* Stevens Point junior Roisin Willis earned Gatorade's highest honor on Wednesday
Photo Credit: Gatorade/Collin Mauro
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For Roisin Willis, Tuesday felt like it was just another typical day. One of her teammates asked Willis to do an interview with her to talk about her accomplishments this season.
There was one question that stood out the most from the rest.
"You've won this Gatorade Player Of The Year award three times at the state level," her teammate said. "What would it be like to win it at the national level?"
Moments later, Willis turned and saw her mother holding the Gatorade Player Of The Year trophy.
Her jaw dropped.
Emotions came flooding in. And, as to be expected, the feelings still haven't completely sunk in yet.
"In January, I didn't think this was possible," Willis said. "I wasn't even the best in my event. To see how much I improved over the past year is crazy. I'm incredibly honored."
On Wednesday, after countless interviews, photos and more, the honor became official: Willis was named Gatorade's 2021 POY, joining the likes of Sydney McLaughlin, Raven Saunders, Katelyn Tuohy, Jasmine Moore, and many others.
But it wasn't an easy road.
Willis' season was full of adversity. Due to the global pandemic, she trained and competed alone without her team for most of it. With limited racing opportunities, Willis wanted to make sure that when she stepped on the track, she kept a certain goal in mind: Hitting the U.S. Olympic Trials standard of 2:02.50 to be able to make the Olympic team.
And yet, what seemed to happen over and over again was this: She would just come up shy or would be the runner-up at the finish line.
To add salt to the wound, at the CYUP Cabin Fever Invite she clocked a 2:04.64, which was an odd result considering how strong she ran. It wasn't until after the race that there was an error regrettably made by the officials at the starting line.
It appeared Willis wasn't having any luck with reaching this goal.
"I got beat all the time. I got beat in May and other times. [I] watch[ed] myself improve time-wise and [saw] how I persevered through the days where the race didn't go how I wanted. I've stuck through it and earned this award after all of that. I know I'm in one of the most competitive events right now and it's unreal to see my name on that banner with all that has happened this year."
Again, though, through the thick and thin, Willis persevered and had a laser focus. Then, it all came together at The Trials of Miles NYC Qualifier in May when she ran a lifetime best of 2:00.78 and clocked the fastest time in the country this year.
This performance, she said, was the highlight of her junior season.
She went on to compete at the U.S. Olympic Trials and became one of two high school girls who made it to the semi-final round. She finished 13th overall and clocked a 2:03.99 in the semifinals.
Earning Gatorade's National Player of the Year honor showed Willis that even though there were challenges, she was strong enough to rise up and be better the next time she stepped on the track.
"This season was amazing, but at the same time, it was difficult at times," she said. "It makes me so grateful to receive this award. I knew I was up against tough competition. It wasn't necessarily mine. So many people could have won this award."
Being named Gatorade Player Of The Year and seeing her name on the trophy with other top athletes means a lot, she said.
"Many of them went on to break world records and make Olympic teams," Willis said. "To see those names motivates me for the future and I'm incredibly honored to be on that trophy with their names on it."
The junior from Stevens Point (WI) High School puts in a lot of effort to maintain a 4.0 GPA and to give back to her community during a difficult time.
Throughout the pandemic, she made 'thank you' cards to hospital workers who were working during the pandemic. Willis played the violin for 12 years and used her talents to play holiday music via Zoom for area assisted living centers.
Photo Credit: Gatorade/Collin Mauro
Willis, Bailey Goggans, Juliette Whittaker, and Sophia Gorriran's World U20 record 4x800m performance
Willis at the CYUP Misfits Invitational
Gatorade National AOY Winners Since 2000:
- 2020: Taylor Ewert
- 2019: Jasmine Moore
- 2018: Katelyn Tuohy
- 2017: Sydney McLaughlin
- 2016: Sydney McLaughlin
- 2015: Candace Hill
- 2014: Raven Saunders
- 2013: Kendall Williams
- 2012: Shelbi Vaughan
- 2011: Amy Weissenbach
- 2010: Ashton Purvis
- 2009: Anna Jelmini
- 2008: Chanelle Price
- 2007: Emily Pendleton
- 2006: Bianca Knight
- 2005: Brittany Daniels
- 2004: Shalonda Solomon
- 2003: Allyson Felix
- 2002: Sanya Richards-Ross
- 2001: Ychlindria Spears
- 2000: Monique Henderson
Earlier: Olivia Ekpone interviews Roisin Willis
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