Club Sports celebrates abundance of triumphs, testimonies at annual Choice Awards
Outstanding student-athletes, exceptional coaches, and gifted spiritual leaders in Liberty University’s Club Sports department were recognized during Wednesday night’s annual Choice Awards at the Center for Music and the Worship Arts, Concert Hall.
Flames Central co-anchors Rett McGibbon and Matt Warner emceed the gala event with numerous video introductions — as well as a highlight reel set to the Skillet song “This is the Kingdom” — produced by Club Sports Director of Video & Media Patrick Strawn and his staff.
A string quartet played a selection of songs ranging from Queen’s “We Are The Champions” to Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” as the honorees took the stage to receive their awards and make their acceptance speeches.
Senior snowboarder Emory Orlando, who won gold medals in Rail Jam and Slopestyle to lead Liberty to its first two team titles at the USCSA National Championships, March 10-12 in Lake Placid, N.Y., was selected as the Female Athlete of the Year. The Lady Flames, who claimed a third individual gold medal by freshman skier Lauren Harder and two women’s ski team titles in Rail Jam and Slopestyle, also earned Female Team of the Year honors.
Junior men’s swimmer Matthew Davidson repeated as the Male Athlete of the Year after capturing the first three gold medals in program history (50- and 100-yard backstroke, 100 freestyle) and anchoring five top-10 relay teams to carry the Flames to a fifth-place finish at the April 10-12 College Club Swimming National Championships in Atlanta.
The four-time-defending NCWA National Duals and NCWA Grand National champion men’s wrestling team, which claimed seven individual weight class titles to clinch its fifth tournament title in Allen, Texas, received the Men’s Team of the Year award.
Kaleb VanDePerre, who guided the men’s volleyball team to a semifinal showing at the April 13-15 NCVF National Championships in Phoenix while also overseeing the men’s and women’s beach volleyball program, was honored as the Male Team Head Coach of the Year.
Crew Head Coach Debbie Prowse, the Female Team Head Coach of the Year winner, thanked the entire Club Sports department for the support she and her rowers have received over the years.
“We have an amazing, amazing family here, and you all know it, in Club Sports,” she said. “You guys help us so much. You make us smarter (academic support) through all of those study hall hours, you make us stronger (strength and conditioning), you make us faster, you make us look good (media and marketing), and you help us grow spiritually, too, (spiritual leadership). I couldn’t do it without all of you guys.”
Christian Garland, who balanced Division II men’s hockey assistant coaching duties while supporting his wife, former Club Sports Video & Media Assistant Monika (McKenzie) Garland, through her battle with cancer, was named the Male Team Assistant Coach of the Year. Kimi Counts, in her sixth season working with the equestrian Hunt Seat program under Head Coach Suzanne Flaig, earned Women’s Team Assistant Coach of the Year accolades.
Senior cyclist Freddie Shashaty was honored as the Male Perseverance Athlete of the Year after overcoming a history of substance abuse and an eating disorder as well as numerous injuries and other setbacks to qualify for the USA Cycling Collegiate National Championships for the second time in his career this spring. He credited his teammates and coaches for encouragement and inspiration on his road to recovery.
“They supported me through the ups and downs of racing … and pushed me to grow in my faith and use cycling as a way to share the Word of God, and to appreciate everything God’s allowed me to achieve, both on and off the bike,” Shashaty said.
Freshman figure skater Emma Richards was named the Female Perseverance award-winner after helping the Lady Flames win their first Southeast Section meet on Feb. 12-13 at the LaHaye Ice Center with first- and second-place finishes on the day she heard that her father had died in Minnesota.
“Although it’s been the most difficult year of my life, I’ve just been so confident that the Lord is good to me,” Richards said. “I’m so thankful to be at Liberty and to just be a part of what God is doing here. My dad got me started in skating and … I know that I am exactly where he would want met to be at Liberty, being able to skate and glorify the Lord.”
Graduate men’s lacrosse attack Carter Elliott, the Flames’ leading scorer who also serves as one of their spiritual leaders, received the Male Champion Award while graduate DI women’s hockey forward Vanessa DeMerchant, the Lady Flames’ head captain, earned Female Champion Award honors.
Evan Keener won the Male Outstanding Performance award after earning All-American status at the USA Racquetball National Championships to lead Liberty to a fifth-place team finish. Senior Western rider Faith Dantona, the Region 4 High Point Reserve Champion and National Semi-Final Reining Champion who will represent the Lady Flames at the May 5-8 IHSA National Championships, earned the Women’s Outstanding Performance award.
Leonardo Chang, a freshman men’s black belt middleweight gold-medal winner for the Flames’ taekwondo team, received Male Rookie of the Year honors. Haley Battles, a freshman forward on the Lady Flames’ four-time defending ACHA Division I women’s hockey national championship team who was designated the WMCH Tournament Most Valuable Player, earned the Female Rookie of the Year award.
“I’m extremely honored to receive this award and beyond thankful to the Lord for bringing me here and saving me in November,” Battles said. “I’m thankful for … my teammates and coaches (and) I’m excited for next year and continuing to build on our legacy.”
The women’s beach volleyball team, which won its first dual match against an NCAA Division I opponent, Missouri State, was selected as the Breakthrough Award winner.
Club Sports Assistant Director of Staffing and Scheduling Rena Leone, also a founding member of the Division II women’s hockey team and third-year head coach, received the Legacy Award.
Seniors Lydia Vernon (women’s ultimate) and Jesse Redding (men’s wrestling) were named the Academic Athletes of the Year, and were recognized among 127 Club Sports student-athletes who have achieved perfect 4.0 grade-point averages and 325 sporting GPAs of 3.5 or higher.
Andre Vial, a junior intern who has engaged fans by facilitating intermission, halftime, and between-inning entertainment for Athletics and Club Sports events, accepted the Student Service Award via video speech as he was busy serving as Fan Experience Coordinator for the Lynchburg Hillcats.
Crew senior Peyton Chandler received the Community Service Award for her efforts to raise funds for the Blue Ridge Pregnancy Center and God’s Pit Crew, among other charitable organizations.
Andrew Musser, who served as an intern last year under Club Sports’ Academic Research Liaison Dr. Jonathan Chung, was selected as the Male Academic Integration Athlete of the Year award winner after chronicling the Division III men’s hockey team’s past two seasons by video. Sydney Bechtel received the Female Academic Integration Athlete of the Year honor as a sports psychology intern for the Division I men’s hockey team.
School of Business Professor Dr. Chris Huseman earned the Academic Partnership Award for working with Chung and former indoor and beach volleyball player Maribeth Kern, now an Academic Research graduate assistant, to integrate marketing and sales students into Club Sports activities.
The evening event, which concluded with an outdoor dining experience in the School of Music courtyard, was coordinated by Club Sports Assistant Athletic Director Kaycee Tripp.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Videos edited by Kylee Lilge and Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media