The third annual Lenoir-Rhyne Bears Choice Awards Ceremony held last week looked a little different than the first two as winners were announced virtually through social media. In the end, what was accomplished was a celebration of another successful athletic and academic campaign for the university’s student-athletes.
Neill McGeacy’s “Stellar” Coaching Excellence Award was bestowed upon head women’s soccer coach Gary Higgins. Higgins was named the South Atlantic Conference Coach of the Year after guiding the Bears to a regular-season championship, with the team hosting the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional. L-R was ranked as high as No. 8 in the nation and opened the season 9-0 for the first time in program history.
The Wayne B. Powell Awards, given to one male and one female student-athlete in honor of the 11th president of Lenoir-Rhyne University, went to women’s golfer Ainee O’Connor and football player Clayton Horn. O’Connor was an honorable mention All-American who also earned SAC Golfer of the Year, Scholar Athlete of the Year and the Elite 20 Award. Meanwhile, Horn helped L-R to its best start in program history (13-0) and a spot in the NCAA quarterfinals while also collecting Second Team Academic All-American honors to go with First Team All-Region and All-SAC accolades.
The Rufus Moretz Scholar-Athletes Awards were presented to the male and female student-athletes with the top grade point averages in the entire department. On the women’s side, softball player Talon LaClair and Jocelyn Lowe of the women’s track and field squad tied for the award. As for the male award, it went to Alex Murphy of the men’s swim team.
Taking home the Biggest Upset Award was the Bears’ softball team for its victory over top-ranked Young Harris, which included a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth. A record-breaking 99-yard pass from Grayson Willingham to Jaquay Mitchell was voted as the Play of the Year, while the Game of the Year was awarded to the football team for its win over fellow nationally-ranked Wingate in a contest that was broadcast on ESPN3.
The Bears Supporting Bears Award was given to L-R’s baseball team, while Professor Joe Smith was given the Faculty of the Year Award for his support in and out of the classroom for the student-athletes under his academic mentorship. Additionally, the Bears’ men’s soccer team was recognized as the Lead the Charge Award winner — an internal project and award given out in an effort for each coach and team to demonstrate how they incorporate L-R’s fundamentals for success of “Develop, Drive & Dedicate.”
As for the women’s lacrosse team, it recorded more volunteer hours than any other team in the Bears’ athletic program. Furthermore, men’s lacrosse player Myles Moffat and volleyball/women’s basketball player Jackie Denny were elected as the male and female Comeback Players of the Year after each returned from significant knee injuries to regain their form as standouts for their respective programs.
This year’s Breakthrough Players of the Year were Tyson McClain of the men’s basketball team and Caroline Hilliard of the women’s cross country squad. Newcomers of the Year included Micah McRea of the men’s swim team and women’s soccer player Neve Duston.
The Male and Female Athletes of the Year were football star Kyle Dugger and women’s soccer standout Aqsa Mushtaq.
2020 Bears Choice Awards Winners
Biggest Upset: Softball over No. 1 Young Harris
Comeback Players of the Year: Myles Moffat (Men’s Lacrosse) and Jackie Denny (Volleyball/Women’s Basketball)
Breakthrough Players of the Year: Tyson McClain (Men’s Basketball) and Caroline Hilliard (Women’s Cross Country)
Play of the Year: Record-breaking 99 -yard pass from Grayson Willingham to Jaquay Mitchell
Game of the Year: Football’s win over Wingate on ESPN3
Newcomers of the Year: Neve Duston (Women’s Soccer) and Micah McRea (Men’s Swimming)
Athletes of the Year: Aqsa Mushtaq (Women’s Soccer) and Kyle Dugger (Football)
Neill McGeachy’s “Stellar” Coaching Excellence Award: Gary Higgins (Women’s Soccer)
Faculty of the Year Award: Professor Joe Smith
Bears Supporting Bears: Baseball
Lead The Charge: Men’s Soccer
Team Community Service Award: Women’s Lacrosse
Wayne B. Powell Recognition: Ainee O’Connor (Women’s Soccer) and Clayton Horn (Football)
Rufus Moretz Scholar-Athlete Recognition: Alex Murphy (Men’s Swimming), Talon LaClair (Softball) and Jocelyn Lowe (Women’s Track)
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