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GNAC Announces 2018 Woman of the Year Finalists


WINTHROP, Mass. – The Great Northeast Athletic Conference is pleased to announce its four finalists for the 2018 GNAC Woman of the Year Award, which will be announced in late July.

The four annual nominees are Johnson & Wales University's (RI) Raquel Pederzani, Lasell College's Taylor Falco, Regis (Mass.) women's basketball's Brittany Stone, and Saint Joseph's College of Maine's Elyse Caiazzo. Pederzani, Falco and Caiazzo were all two-sport standouts at their institutions.

The winner will automatically be put forth for the NCAA Woman of the Year, which includes Divisions I, II and III.

The NCAA Woman of the Year award program honors graduating female student-athletes who have distinguished themselves throughout their collegiate careers in the areas of academic achievement, athletics excellence, service and leadership. Student-athletes are nominated only once in their career by their school.

In recent years, Lasell's Mack Kingman (2017), Anna Maria College's Kylie Dalbec (2016), and Saint Joseph's of Maine's Theresa Hendrix (2015) have collected the prestigious honor. The 2018 GNAC Woman of the Year will be announced on Tuesday, July 24, just before the conference office unveils its annual winners for its Executive, Sports Information Director, and Athletic Trainer of the Year awards. All four individual awards will be presented on Thursday, August 9 at the GNAC Professional Development Seminar (PDS), hosted by Regis in Weston, Mass. 

Pederzani, a local Providence, R.I. native who excelled in both women's basketball and women's lacrosse for the Wildcats, had a 3.94 GPA as a Criminal Justice major at JWU. She was selected as a 2018 CoSIDA Google Cloud Women's Basketball Academic Third Team All-American on top of her All-District hoop honors this past winter. She was also the recipient of the 2018 Johnson & Wales Ron Bachman Athletic Award for Academics, Athletics, and Leadership.

On the court, she was a GNAC Women's Basketball All-Conference selection each of her four years, including First Team each of the last three seasons, while on the field she was a GNAC Women's Lacrosse First Team selection the past two years. In total, she went to the NCAA Tournament four times – twice for JWU hoops (including an at-large berth in 2016) and twice with JWU women's lacrosse. The two-year basketball captain holds the JWU all-time assist record in both sports. This past year, she averaged 17.6 points 4.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists on the parquet, while registering 45 goals and 47 assists for 92 points on the turf as JWU women's lacrosse captured its second straight GNAC title and NCAA berth.

Outside of athletics, Pederzani was a four-year member of the JWU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), including two years as vice president, and also worked two years in the JWU Athletics equipment room. She also volunteered with the Caps of Love Organization, Project Smile, the Tomorrow Fund and local basketball clinics, among many other endeavors.

"As a student and a two-sport athlete, I was motivated to excel and eager to learn," said Pederzani in her personal statement. "I wanted my passion to be my teammates' passion. I felt that leading by example was my way of communicating to the team that we needed better GPAs, more time in the weight room, and more time working on community projects. As a student assistant and SAAC vice president, time management was difficult but it enabled me to grow and become a better communicator, a confident leader, and a mentor for younger teammates. After attending a six-week citizen police academy and State Police Internship, my ambitions evolved from serving my teams and community to another level of service, but with a different set of teammates and rules. I am grateful that the training I received as a student-athlete has prepared me for a life to serve any community."

Falco graduated from Lasell with a 3.75 GPA as a Criminal Justice major, while fulfilling dual minors of Psychology and Political Science. Hailing from Hazlet, N.J., she took home a pair of individual honors this May, winning the Senior Service and Social Justice Award for her devotion to Service and Social Justice during her time at Lasell, before receiving the 2018 Lasell Athletics Torchbearer Award, which is presented to Lasers student-athletes who have excelled on the playing field and in the classroom.

As a member of the Lasers' field hockey and women's lacrosse programs during the 2017-18 academic year, she was a team captain for each and also a GNAC First Team selection in both sports. The 2018 GNAC Women's Lacrosse Defender of the Year was a member of the 2016 GNAC Women's Lacrosse champion Lasers, who went on to compete in the NCAA Tournament. 

Falco's primary community service activities included the One Love Foundation, where she was trained to educate high school and college students about how domestic violence manifests on college campuses, and the Clothes Line Project, where she was a host for the project that brings awareness to and stands up against sexual and domestic violence. She was also active within Relay for Life and the Lasell Village Intergenerational Prom.

"During my time at Lasell, I was a highly motivated two-sport student-athlete who had a passion for social justice work," said Falco. "The classes I took to earn my Criminal Justice degree and dual minors only pushed this passion to flourish. From being a scholar in the classroom and learning about current social justice issues, to being an athlete on the field, I knew I could make a difference on campus and in our community. As a freshman with an urge to make a change, I had a professor take me under her wing. She encouraged me to volunteer with the One Love Foundation and Clothes Line Project that focus on bringing awareness and standing up against sexual and domestic violence. Throughout my volunteer work, as well as internship experiences with the Massachusetts State Police and Methuen Police Department, I realized that I wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement. I am driven to help people and really want to make a difference in the justice system through being an advocate for social justice."

Regis' Stone jumped onto the GNAC scene in 2017-18 as the Pride joined the league as a full core member. The West Bridgewater, Mass. native owned a 3.30 GPA as a Nursing major, and received numerous individual recognitions throughout her collegiate career, including the Rising Star Award (2015), the Pillar of the Community Award (2016, 2017), and the Senior Leadership and Service Award (2018).

On the hardwood, Stone helped lead the Pride to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances as a member of the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) from 2015-17. In the GNAC, Stone was dominant as a senior, ranking third among conference leaders in scoring (19.7), second in the GNAC in rebounding (12.8), and second in the nation in field-goal percentage (.636). The captain and First Team All-GNAC selection was also a Third Team All-Region choice. In the Regis record books, she is tops all-time in scoring (1,833) and blocks (200) and is second with 1,096 rebounds.

When she wasn't double-doubling on the court, Stone compiled a long list of community service and leadership positions. She has been a Residence Assistant on campus at Regis, a clinical assistant at the Dana-Farber Care Institute, and a member of the Regis SAAC. She also was a Regis Alumni & Admissions Event Representative and a Camp Erin (Boston) Big Buddy volunteer counselor on top of her responsibilities as a student-athlete.

"My collegiate tenure at Regis not only enabled me to have opportunities on the court, but also provided me with an outlet to impact the world around me," said Stone. "The attitudes and passions I have established have empowered me to continue to provide a positive influence upon others post-graduation. Within the basketball program, we had the opportunity to partner with organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club and Special Olympics to foster outreach and service projects to provide to the community. During my summer break periods, I worked with Camp Erin, a 1:1 mentorship program that runs grief-counseling camps for children ages 5-17. My volunteerism has influenced me to continue to seek the opportunity to make a difference in the world. I am currently employed in the infusion clinic at Dana Farber in Boston. No matter the type of day I am having, I am heartened by the perseverance of people fighting so hard. My daily goal is to make a difference in the lives of the patients and their loved ones who are going through extremely difficult times. DCFI has inspired me to continue working with cancer patients and continue making an impact by working in pediatric oncology."

Caiazzo hails from Scarborough, Maine and posted a stellar 3.89 GPA at SJC as a Political Science & Environmental Science major. Excelling in both field hockey in the fall and women's lacrosse in the spring, Caiazzo was a GNAC Academic All-Conference selection in each of the three years she qualified. This spring, she also received 2018 CoSIDA Google Cloud Academic All-District At-Large honors to recognize her efforts both on and off the field.

The two-sport standout helped her teams to three different NCAA Tournament selections throughout her collegiate career, winning the 2015 GNAC Women's Lacrosse Championship before the field hockey program captured back-to-back conference crowns in 2016 and 2017. She was a two-time All-GNAC First Team Field Hockey selection and a four-time All-GNAC First Team Women's Lacrosse honoree, taking home 2015 GNAC Rookie of the Year honors and 2017 GNAC Offensive Player of the Year accolades on her way to holding 14 SJC women's lacrosse program career records, including goals, points, and free-position goals. She is the first in team history to surpass the 300-career point plateau and is fourth in the NCAA for career goals.

In addition to receiving the SJC Environmental Science Award and the SJC Campus Compact Heart and Soul Award, Caiazzo's community service efforts included three years as a Monks SAAC member. Just as well, she worked at Pearson Farm (Standish, Maine) and the Institute for Local Food Systems Innovation as both a student ambassador and an assistant program director. She was also a three-year member of SJC's Student Government on campus.

"As much as athletics have shaped who I am as a leader and competitor, I have also learned a lot about who I am through my experiences at Saint Joseph's College Farm," said Caiazzo. "Throughout college, I had a tendency to have too much on my plate, but with each meeting, volunteer opportunity, work shift, or practice, I felt whole by the end of the day. I started working at the farm my freshman year by feeding and watering animals, slowly learning the ropes of agriculture, and by the time I was a junior, I supervised other students, presented agricultural lessons to fellow students, gave tours, and created videos about the many different opportunities at the farm. My senior year, a new initiative was launched on campus to help support and promote Maine's Food and Beverage Industry. The Institute for Local Food System Innovation provided me with the opportunities to get directly involved with the political agricultural avenue I saw myself going into after college. Most importantly, I was able to find my passion and identify beyond a student-athlete."

Founded in 1995, the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) is an NCAA Division III association made up of 13 member institutions and over 3,000 student-athletes across the New England region. Each year, the GNAC sponsors and administers 20 championships, while balancing academic integrity, athletic opportunities and community involvement.