Brynna McQuillen

Vista Grande track and cross country runner Brynna McQuillen signs an athletic scholarship to the University of Nebraska on April 23 at Mission Royale II Park in Casa Grande. McQuillen won the 4A-6A Scholar Athlete award at the AIA Champions Awards Gala, which was held remotely Saturday.

CASA GRANDE — Even the cancellation of the spring sports season can’t slow down Vista Grande runner Brynna McQuillen.

A track and cross country star, McQuillen was denied a chance to compete at the track state championships earlier this month after the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite missing out on that opportunity, everything is coming up roses for McQuillen lately.

On Saturday, the Arizona Interscholastic Association held its annual Champion Awards Gala remotely, and McQuillen won the 4A-6A Scholar Athlete award. She beat out every girl in the state from schools 4A or larger.

And this comes on the heels of McQuillen signing an athletic scholarship with the University of Nebraska last month. Receiving an athletic scholarship to a Power Five conference like the Big Ten is exceptionally rare for Pinal County athletes.

To qualify for the AIA Scholar Athlete award, a student athlete must be a graduating senior with a minimum GPA of 3.75 on a 4.0 (unweighted) scale. He or she must also compete in a varsity sport for at least two years and have a record of “good citizenship.”

Applicants had to submit a resume and essay, and finalists were also required to submit a speech.

“A student athlete’s schedule is demanding and really time consuming, but it’s one of the most rewarding experiences I have faced,” McQuillen said in a live video speech after she won the award. “I think I can speak for all of us in that we yearn for moments like these, where all the late nights, long practices and early mornings become worth it.”

McQuillen had a 4.3 GPA to go along with her outstanding achievements in athletics, which included taking fourth place in the state cross country meet last November and a state runner-up finish in the 1,600 meters at the 2019 track state championships.

When she isn’t competing in athletics or studying, McQuillen volunteers at Banner Health Clinic, Valley Humane Society and a local senior living center.

Vista Grande athletic director Bobby Pierce congratulated McQuillen on receiving the Scholar Athlete award.

“She has had an incredible season and career at Vista. One of the best ever (in) VGHS Athletics [Department] history,” he said in an email. “We’re thrilled the AIA was able to acknowledge her great career with such an award.”

In her acceptance speech during the gala, McQuillen thanked her cross country and track coach, Cristina Salcido-Grigg, who she called her “backbone through every loss and every triumph.”

The Vista Grande coach described McQuillen’s talent, hard work and ambition.

“She set extraordinary goals in both running times, academic success and attaining a Division I college running scholarship,” Salcido-Grigg said in an email.

The athletic scholarship and the Scholar Athlete award, Salcido-Grigg added, are “special moments” that give McQuillen “the acknowledgment she deserves.”

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Brian Wright is the sports editor at PinalCentral. He can be reached at bwright@pinalcentral.com.

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