Saint Mary’s junior Katie Stolz was recently awarded the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference’s prestigious Elite 22 Award for women’s cross country.

The MIAC Elite 22 Award recognizes the true essence of the student-athlete by honoring the individual who has reached the pinnacle of competition at the conference championship level in his or her sport, while also achieving the highest academic standard among his or her peers.

Modeled after the NCAA Elite 89 Award, the MIAC award is presented to the student-athlete with the highest grade point average in each sport, who also meets similarly high, sport-specific athletic requirements — including being a member of the MIAC All-Conference team at the MIAC Cross Country Championships, which includes the top 15 individual finishers.

Stolz took 11th place in the MIAC Championships with a time of 23:23.9 in the 6K course. In the classroom, the biology major boasts a perfect 4.0 GPA.

“Because of the format of our conference championship, every athlete who is on a team’s cross country roster has the opportunity to compete in the MIAC Championship,” SMU Coach Ward Berndt said. “That means Katie was able to receive this award out of all the MIAC women cross country runners.

“This is a unique award in that you can’t really make it a goal. This award is very much about honoring the best-balanced student-athletes. This award is one of my favorites as it recognizes the values we try to represent as a team.”

We asked Stolz to share what it means to her to win this award. Her answers are below.

What does it mean to you to win this award?

It made me feel so blessed and thankful. It meant a lot to have something to show for two years of hard work.

I came into cross country my freshman year with little experience. I remember my first practice at Saint Mary’s — I almost got lost in the bluffs because I fell behind the rest of the team during a strenuous 2k workout. It was only with a lot of work and trust in God that I was able to get to the point I am at now.

I was happy to receive the award because it positively reflects the Saint Mary’s cross country team and our high standards that we have both academically (both teams have garnered academic awards in years past) and within our sport. There is not a single person on our cross country team that does not give 100 percent at both practice and in the classroom.

How hard is it for you to balance academics and athletics?

At times it can be difficult to balance these two components. But overall, I think that being busy keeps you organized, on task, and helps you to focus. Sometimes it is a bit difficult to manage the social aspect of college life so I have to force myself to take a study break, even when I don’t think I have time, so that I can hang out with friends outside of practice.

Any tips for incoming student-athletes on how to be successful in both the SMU’s classroom and on the field of competition?

If you put all your effort into becoming a better athlete, that drive transfers over to academics also. I think that it is important to make sure your life is balanced and that you spend time doing things you enjoy. Most importantly, have faith in God and ask for help from him.

Were you pleased with how you did during the cross country season?

For the most part, yes. I was pleased with my overall improvement from last year in both time and placement in the MIAC. After the 2012 season finished, I trained with a specific goal in mind: to break the school 6k record, which I thought was reasonable because I was less than 30 seconds away from the record when the season ended. I also wanted to be All-Regional.

So I was happy that I accomplished those goals. However, it would have been awesome to represent Saint Mary’s at nationals. That is going to be the new goal that I will have for my final season.

Describe your personality and your drive to be successful. Have you always been that way?

I am pretty laid back and like to enjoy life. But I also do everything to the best of my ability and am very competitive. I think my parents would attest to the fact that I have been this way since elementary school.

What else do you enjoy doing besides running?

I thoroughly enjoy spending time outdoors; hiking, climbing trees, sledding, ice skating, tubing and water skiing are some of my favorite activities. I also recently tried square dancing, which turned out to be a ton of fun.

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