Ruhlin-Hicks Is GNAC Female Scholar-Athlete Of The Year
Clarice Ruhlin-Hicks (right) was a four-year letterwinner for the Western Washington women's rowing program.
Clarice Ruhlin-Hicks (right) was a four-year letterwinner for the Western Washington women's rowing program.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

PORTLAND, Ore. – While the sport of rowing is a team effort, requiring each crew member to work for the best of the group, there are key individual leaders that make sure that everyone is pulling in the same direction.

At Western Washington, senior Clarice Ruhlin-Hicks has been that type of leader who sets the example not only in the boat but also outside of it. The recent WWU graduate, who succeeded in making it through college with a perfect 4.00 GPA, has been selected as the 2022-23 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year. She is the first rower to win the conference’s top student-athlete award.

“Rowing and college are similar in interesting ways. They both require high levels of discipline, often lead to not enough sleep and force you to learn and grow in unexpected ways,” Ruhlin-Hicks said. “It has been incredibly difficult to balance 5 a.m. rowing practices and the academic requirements of being a college student, especially since the former requires early mornings and the latter late nights. At the same time, I have found so much joy in both the sport of rowing and in learning and thinking at a high level.”

A key member for the Vikings’ powerful women’s rowing program, Ruhlin-Hicks graduated over the weekend from Western Washington with a degree in political science from WWU’s Honors College.

As one of those senior leaders on the water, Ruhlin-Hicks was who the Vikings looked to for setting the pace in the varsity 8+ boat. As the member of the crew in the stroke seat for the second half of the season, she was depended upon to set the stroke rate and the rhythm for the rest of the boat to follow.

And she did a great job setting that pace. In her first races in the stroke seat at April’s Covered Bridge Regatta, the Vikings placed second in the varsity 8+ just five seconds behind a powerful Cal Poly Humboldt team that went on to win the Division II championship. Ruhlin-Hicks was back in that seat in a close varsity 8+ finish at the GNAC Championships. The Vikings place fourth in a race that saw the four boats separated by just eight seconds.

Western Washington joined its three fellow GNAC teams at the NCAA Division II Championships, where once again Ruhlin-Hicks was in that all-important varsity 8+ stroke seat. After placing second in the team’s preliminary heat, WWU went on to win the petite final and placed fourth in a team competition that saw the conference sweep the top four places.

The NCAA Championships also provided Ruhlin-Hicks with one of her most prestigious academic honors. For the second straight year, Ruhlin-Hicks was presented with the NCAA Elite 90 award, which is awarded to the student-athlete with the highest GPA that is competing at each NCAA championship site. It is the eighth time that a GNAC student-athlete has won the Elite 90 Award and the first time that a conference student-athlete has won the award twice.

A four-year letterwinner at Western Washington, Ruhlin-Hicks has been a key part of the varsity 8+ boat each of the last two seasons. She was in the varsity 8+ shell in 2022 when the Vikings won the GNAC championship and finished second at the NCAA Championships, rowing at both championships in the No. 5 seat. She is a two-time First Team All-GNAC selection, earning honors in 2022 and 2023.

Including her Elite 90 Awards, the list of academic accolades for Ruhlin-Hicks is lengthy. She is a three-time GNAC All-Academic Team honoree and was named this year to the College Sports Communicators Academic All-District At-Large Team. She is a two-time College Rowing Coaches Association Scholar-Athlete and is expected to earn her third award in 2023.

As part of the WWU Honors College, Ruhlin-Hicks’ capstone project was working to develop a peace studies course for the university’s political science department. She also made the most of her academic experience in a way that many student-athletes are unable to do: study abroad. Fluent in Spanish, Ruhlin-Hicks spent Fall 2022 studying in Ecuador, which included a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Galapagos Islands.

While the GNAC Scholar-Athlete of the Year award is an individual honor, Ruhlin-Hicks said that the award is no possible without the other women in the boat that helped her to pull in the positive direction.

“I could not have (won this award) without my wonderful teammates,” Ruhlin-Hicks said. “They inspire me and push me to work hard every day, both on and off the water.”

After working so hard on the water and in the classroom over the last four years, the next chapter in Ruhlin-Hicks’ life includes some well-deserved rest. After a summer at home in Alaska, Ruhlin-Hicks plans to return to Bellingham and eventually travel before tackling what life holds for her.

Whatever she does next, chances are that Ruhlin-Hicks will never be far from the water or far from a leadership role.

The GNAC Athlete and Scholar-Athlete of the Year awards are nominated by and voted upon by the conference’s athletic directors.

Other nominees for the 2022-23 GNAC Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award included Alaska sophomore Kendall Kramer (cross country), Alaska Anchorage senior Eve Stephens (volleyball), Cal Poly Humboldt senior Malia Seeley (rowing), Central Oklahoma senior Kenna Chamlee (rowing), Central Washington junior Emma Daoud-Hebert (volleyball), Montana State Billings junior Clare Keenan (soccer), Northwest Nazarene junior Kinsey Yenor (track and field), Saint Martin’s senior Kathryn Crimp (golf), Seattle Pacific senior Macie Leach (rowing), Simon Fraser junior Megan Duclos (softball) and Western Oregon senior Jenelle Hurley (track and field).