WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Jessica Bissonnette, an NAIA national track champion, has been honored with the 1996 Mignon Borleske Athletic Trophy, which is presented annually at Whitman to the most outstanding female athlete. The award recognizes athletic ability and accomplishments, leadership and sportsmanship qualities, and contributions to the campus as a whole.
Bissonnette, a four-time NAIA All-American in cross country and a three-time winner in track, also was named Female Athlete of the Year recently at the 1996 Blue Mountain Sports Awards banquet. The Blue Mountain awards, sponsored annually by the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin newspaper, honors top high school and college athletes in southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon.
"Jessica is very deserving of the awards because of her many accomplishments, and because of her work ethic," Whitman track coach Keith Jensen said. "She and (teammate) Kathleen Gibson are the hardest working track and cross country athletes we've ever had at Whitman."
Bissonnette, who graduated from Saint Mary Academy in Portland in 1992, captured an NAIA national title last spring in the 3,000 meter while placed third in the 5,000 meters.
Bissonnette capped her collegiate running career in late May, 1996, when she placed third in the 5,000 meters at the national championships, despite running on a painful Achilles tendon injury. "It was a great effort by Jessica considering she's been injured so much this year," assistant track coach Scott Shields said.
Bissonnette, who holds the Whitman school record at three track distances (1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 meters), dominated those events in the Northwest Conference of Independent Colleges (NCIC) in recent years. Competing in early May, 1996, she won the conference title in the 5,000 meters for the third consecutive year. She placed second in the 3,000, after having won conference titles in that event the three previous seasons.
Over the past four track seasons, Bissonnette ran in 10 distance events at NCIC championship meets, winning seven races while placing second twice and third once. In one of her second-place finishes, she was edged at the tape by less than a second. She was twice named Female Athlete of the Meet.
Last fall, midway through the cross country season, Bissonnette was a virtual lock for her third straight NCIC title, and the Whitman women's team was favored to 'three-peat' as the conference team champion. As the Whitman women rose to No. 2 in the NAIA national coaches poll, however, Bissonnette suffered a stress fracture in her lower right leg and was unable to run in the conference championships.
Recognized prior to her injury as one of the favorites to win the NAIA national title, Bissonnette recovered in time to compete at nationals in mid-November. Despite having not run for five weeks, she placed 20th among nearly 300 runners, winning All-American honors for the fourth straight season.
In her three previous national cross country races, Bissonnette placed 26th, 15th and 11th. As a team, the Whitman women placed fifth once and sixth three times during Bissonnette's four years.