A late-season spill from her bike essentially took Laura Hollander out of the running for the NCAA Track and Field Championships.
It did not, however, keep her from earning the highest honor in Cal Poly athletics and becoming the first freshman to do so in the school’s 19-year Division I history.
Hollander was named Female Athlete of the Year, and Andre Dome — the first men’s tennis player to win the award in Division I program history — was introduced as the Male Athlete of the Year at the 31st Annual Night of the Mustang banquet at Embassy Suites in San Luis Obispo on Wednesday.
Hollander, a true freshman, had a breakout cross country season, winning her first four races and setting course records in three of them.
Earning All-America honors, Hollander placed ninth at the NCAA Cross Country Championships.
Then a knee injury slowed the start to her track season, and just when she had gotten back on track, she slipped from her bicycle on campus and landed full force on her right hip the week of the Big West Conference championship meet.
Before the spill, Hollander had run the second-fastest 5,000 meters in school history at 15:53.73.
She still ran, finished first and set a meet record in the 5K at the Big West Championships, albeit more than 30 seconds slower than her personal best. But after traveling to Austin, Texas for the NCAA West Regional two weeks ago, doctors discovered a torn leg muscle that needed rest.
“I flew out there with the intent of running,” Hollander said. “It was painful to walk and painful to run. I took two days off, and it wasn’t getting any better, but I was ready to push through it. I knew I could push through regionals and develop a plan for the next two weeks after that.”
Instead, while her peers were gearing up for Friday’s running of the 5K at the NCAA Championships, she was accepting her award and looking ahead to three more weeks of rest before she can try to resume training.
Hollander is determined to come back strong for next fall’s cross country season because even though she has reached the pinnacle of Cal Poly athletics, she believes she has much room for improvement.
“I’m really focusing to get myself to peak at the end of the season next year for cross country,” Hollander said. “There’s a lot that I can do to work on still.
“I want to win nationals for cross country one year. I’ll work as hard as I can and hope that comes true one day.”
Dome emerged from a group of male candidates that included several all-time Mustangs greats.
Pitcher Joey Wagman set a school record for victories in a season (13) while pitching Cal Poly through its first NCAA regional win. Running back Deonte Williams’ 1,506 yards was the second-highest total in school history.
Soccer forward Mackenzie Pridham scored 11 goals en route to becoming the men’s program’s first ever Big West Player of the Year. And pole vaulter John Prader broke a 16-year-old school record when he cleared 18 feet, 7¼ inches in April.
Dome, already the most prolific winner in program history, only cemented his legacy as the top Mustangs men’s tennis player since the program moved up to Division I in the mid 1990s at this month’s NCAA Singles Championships.
Dome won his first two matches to advance to the round of 16, earning himself All-America status, and finished ranked 25th in the final ITA Collegiate rankings.
A fifth-year senior and former Arroyo Grande High standout who has been around the program since childhood, Dome has always wanted to become an All-American, but he’s also sat through four other Night of the Mustang banquets, eyeing a spot up on the stage.
“The previous years all the athletes deserved to win,” Dome said. “I felt like I still needed to do something great to be in contention of being a male athlete (of the year).
“All those athletes had great years. And that’s what I wanted to have this year. I knew I wasn’t going to win it in those years because my credentials weren’t there.
“Being honored by the ITA and college tennis is one thing, but being honored by your school, I feel like is even better than that.”