May 25, 2011
Courtesy of the Honda Collegiate Women's Sports Awards
NEW YORK --- Basketball star Jessica Breland, a 2011 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and current forward for the WNBA’s New York Liberty, has been named the 2011 recipient of the 23rd annual Honda Inspiration Award. This award is given each year to a female college athlete who has overcome adversity to excel in her sport.
Breland was a clear standout in her first three years as forward for the UNC Tar Heels. As a sophomore, she was named the ACC Sixth Player of the Year and finished her season sixth in school history in career blocked shots with 123, including 74 in 2007-08. In her junior year she appeared in all 35 games and started 27, scoring 31 points in a 2008 game against Oklahoma and turning in a 23-rebound performance against Duke. She averaged 14 points, 8.5 rebounds and an ACC-best 3.1 blocks to rank seventh nationally.
Then in May 2009, following a history of ailments including asthma and severe allergies, Jessica visited a doctor for a sore throat that wouldn’t seem to go away. Hours of tests led to a biopsy the next day, and ultimately a diagnosis of Hodgkin's lymphoma was confirmed. Within days, doctors installed a port in Breland’s chest in order to administer chemotherapy treatments. Side effects ranged from severe chills and aches to hair loss, constant nausea and fatigue so debilitating there were times she could hardly move. Jessica recalls that the treatments also made everything she ate have a metallic taste, a sensation so powerful that she would often imagine tasting it the night before her chemo.
While forced to redshirt the entire 2009-10 season, Jessica gradually got her weight back up by eating as many times as she could with a plan devised by the team trainer and a nutritionist. She courageously returned to the court for the 2010-11 season. While it took some time for her to regain her full strength and capabilities, her game continued to improve steadily, culminating in a standout performance at the ACC tournament in which she averaged 19.5 points and 6.8 rebounds, helping her team make it all the way to the finals.
Despite dealing with six months of cancer treatment, Jessica attended all her classes and maintained a 2.99 GPA while carrying a double major in communications and African-American studies. In her last four semesters, Jessica kept up at least a 3.0 GPA, earning her a spot on the ACC honor roll. She was the first recipient of UNC’s Jan Boxill Academic Award, which is given to the player who achieves academic success despite obstacles. She was again given the award last year, as she demonstrated even more how with perseverance, courage and a positive attitude she could achieve her goals.
Like all Inspiration Award winners, Jessica was chosen not only for her athletic achievements, but also for her strength of character and for the outstanding example she sets for young women everywhere. During her ordeal with cancer, she helped create the Jessica Breland Comeback Kids Fund, a fund in which she has been actively raising money to support the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Jessica and her teammates also remained active in the UNC community. They participated in projects such as Habitat for Humanity, as well as paid many visits to the pediatric cancer unit at the N.C. Cancer Hospital and participated in the annual Christmas House charity, which provides gifts to children in underprivileged families in the Chapel Hill community.
Most recent Inspiration Award winners include: Antoinette Cobb, Track & Field, Louisiana Tech University (2010); Nicole Hester, Basketball, Drexel University (2009); Patience Knight, Track & Field, Texas Tech (2008); Jess Kohut, Softball, The College of New Jersey (2007); Lindsay Payne, Swimming, Williams College (2006) and Brittney Kroon, Basketball, Seattle Pacific University (2005). (See complete list attached.)
The Collegiate Women Sports Awards, now in its 35th year, annually recognizes and honors the accomplishments of female athletes in NCAA-member colleges around the country. Acknowledging both athletic achievement as well as team contributions, scholastics and community involvement, the program selects winners in 12 different NCAA-sanctioned sports, including basketball, cross country, field hockey, golf, gymnastics, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming & diving, tennis, track & field, and volleyball. The Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year will be determined by separate balloting involving all NCAA-member institutions. On June 27, 2011 at a ceremony in New York, at which the “Top Three” finalists are scheduled to attend, the winner will receive the Honda-Broderick Cup.
American Honda Motor Co., Inc. has sponsored the Collegiate Women Sports Awards Program for 25 consecutive years. Honda has donated over $2 million in grants and scholarships to universities over the course of the program. For more on the awards process and program history, visit www.collegiatewomensportsawards.com.