Sioux City, Iowa – The Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) is proud to announce those chosen as the 2020 nominees for the top honors in the NAIA, including the A.O. Duer Award, the Emil S. Liston Award, Dr. LeRoy Walker Champions of Character Award and the NAIA Coach of Character Award.
“Each year I am continually amazed by the talent and accomplishments of the nominees for these awards,” said GPAC Commissioner Corey Westra. “I have no doubt that the GPAC nominees again will be strong candidates at the national level. Naming these nominees is one of most exciting things we do as a conference each year.”
The national winners will be named during the NAIA National Awards Day on September 15, 2020. The NAIA winners will be recognized as part of the NAIA National Awards Luncheon at the NAIA National Convention.
A.O. Duer Award
The A.O. Duer Scholarship Award is named in honor of the NAIA’s former executive secretary who served the association for 26 years. This award has been annually presented since 1967 to a male and female student-athlete completing their junior season in any sport who has excelled in scholarship, character, and citizenship.
Female Nominee: Olivia DeFord, Doane University
The female nominee for the A.O. Duer Award is Olivia DeFord, a member of the Doane University Dance Team. She is a three-time NAIA All-American and a team captain for the Tigers.
DeFord, from Lincoln, Nebraska, is majoring in Natural Science with a Secondary Education Endorsement with a 3.98 GPA.
“Through the years you can distinctly see those individuals who display the subtle traits that is takes to be successful: the passion to “be the best”, setting goals, commitment, hard work, and the pursuit of excellence,” said Doane Dance Coach Ashley Lyon. “These are the traits I see in Olivia. She is a great example for all future students and athletes to emulate.”
“She (Olivia) will bring not only a love of science to her students but also an empathetic heart that has already distinguished itself as a champion of students in greatest need,” said Dr. Linda Kalbach, Professor of Education at Doane. “Olivia wants to go where there is need and to work with students in communities and schools too often ignored. She does so with her eyes and heart wide open to the extra challenges teachers often face in such settings.”
Male Nominee: Theo Blum, Midland University
The male nominee for the A.O. Duer Award from the GPAC is Theo Blum from Midland University, a member of the Warriors football team.
Blum, from Wahoo, Nebraska, holds a grade point average of 4.0 while working towards his degree in Pre-Pharmacy/Biology.
“Theo has shown through his hard work, infectious attitude, and discipline that great things can be achieved,” said Jeff Jamrog, Head Football Coach at Midland. “Because of this effort, Theo has accomplished great things here at Midland and is an outstanding role model He is one of the best young men that I have had the privilege of coaching in 31 years.”
“During the past year I worked closely with Theo. From the Beginning he stood out in his attention to detail, his eagerness to achieve and his accountability,” said Midland Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Lawrence Chatters. “I watched up close as Theo generated ideas, delegated duties and strategically executed the Student Senate goals. All of this while competing at a high level on the football teams as a captain, completing numerous community service hours, working a job and maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA.
NAIA Emil S. Liston Award
The Liston Award is named in honor of the NAIA’s first executive secretary and the prime mover behind the NAIA Men’s Basketball National Tournament. The award has been presented annually since 1950 to one junior men’s and one junior women’s basketball student-athlete who has shown high athletic and scholastic achievement.
Female Nominee: Erika Feenstra, Dordt University
Erika Feenstra, a women’s basketball player from Dordt University, is the GPAC female nominee for the NAIA Emil S. Liston Award.
Feenstra, from Hull, Iowa, holds a GPA of 3.99 while majoring Exercise Science with minors in Psychology and Biomedical Sciences minor. She is a two-time NAIA All-American and is currently second on the Dordt all-time scoring list.
“I am very familiar with the demands of balancing the curricular and extra-curricular responsibilities as a
student-athlete,” said Mark Christians, Dordt Professor of Psychology. “Erika has clearly met these demands with consistency and success. Along with her excellent performance on the basketball court, Erika always puts her academic endeavors first and foremost and can prioritize her responsibilities in an efficient manner.”
“As an athlete, Erika has certainly been blessed with tremendous physical ability,” said Dale Zevenbergen, Business Administration Instructor and Faculty Athletics Representative at Dordt. “But her discipline, unwavering work ethic, and leadership skills are really what make her the standout player she has become. As a person, Erika’s Christian faith and character shines through in her daily life.”
Male Nominee: Zach Imig, Morningside College
Zach Imig, a men’s basketball player from Morningside College, is the GPAC male nominee for the NAIA Emil S. Liston Award.
Imig, from Gretna, Nebraska, holds a GPA of 4.0 with a major in Biopsychology.
“His academic ability is evidenced by his 4.0 GPA but there is so much more to Zach,” said Morningside President John Reynders. “Zach attacks life with a passion in much the same way he takes the ball to the hoop. He is engaged in his education with numerous job shadowing experiences in health care; his many leadership positions for a variety of campus organizations and his willingness to give of his time for a wide array of community service activities.”
“Zach’s work ethic and passion have helped him become one of the best basketball players in the conference,” said Morningside Athletic Director Tim Jager. “His talent is evident, but I believe his most outstanding characteristics show as Zach represents Morningside with character and class in all he does. Zach’s skills, drive and work ethic will allow him to be successful at anything he strives for.”
Dr. LeRoy Walker Champions of Character Award
Nominee: Rachel Evavold, Dordt University
Rachel Evavold, of Dordt University, a native of Bloomington, Minnesota, is the GPAC nominee for the Dr. LeRoy Walker Champions of Character Award. This award is presented annually to an NAIA Student-Athlete who embodies the NAIA Champions of Character initiative and the five core values of respect, integrity, responsibility, servant leadership, and sportsmanship.
Evavold graduated with a Special Education Major and a 3.685 GPA. A two-sport standout for the Defenders while competing in both basketball and softball, she plans to enter the Dordt Graduate Education program and play her final season of softball.
During her time at Dordt she has been both to the All-GPAC teams in both basketball and softball. In addition to her accolades on the field she has been honored in the classroom, being named an NAIA Scholar Athlete in both sports.
“Rachel is the definition of a student athlete,” said Bill Harmsen, Head Basketball Coach at Dordt. “Academics are her number one priority. Rachel Displays Christian values in her lifestyle and servant leadership. She is always looking out for the best interests of her team on and off the floor.”
“Rachel has been above reproach in her character while participating in both the women’s basketball and
softball programs. Her ability to manage her time appropriately while pursuing excellence has been
impressive.,” said Jeff Zomer, Head Softball Coach at Dordt. “If that is not enough, she has been serving young people by working at a local Behavioral Care Specialist facility where she cares for and works with children with autism.”
NAIA Coach of Character Award
Nominee: Nate Wolf, Dordt University
Nate Wolf from Dordt University is the GPAC nominee for the NAIA Coach of Character Award. This award recognizes a head coach who is dedicated to deliberately teaching character through sport.
Wolf is the head men’s and women’s cross country coach at Dordt.
“His message is both calculated and intentional. Nate Wolf is a passionate leader and a person of character.,” said Dordt Athletic Director Ross Douma. “He coaches and instructs at a level that has lasting implications on his student-athletes as they are profoundly affected by his nurturing.”
At the beginning of each competition season, Coach Wolf and his program routinely host and administer a community fun run entitled the Beating Hearts 5K. Proceeds from this event go to the Beating Hearts Adoption Program which assists families in the local community in covering expenses relative to the adoption process. Not only does the cross-country program financially assist families in the community, but student-athletes also gain a greater understanding of the adoption process and the commitment families make toward raising children in a dignified manner.
Additionally, he has the cross-country program partner with One Body One Hope to provide shoes for children in Liberia, Africa. Rooted in Sioux Center, Iowa, the mission and vision of One Body One Hope is to provide ongoing support for the people of Liberia. Hosting a shoe drive has become an annual endeavor for the cross-country program. Students at Dordt University have become accustomed to participating in this yearly charity event and are conditioned to save their shoes for this cause. Due to an aggressive marketing campaign, over 150 pairs of shoes are annually delivered to children in Liberia. This illustration serves to exemplify the outreach his program has both on our campus and beyond.
The national winners will be announced during the 2020 NAIA Awards Day on September 15.