Softball player Leigh Bonkowski ’06 is the inaugural winner of the Empire 8 Woman of the Year award. The honor is given to a student-athlete who excels in academics, athletics, leadership, and service. Bonkowski represented the conference in national balloting for NCAA Woman of the Year in October, and although she did not win the nationals, her selection from among so many outstanding student-athletes in the division is cause enough for celebration.
“I am so pleased that Leigh was selected for this award,” said director of intercollegiate athletics and recreation Ken Kutler on announcing the award to campus in July. “Her commitment to excellence in academics, athletics, leadership, and service was evident in all that she accomplished at Ithaca College. She contributed with great enthusiasm to many activities. I know that Leigh will be successful in life because her work ethic and attitude will lead to nothing less.”
Bonkowski is the Empire 8’s only four-time first-team all-conference softball player and was named the 2005 Player of the Year. The outfielder received Ithaca College’s Iris Carnell Award as the top female athlete in her senior class and earned all-region honors from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association for four consecutive years. She was also named 2005 ECAC Upstate Player of the Year and earned NCAA Division III World Series all-tournament honors in her junior and senior years.
Bonkowski finished her career with school-record totals of 40 doubles and 43 stolen bases, hitting .350 (sixth all-time) with 189 hits (second), 146 runs (second), 24 home runs, and 128 runs batted in (third). As a senior Bonkowski hit .357 with 16 extra-base hits, 33 RBI, 39 runs scored, and 16 stolen bases as the Bombers posted a 40-7 record and a fifth-place national finish.
Sports were not her only arena. “Leigh is an individual who has excelled in all facets of collegiate life, including academics, athletics, campus activities, and community service,” said Empire 8 Commissioner Chuck Mitrano in announcing the award to the public. “She has certainly set the bar high for future award winners.”
A quick scan of Bonkowski’s accomplishments at Ithaca confirms this. She was a two-year captain and three-time selection to the District I All-Academic Team, earning first-team honors last season. She served on the Captains Council and Student Board of Advocates, and from 2003 to 2006 on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. She participated in the Ithaca Breast Cancer Walkathon all four years and was co-coordinator of the Cure Autism Walk in her senior year. Bonkowski graduated summa cum laude in May with a degree in recreation management, receiving the School of HSHP’s Leadership Award and Academic Excellence Award.