In seventh grade in Stewartville, Minn., Whitney Lloyd took a life-science course and dreamed of medical school.

Little did she know then that her favorite sport — volleyball — would help get her there.

Lloyd, 23, compiled a 3.86 GPA while earning a degree in biochemistry from the University of St. Thomas. She’s now in her first year on the Duluth campus of the University of Minnesota Medical School.

In September, she was also named one of 10 finalists for Division III for the NCAA Woman of the Year award. The award honors one student athlete in each of the three college divisions who has demonstrated excellence in academics, athletics, community service and leadership. Winners will be announced Oct. 28.

“I’m still kind of in shock,” Lloyd said. “I was so surprised when I heard, thinking, ‘Is this real?’ It’s made me realize that the award is not about me alone. It’s about my teammates, my coaches, my family.”

Lloyd said playing volleyball helped her stay focused academically. “I think being in sports made it easier to time manage,” she said. “I like to stay busy and I learned to allot my time.”

The 6-foot-1 Lloyd, one of three siblings, said Stewartville was a “typical small town. I was in band and choir. It was a great experience.”

She played volleyball at Stewartville High School, coached by John Dzubay. She said she learned a lot from him “about mental toughness, and that it was a big part of being successful.”

But she also loved science. “You could ask and hear how things worked,” Lloyd said. “I love having questions and finding the answers.”

It didn’t hurt that both of her parents are doctors. “They didn’t pressure me to go into medicine,” she said. “But they always said they thought I would make a good doctor. They’ve been so amazing and supportive.”

While at St. Thomas, Lloyd was an All-America volleyball player. Her academic résumé includes research, tutoring and medical work. She volunteered at Children’s Minnesota St. Paul Hospital and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. She also took part in a medical mission to Nicaragua.

“I had the absolute pleasure of coaching Whitney for four seasons,” said St. Thomas volleyball coach Thanh Pham. “What stands out about Whitney is her intensity and genuine caring for others.

“When I think of Whit Lloyd, I think of her smile. She always had one for anyone that needed it. I believe her humble and caring nature allowed her to get better every season.”

Lloyd said the volleyball experience allowed her to get better on — and off — the court.

“Coach Thanh is an amazing coach with a lot of volleyball knowledge, but he has also taught me many life lessons and how to be a better person, which I will carry with me even now that my competitive volleyball career has finished.”

But she said the most important idea she took from volleyball was “how important your teammates, coaches and family are. You can have amazing volleyball players and a horrible team.”

Lloyd chose UMD’s medical school because it has a focus on Native American medicine and health disparities. Lloyd’s maternal grandparents are members of the Alderville First Nation in Ontario.

“We visit them every summer,” said Lloyd. “My mom tells stories about her parents and grandparents. They were welcoming, helpful and brought people together. My great grandfather [Norman Marsden] was chief for 28 years. My cousin, Jimbob Marsden, is the current [Alderville] chief. Jimbob and Alderville have been really supportive throughout my life and transition into medical school.

“The special focus on Native American medicine is important,” she said. “I look forward to advocating for other native people’s health.”

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly identified the University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth Campus.