Hope College senior Sarah Ashcroft of Holland and junior Heather Benson of Muskegon each won first place during the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) Great Lakes Regional Competition, held at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, on Saturday, March 5.

Ashcroft won in the College Senior Women's Division, and Benson won in the Advanced (graduate-level) Division.  They had each previously earned first-place awards in the same categories during the NATS Michigan State Chapter Auditions on Saturday, Nov. 6.

Ashcroft is majoring in vocal music performance and vocal music education.  She is a 2007 graduate of West Ottawa High School, and the daughter of Karin Ashcroft of Holland.

She has received recognition during the state and regional NATS competitions annually since her freshman year, including first-place awards at the state level in both 2008 and 2009.  In February, she was one of three Hope students among the seven finalists from area colleges and universities chosen to compete in the final round of the Opera Grand Rapids Collegiate Competition on Sunday, April 17, at the Betty Van Andel Opera Center.

Benson is majoring in vocal music performance and vocal music education.  She is a 2001 graduate of Mona Shores High School, and the daughter of John and Vicki Benson of Muskegon.

She had also received a first-place award during the state NATS competition in 2009.

Ashcroft and Benson have been active performers as soloists and members of ensembles throughout their time at Hope.  Most recently, they were each featured soloists during the Hope College Musical Showcase concert at DeVos Hall in Grand Rapids on Monday, March 7, and they were also chosen to appear as soloists during the college's concerto and aria concert, performing accompanied by the orchestra, on Friday, Feb. 4.  In the fall, they were also each among the cast of the college's production of the Kurt Weill opera "Street Scene," a major collaborative effort of the departments of music and theatre.

The regional NATS competition included singers from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Ontario, Canada.

Hope had four students participating in the competition because of their award-winning performances in the NATS Michigan State Chapter Auditions in November.  All four of the participating students are students of Linda LeFever Dykstra, who is an associate professor of music and chair of the voice division at Hope.