Carroll College cross country runners Janie Reid (left) and Leah Esposito (right) earned all-American honors at the NAIA championships. (RICHIE MELBY/MTN Sports)

(Editor’s note: Carroll College media release)

AUSTIN, Texas – Carroll College senior women’s track and field/cross country runner Leah Esposito has been named the 2016-17 College Division Academic All-America® of the Year, as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) for the second consecutive year. She is just the second athlete ever, from any division to earn the honor twice. University of Nebraska’s Sarah Paven earned the honors back-to-back in 2006-07 and 2007-08.

The College Division Academic All-America® teams are comprised of student-athletes from NAIA, Canadian and two-year institutions. This the fifth year that CoSIDA has named College Division Academic All-America® teams.

Esposito is sixth student-athlete to earn the College Division Academic All-America® of the Year and is the first one in the College Division to earn the award for the second consecutive year. Park University women’s volleyball player Wanessa Siqueira captured the award in 2014-15. Men’s soccer player Stephen Lunney (Martin Methodist College) collected the honor in 2013-14. Women’s soccer player Mia Persson (Lindsey Wilson College) earned the award in 2012-13, and Jamie Achten of the Lee University women’s soccer team was selected in 2011-12.

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“It feels great,” said Esposito. “I am kind of shocked that I received the award a second time. There are a lot of people to thank honestly. It means a lot to me, not only does it validate all of the hard work that I have put in here, but it is a great recognition for the great coaches and the more than fantastic professors here.

“I’ve gained so much from my experience at Carroll, not just academics and athletics but I’ve grown so much as a person. It means a lot to give the college the recognition it deserves. The most important thing I have learned is perseverance. I haven’t had it as hard as some of my teammates as far as extended injuries. I’ve had to persevere through tough times, tough things, wanting to quit. I’ve gone through it all and found a way to stay the course, and that is something I am going to be able to lean on for the rest of my life.”

The 2016 NAIA indoor national champion in the mile, Esposito is a native of Helena with a 3.97 grade-point average in biology. The 2015 NAIA indoor national champion in the 1,000-meter run has earned all-America honors 19 times in her career and capped it off with her final one during the outdoor season when she finished second in the steeplechase at the 2017 outdoor championship.

“I think everyone wants to leave a mark somewhere,” said Esposito. “Graduating from Carroll has been very bittersweet. I am going to miss it tremendously, but I am excited that I got to leave a legacy here. I will always have someplace to come back to, and that is comforting and a really good feeling. It is great to see my hard work turn into something and to be recognized for it. At Carroll, I’ve experienced some of the greatest and most difficult times of my life. Those experiences are something I won’t get a chance to go through ever again. I loved my time here and would do it again in an instant.”

“When Leah came to Carroll, this program was very new. We barely had enough girls to make up a cross country squad, but behind her, we have become one of the top programs in the NAIA,” said Carroll track and field head coach Harry Clark. “She is a program builder, both on the track and in the classroom. Her example and leadership have helped us establish the mold for what we want the student-athletes in our program to be like.”

Esposito was named the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s West Region Athlete of the Year for the 2015 indoor season. Esposito overcame a pulmonary embolism to come back and claim her third consecutive Frontier Conference cross country individual title. She was 11th at the NAIA Cross Country Championship in 2016 for her fourth consecutive all-America performance. Esposito was also a member of the second-place distance medley relay team at the 2016 indoor championship. She was honored as the NAIA’s 2015 A.O. Duer Award winner. The Duer Award is the highest academic honor for all NAIA sports.