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Lancers celebrate athletic accomplishments

With another season coming to a close, the Longwood athletics department handed out its annual awards during a two-day-long virtual awards presentation on Twitter Tuesday, May 18, and Wednesday, May 19.

The 2020-21 Longwood Athletics Awards Celebration saw the Lancer athletics department hand out a wealth of annual awards to student-athletes and staff, including Longwood Athlete of the Year, Henry I. Willett Scholar-Athlete of the Year, the Jimmy M. Yarbrough Inspiration Award, the SAAC A.C.E.S. Award and SAAC Coach of the Year, and many others.

Due to the social distancing and quarantine measures presented in response to the COVID-19 illness, the digital awards celebration took the place of the annual Longwood Student Athlete Awards Banquet, typically held on campus in late April. In lieu of that in-person gathering, the Longwood community followed along remotely on Twitter.

The 2020-21 celebration also commemorated numerous big moments from the past season, including record-breaking performances by Longwood men’s and women’s basketball, major Big South awards won by Big South Pitcher of the Year Sydney Backstrom, Scholar-Athlete of the Year Carrie Reaver and Defensive Player of the Year Akila Smith, a 1,000-point milestone by Kyla McMakin and many more.

Also highlighted were a number of noteworthy performances by several Longwood teams, four of which earned top-three finishes in their respective conference standings: women’s basketball, field hockey, men’s golf and softball. Meanwhile, women’s soccer advanced to the four-team Big South Championship tournament following a regular season in which they strung together a seven-game unbeaten streak. Men’s basketball set a new program record with 10 Big South wins and earned another invitation to the College Basketball Invitational, their second in the past three years. Women’s basketball joined them in the postseason with an invitation to the Women’s Basketball Invitational, which was their first in the Division I era.

The 2020-21 Longwood Athletics Awards Celebration celebrated those accomplishments and more with departmental awards that honored Lancers for their performances on and off the field. Returning this year after being shelved following the premature cancellation of athletics competition in 2020, were the Longwood Male Athlete of the Year, Freshman Athlete of the Year and Henry I. Willett Scholar-Athlete of the Year honors. Those awards were all voted on by members of the Longwood athletics department and this year went to student-athletes from five different teams.

Receiving the Henry I. Willett Scholar-Athlete awards were men’s golfer Brandon Weaver and women’s soccer player Carrie Reaver. Weaver led the men’s golf team to a record-breaking performance at the 2021 Big South Championship, finishing as the individual runner-up to help lift Longwood to a tie for first place in stroke play – the program’s best-ever performance at the event. He also earned multiple dean’s list citations during his five-year career and completed a double major this year, adding an economics degree to the environmental science diploma he earned in 2020.

Reaver was the female recipient of the Willett Scholar-Athlete Award and earned that recognition after being crowned co-valedictorian of Longwood’s 2021 graduating class and the Big South Women’s Soccer Scholar-Athlete of the Year for a second straight year. A four-year starter for Longwood women’s soccer’s vaunted backline, she maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA as a double major in biology and Spanish all four years while also earned three All-Big South honors and leading the team to a four-year record of 30-22- 11 and a Big South mark of 19-8-9.

The Willett Award was one of two major recognitions for Weaver who was also named Longwood Male Athlete of the Year. In addition to his swan song at the Big South Championship, he maintained a team-leading scoring average of 73.74 in 2021 and capped the season by earning a spot on the Big South All-Championship Team.

Joining Weaver as Longwood Athletes of the Year were female co-winners Sydney Backstrom from softball and Akila Smith from women’s basketball. Those two split the vote after both received major Big South awards as the fulcrums of their respective teams. Backstrom was named Big South Pitcher of the Year after emerging as not only the Big South’s top hurler, but one of the best in the nation after ranking among the top three nationally in innings and complete games, and atop the Big South leaderboards in wins, opponent batting average and strikeouts. Meanwhile, Smith was named Big South Defensive Player of the Year after breaking her own school record for blocks in a single season and ranking among the top 10 nationally in that category as well. She also led the league in rebounding and field goal percentage and was among the top five in scoring and steals, all of which contributed to a breakout season for the Lancers who finished third in the conference with a program-record 12 Big South wins.

Several newcomers also put together breakout seasons in their Longwood debuts, as three Lancers earned Longwood Freshman Athlete of the Year honors. The male winner of the award was men’s basketball standout Justin Hill, who was named to the Big South All-Freshman Team after emerging as one of the most dynamic point guards in the Big South. He ranked among the conference’s top three freshmen in scoring, rebounding and assist, and among the league’s top 10 overall in assist-to-turnover ratio. His immediate production helped power the men’s basketball team to a record 10 Big South, a fifth-place Big South finish and a trip to the CBI in Daytona Beach, Fla.

On the women’s side, women’s soccer forward Alex Dinger and women’s basketball guard Adriana Shipp shared Co-Athlete of the Year honors after contributing as starters on their respective teams. Dinger was named to the All-Big South honorable mention squad after leading the team in goals and game-winning goals, doing so while also starting nine of 10 games. Her two game-winning goals helped Longwood open the year with a seven-game unbeaten streak and end the season with a fourth-place Big South finish and a trip to the Big South Championship semifinals. Meanwhile, Shipp was a member of Longwood’s starting five and a Big South All-Freshman Team honoree with a freshman resume that included 7.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. She scored in double figures seven times and averaged 25.0 minutes per game for a Longwood team that went 12-6 in conference play, finished third in the league, and advanced to the Big South Championship semifinals for the second time in school history.

Taking home the Academic PRIDE Awards were women’s lacrosse senior Hannah Tirrell and men’s basketball senior Ilija Stefanovic for their work ethic and commitment to academic excellence. Tirrell is a business administration major with a concentration in information systems and cyber security, while Stefanovic is a finance major.

Receiving the prestigious Jimmy M. Yarbrough Inspiration Award, named in honor of the late Longwood men’s basketball player and beloved admissions counselor, was Longwood softball senior Arleigh Wood. The four-year letter winner and annual President’s List honoree became the 16th Lancer to receive that honor, which recognizes a student-athlete who exhibits the same inspirational, selfless and leadership traits Yarbrough exemplified in his decades of service to Longwood.

The Longwood Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) also handed out a pair of awards, with the SAAC Coach of the Year honor going to director of tennis Jhonnatan Medina Alvarez and the Acclaimed Commitment to the Excellence of Student-Athletes (A.C.E.S.) going to assistant athletics director/sports medicine Carly Fullerton. Alvarez, in his fourth year at Longwood and third as director of tennis managing both the men’s and women’s programs, oversaw tennis programs that achieved the highest team GPAs in the department in both the spring and fall of 2020. He also became a Longwood graduate himself in May, earning his bachelor’s in business administration in less than four years.

Fullerton earned the A.C.E.S. Award, which SAAC presents annually to the faculty or staff member who goes above and beyond for student-athletes in their academic, athletic and personal pursuits, as well as being an advocate for student-athlete welfare.

Jonathan Page, the Longwood University Director of Multicultural Affairs and Title VI Coordinator, received the athletics department’s Roy Nunnally Special Recognition Award, which goes to an individual outside the athletics department whose support exudes the Lancer Spirit and makes contributions as a pillar in the success of student-athletes, coaches and staff, both on and off the playing field.

The academic honors were also widespread throughout the department, with every program placing a student-athlete on the Longwood All-Academic Team and men’s and women’s tennis sweeping the Cormier Awards for Academic Excellence. Tennis earned those Cormier Awards by recording the department’s highest team grade point averages during both the spring and fall semesters of 2020.

Longwood men’s basketball head coach Griff Aldrich was the coach recipient of the All-Academic Team award after leading the Lancer men to a record team GPA for a seventh consecutive semester. This spring’s watermark of 3.29 was the highest in program history, ranked as the third-best among Longwood’s men’s teams this past semester, and featured seven Dean’s List honorees.

Along with Aldrich’s All-Academic Team citation, each team placed one student-athlete on the academic squad: Andrew Gorham (BASE), Cameron O’Conner (MBB), Andrijana Reljic (WBB), Kelly Jarratt (CHEER), Zachary Lam (MXC), Maddie Foster (WXC), Cammy Toddy (FH), Miles Parroco (MGLF), Bobbi Uhl (WGLF), Nicole Fordyce (WLAX), Matthew Ward (MSOC), Madison Hommey (WSOC), Destiny Martinez (SB), Ernest Rocabert (MTEN), Maria Saez (WTEN), and Jaclyn Hills (AT).