylvania
Conference: The Ivy League
Sports: Cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field
Major: Nursing; nutrition science
Two-year team captain Nia Akins was a runner-up in the 800 meters at both the indoor and outdoor NCAA Division I track and field championships in 2019. A finalist for the 2020 U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association National Women’s Track Athlete of the Year, she was the 2020 USTFCCCA Mid-Atlantic Region Track Athlete of the Year for the indoor season. Akins holds two conference records and eight school records. She contributed to Pennsylvania’s three consecutive Ivy League Heptagonal Women’s Indoor Track and Field Championships, and in February 2020, Akins ran the second-fastest time in the 800 meters in women’s collegiate history at 2:00.71. She was awarded Pennsylvania’s 2020 Association of Alumnae Fathers’ Trophy for her achievements in athletics, academics and leadership and earned second-team CoSIDA Academic All-America honors in 2020. She graduated cum laude from the Pennsylvania School of Nursing and was a four-time USTFCCCA All-Academic awardee. Akins was a member of the Sphinx Senior Society, Pennsylvania’s oldest honor society; served three years as a Student Nurses at Penn peer advisor; and was a two-year member of Young Quakers Community Athletics, mentoring students in the West Philadelphia community. She is currently a professional runner with the Brooks Beasts training group.
Bernardo Amaral Neves
School: Washington University in St. Louis
Conference: University Athletic Association
Major: Mechanical engineering
Bernardo Amaral Neves received Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-America honors in singles in 2018 and 2019 and doubles in 2019. He earned first-team all-conference honors in singles in 2018 and 2020. Hailing from Rio de Janeiro, he also has competed internationally. Neves was a three-time CoSIDA Academic All-American, earning first-team honors in 2018, 2019 and 2020. He graduated summa cum laude and was a 2018 recipient of the NCAA Elite 90 Award, presented to the student-athlete with the highest grade-point average competing at an NCAA championship finals site. He was a three-time University Athletic Association All-Academic selection and three-time ITA scholar-athlete honoree. The university engineering department awarded Neves the Gustav Mesmer Prize for Academic Achievement in mechanical engineering and materials science, the Joseph Razek Prize for outstanding junior year scholarship and the Antoinette Frances Dames Award for productive scholarship. Neves served four years on the campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and led the social justice committee in 2019 and 2020. He also taught tennis lessons for four years at the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis. Neves is currently an operations and logistics trainee for Kraft Heinz.
School: University of Miami (Florida)
Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference
Sports: Indoor and outdoor track and field
Miami sprinter Brittny Ellis earned five first-team U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-America honors in 2016, 2017 and 2019, and three second-team honors in 2019. The five-time conference individual and relay champion also contributed to indoor conference championships for Miami (Florida) in 2016, 2017 and 2019, and she earned 12 first-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference honors in 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2020. She was named to the USTFCCCA All-Academic Team all four of those years. Ellis was inducted into the Iron Arrow, the highest honor awarded at Miami (Florida), and earned an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship. A four-year campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee member, she was recognized as the Miami SAAC Most Valuable Participant in 2020. Ellis also was a member of Sigma Theta Tau nursing honor society and Omicron Delta Kappa national leadership honor society. Ellis volunteered with Soap for Hope, distributing donated toiletries to the homeless, and was a two-year volunteer for Second Spoon Community Dinner, providing weekly dinners for the homeless community. In 2017, she was recognized as a Miami (Florida) Top Six for Service honoree. She became a registered nurse in 2019 and is the first licensed nurse to have competed on a team at Miami (Florida). Ellis received her master’s in health informatics from Miami (Florida) in 2020 and is working as a trauma nurse in Memphis.
School: University of Texas at Austin
Conference: Big 12 Conference
Major: Advertising, with a concentration in media and analytics
Sport: Swimming and diving
Diver Alison Gibson won the 1-meter springboard title at the 2017 NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships when she was 17 years old. Gibson also earned third place on the 1 meter and tied for sixth on the 3 meter at the 2019 NCAA championships. The six-time first-team College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America All-American was a four-time Big 12 champion and was named the 2017 and 2020 Big 12 Women’s Diver of the Year. She also represented Team USA at the 2017 and 2019 FINA World Championships and the 2017 World University Games. Gibson earned first-team CoSIDA Academic All-America honors in 2020 and was a three-time CSCAA Scholar All-American. She received an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship and the Big 12 Dr. Prentice Gautt Postgraduate Scholarship. A three-year member of the campus Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, she served as president in 2019-20 and worked with staff and student-athletes to create Developing Neighborhood Athletes, a program designed to provide more opportunities for young athletes from disadvantaged homes. She also was a student-athlete representative on the Texas Round Table, a collaborative board of campus organization presidents. Gibson volunteered with Special Olympics for two years and participated in a service trip to Costa Rica in 2018. She is attending graduate school at Texas, studying advertising and consumer behavior research.
School: Duke University
Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference
Major: Political science
Foil fencer Eoin Gronningsater received All-America honors in 2018, 2019 and 2020 from the U.S. Fencing Coaches Association. The two-year team captain was the Atlantic Coast Conference Fencer of the Year in 2018, when he helped his team win its first conference championship, and he placed fifth at the National Collegiate Fencing Championships. He also has represented Ireland in international competition and will compete in the European Zonal Olympic Qualifier for the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. Gronningsater received second-team CoSIDA Academic All-America honors in 2020 and graduated cum laude. In 2020, he was the ACC Scholar-Athlete of the Year and Duke Male Student-Athlete of the Year for academic and athletic success. An NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship recipient, Gronningsater co-founded Fence 4 the Fight and facilitated the partnership between Duke fencing and the Duke Cancer Institute to raise $32,000 for breast cancer research in 2020. He traveled to Vietnam in 2018 through the Rubenstein-Bing Student-Athlete Civic Engagement Program, volunteering at a youth summer camp, and he volunteered weekly with Families Moving Forward‑Durham, tutoring children at a local shelter. He is currently serving with Teach for America, teaching sixth grade math and English language arts special education at the Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy II while attending the Relay Graduate School of Education.
School: Missouri University of Science and Technology
Conference: Great Lakes Valley Conference
Major: Biological sciences
Running back Deshawn Jones was named a second-team All-American by the Associated Press in 2017 and set career records at his school for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. He also established the school’s regular-season rushing yards and rushing touchdowns records in 2017. Jones finished with the third most points scored and fourth most all-purpose yards in school history. He received first-team all-conference honors in 2017 and 2019. In 2018, his team won the Mineral Water Bowl to win its second postseason game ever. CoSIDA named Jones a second-team Academic All-American in 2017, 2018 and 2019. In 2019, he became the first football player to receive the Richard F. Scharf Paragon Award, given to the top male and female student-athletes in the conference. He was named conference Scholar-Athlete of the Year for football in 2017 and 2019 and received the conference’s Council of Presidents Academic Excellence Award in 2020. The Missouri S&T Scholar-Athlete of the Year also was a three-time recipient of the Joe Mooney Distinguished Student Award from his university. On campus, Jones served as vice president of the Phi Sigma biological honor society, vice president of the university chapter of the Association of Black Students and president of the university chapter of the National Society of Leadership and Success. Jones volunteered for three years with Mentoring Makes a Difference, working with local elementary school students, and he spent two years as a STEM educator with local middle schools. He also volunteered with Love Your Melon, an apparel company whose proceeds support pediatric cancer patients. He is interning as a sports and performance trainer for youths and high school athletes and also works as a residential coordinator for LifeHouse Group LLC, whose mission is to assist men and women recently released from incarceration in reentering society. He plans to attend medical school.
School: University of California, Los Angeles
Conference: Pac-12 Conference
Sport: Beach volleyball
Major: Physiological science
Lily Justine helped the Bruins win their first beach volleyball national championship in 2018 and a second national title in 2019. She was named a first-team All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association in 2019 and received honorable mention All-America honors in 2018. Both seasons, she was a member of the all-Pac-12 team and the all-Pac-12 tournament team, while the conference also named her to the all-academic beach volleyball first team in 2019 after she garnered second-team honors the previous year. Justine was awarded the Athletic Director’s Academic Excellence Award in 2020, given to student-athletes who make the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll every quarter at UCLA for their entire career. A member of the Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society, she graduated cum laude. She founded the Lily Justine Beach Volleyball Camp to share her passion and donated all the money to renovating and expanding the community courts where she first learned to play beach volleyball. Justine was elected by her teammates to the Bruin Athletic Council and served three years organizing collaborative community service projects between university athletic teams. She also volunteered as a physical therapy aide. Justine currently works as a research assistant at the UC Davis Biomechanics, Rehabilitation, and Integrative Neuroscience Laboratory.
School: Whitworth University
Conference: Northwest Conference
Sports: Cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field, basketball
Majors: Health science; Spanish
Kayla Leland was a seven-time U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-American in six events across track and field and cross country. She holds 13 school records and two Northwest Conference records, including the fastest 3,000-meter steeplechase time in conference history and the conference meet record for the 10,000. A member of the Whitworth honors program, Leland graduated summa cum laude. She collected six USTFCCCA Academic All-America awards for Division III, twice in cross country and four times in track and field. She was a member of the Whitworth Laureate Society and made the academic honor roll every year. She also received the Whitworth Mind and Heart Academic Scholarship, the school’s highest academic award. A four-sport athlete at Whitworth, she still found time to be actively involved in her community. She volunteered with the Salvation Army food bank and spent four years participating in the Whitworth Community Building Day, assisting various organizations in Spokane, Washington. Leland coached a youth basketball camp, volunteered every year in college with the Spokane Hoopfest and served as a team lead for the Trick or Treat So Kids Can Eat annual food drive for Second Harvest Food Bank. Leland is a Doctor of Pharmacy student at the Washington State University College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. The Walter Byers Scholarship and Washington State College of Pharmacy Outstanding Merit Scholarship recipient belongs to the Rho Chi Honor Society for being in the top 20% of her pharmacy class.
School: University of Kentucky
Conference: Southeastern Conference
Sport: Swimming and diving
Major: Kinesiology — exercise science
Former Wildcat swimmer Asia Seidt is an eight-time College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America first-team All-American, with 21 CSCAA All-America career honors. Seidt was the 2017, 2018 and 2019 SEC champion in the 200-yard backstroke and 2018 SEC champion in the 100-yard backstroke. The 2019-20 team captain holds nine school records and earned a silver for Team USA in the 200-meter backstroke at the 2019 World University Games. Seidt was named the 2020 CoSIDA At-Large Academic All-America Female Team Member of the Year, also earning first-team honors in 2019 and third-team honors in 2018. She was a 2019 recipient of the NCAA Elite 90 Award, presented to the student-athlete with the highest grade-point average competing at an NCAA championship finals site. She earned the 2020 H. Boyd McWhorter Postgraduate Scholar of the Year Award, given to an SEC graduate, and was the 2019 SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Seidt was the 2019 Arthur Ashe Jr. Female Sport Scholar of the Year and was inducted into the University of Kentucky Frank G. Ham Society of Character. Seidt volunteered for three years at Hope Center, a recovery center for alcoholism and substance abuse, and mentored a 10-year-old girl through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. She also volunteered for four years with Special Olympics Kentucky and was a four-year member of the Emerging Leaders Committee on campus. Seidt is earning her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree at Kentucky and was named the 2020 NCAA Woman of the Year.
School: West Chester University of Pennsylvania
Former West Chester flanker and two-year team captain Juah Toe led the women’s rugby team to the 2019 National Intercollegiate Rugby Association Tier II Championship title. She was a semifinalist for the 2020 MA Sorensen Award, presented annually to the nation’s top women’s rugby player, and earned NIRA All-America recognition in 2019 after receiving honorable mention in 2018. Toe received NIRA All-Academic Team honors in 2020 and 2019. She was selected as a 2019 recipient of the West Chester 1871 Award for high achievement in academics and co-curricular activities, serving on the award selection committee the following year, and was a semifinalist for the 2019 Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar Award. A two-year member of the Omicron Delta Kappa honor society, she served as 2019-20 vice president, and was a two-year member of the Abbe Society honorary women’s service organization. Toe was heavily involved in the West Chester Honors College and Honors Student Association, including serving as the sports and recreation director for two years and as a student leader at the 2018 Honors College Student Symposium. She also traveled to South Africa in 2018 and 2019 for Honors College study-abroad research and service-learning trips, during which she volunteered at a soup kitchen and a hospice for mothers and children with HIV/AIDS. Toe is pursuing a master’s in applied sport psychology at UNC Greensboro.