Keturah Orji continues to lead on and off the field.
The Georgia track and field standout was named the 2018 NCAA Woman of the Year Oct. 28 at an awards dinner in Indianapolis.
Orji is the first winner from Georgia’s track and field program and the fourth winner overall from the University of Georgia, the first school to have more than one winner. UGA swimmers Lisa Coole, Kristy Kowal and Kim Black were NCAA Woman of the Year in 1997, 2000 and 2001, respectively.
“The University of Georgia is extremely proud of Keturah for receiving this remarkable honor,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “With her record-breaking athletic accomplishments, numerous academic achievements and dedicated service and leadership both on and off campus, she has provided an inspiring example for other student-athletes—and indeed all students at the university—to follow.”
For Orji, a native of Mount Olive, New Jersey, being named NCAA Woman of the Year is the perfect ending to her collegiate athletic career.
“I feel like I always get recognized for my athletic accomplishments but with this one, it’s about how you are as an all-around person,” she said. “(This honor) definitely compares way above my other accomplishments or awards.”
She credits her on-field success to head track and field coach Petro Kyprianou and Heather LaBarbera, director of student services for the UGA Athletic Association.
“I didn’t know much about my event when I came to school here, but Coach Kyprianou really taught me everything about it. He trained me up and was patient with me,” she said. “Heather worked with me so much on (skills) like public speaking and other things I was uncomfortable with and pushing me out of my comfort zone.”
Orji was selected from a field of finalists that included Chicago’s Ade Ayoola (track and field), Claflin’s Trisana Fairweather (cross country/track and field), Newman’s Delaney Hiegert (softball), Whitworth’s Kayla Leland (cross country/track and field/basketball), Angelo State’s Kami Norton (track and field), Minnesota’s Sidney Peters (ice hockey), Oklahoma State’s Vanessa Shippy (softball) and Bates College’s Amelia Wilhelm (rowing).
All finalists, including three from each NCAA division, demonstrated excellence in academics, athletics, community service and leadership throughout their collegiate careers.
Orji, a former Bulldog team captain, served for three years on the UGAAA Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, including as vice president during her senior year. A four-year attendee of the Student-Athlete Leadership Academy, she founded Amara’s Pride in 2017, an after-school mentoring program for middle school girls that focuses on self-worth, the importance of education, social media influences and the power of perseverance.
Orji also worked with an income tax assistance program, spent time with children whose parents were incarcerated during the holiday season and served as a United Team leader, through which she mentored other student-athletes in weekly small groups and Bible studies.
A 2018 Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar, Orji was a member of Georgia’s Sphinx Club honor society, the oldest honorary society in Georgia history, and the Blue Key Honor Society, whose members are committed to scholarship, leadership and service. She was named the 2018 Southeastern Conference Women’s Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field Scholar-Athlete of the Year, her third honor of this kind, and the university’s Joel Eaves Scholar-Athlete of the Year presented to the female student-athlete who has the highest GPA going into their senior year.
Orji received the SEC’s H. Boyd McWhorter Postgraduate Scholarship, presented to the conference’s top male and female scholar-athletes. She was recognized by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association as the 2017 Indoor and Outdoor National Field Scholar-Athlete of the Year, also giving her three of those honors in her career.
Orji, who was fourth by only three centimeters in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, is a 15-time First Team All-American and eight-time NCAA individual national champion (four times in the outdoor triple jump, three times in the indoor triple jump and once in the outdoor long jump). Her outstanding performance in those events helped Georgia win a team NCAA championship in indoor track and field in 2018 and finish as the national runner-up three more times.
Orji holds the American and collegiate records for the indoor triple jump and the collegiate record for the outdoor triple jump. Orji was a four-time USTFCCCA National Women’s Field Athlete of the Year, and she is the only woman in history to be a three-time Bowerman Award finalist. She completed her collegiate career 31-1 overall in the triple jump and currently owns the top eight indoor marks in NCAA history and the top six performances outdoors.
She received her bachelor’s degree in financial planning from the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at UGA in 2018 and is now pursuing a master’s degree in kinesiology in the College of Education. She also is a volunteer assistant with the Bulldog track and field program.
Orji said this honor is more than a personal accomplishment.
“I think it puts UGA track on the map,” she said. “We have been trying to lift up the track and field program since I got here. This year we won the national championship, so I feel like we’re just elevating the track and field team and hoping to leave a legacy that other people can follow.”