Marietta, Georgia, May 21, 2021 – The Life University (LIFE) Athletics Department honored the University’s 2020-21 student-athletes, teams and coaches at its fourth annual awards banquet on Thursday, May 20, 2021.

“The achievements of our student-athletes this year is humbling. To have multiple national champions, a record number of conference champions, more academic achievements than ever before and a continual emphasis on servant leadership, Life University has so much to be proud of,” Director of Athletics Jayme Pendergast said.

“We have seen constant growth year over year and our student-athletes and staff continue to press forward with a committed heart and an engine that keeps getting stronger,” Pendergast continued. “I couldn’t be more proud of this year’s accomplishments and the way in which our student-athletes and staff have represented Life University.”

A member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the Mid-South Conference (MSC), the Life University Athletic Department fields 23 teams in 11 women’s sports, 11 men’s sports and one coed sport, in addition to club and intramural athletic programs. Life U Running Eagles have earned both team and individual National Championships as well as MSC Championships, All American, All Conference and academic honors.

The following awards were presented at the banquet:

Male Newcomer of the Year: Zane Lanham (Men’s Wrestling)

  • Undefeated during the regular season.
  • All-American.
  • 2021 MSC Champion at 197 lbs.
  • 3rd place at NAIA Nationals.

Female Newcomer of the Year: Taylor Ward (Women’s Cross Country and Women’s Track & Field)

  • Mid-South Conference Women’s Outdoor Track & Field Champion in 10000 meters.
  • NAIA Women’s Cross Country Top 100 finisher.
  • Qualified for NAIA Women’s Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Half Marathon.

Larger than LIFE Award: Sam Wagner (Men’s Club Rugby)

  • Top try-scorer and made most meters with ball for 2nd season.
  • Graduating with a 3.96 GPA in June 2021 with both D.C. and M.S. degrees.
  • President of Wellness Way Student Club, officer of Sports Chiropractic Club and member of ICPA and Functional Neurology club.
  • Volunteers at Open Hand Atlanta soup kitchen and for MLK Day on the Westside Beltline.

Servant Leadership Team of the Year: Women’s Soccer

  • 315 team service hours.
  • Took part in Horizon League, helped with St. Nicolaus Christmas Soccer Tournament Toy Drive, participated in Special Needs Cobb House Renovation, raised $1,003 for MSC Special Olympics Polar Plunge and initiated campus-wide Mental Health Awareness game.

Breakthrough Athlete of the Year: Lena Pucnik (Women’s Volleyball)

  • Mid-South Conference Player of Year.
  • First Team All-Conference.
  • Four-time MSC Player of the Week.
  • Ranks 1st nationally in total service aces.

Team Performance of the Year: Men’s Wrestling at NAIA National Championships

  • 2021 NAIA National Champions.
  • Dethroned nine-time national champions Grand View University.
  • Rallied 7-0 in placement matches to overcome nine-point deficit.

Individual Performance of the Year: Jordan Nelson (Women’s Wrestling) at NAIA National Championships

  • NAIA National Champion at 170 lbs.
  • Defeated returning national champion in finals, allowing just one point to be scored against her.
  • Qualified for Olympic Trials.

Coach of the Year: Omi Acosta (Men’s Wrestling)

  • Led team to first-ever NAIA National Championship.
  • NAIA Coach of the Year.
  • Team was undefeated on season, capturing MSC South Division title.
  • MSC South Division Coach of the Year.

Resilient Running Eagle Award: Kelly Beshaw (Women’s Lacrosse)

  • Spent 2020 season assisting in the press box after suffering from a torn labrum as well as having her gallbladder removed.
  • Elected to play through pain during 2021 season and push surgery to the summer.
  • Gutted out 15 goals, nine assists, 18 ground balls and eight caused turnovers.
  • Efforts helped her team reach the NAIA National Semifinals for first time in program history.

Academic Team of the Year: Women’s Soccer

  • 18 MSC All-Academic Team members
  • 17 student-athletes with a 3.5 GPA or higher

Professor of the Year: Henry Hammond, M.S.

  • Assistant Professor, Division of Natural Sciences.

Male Iron Eagle: Jose Llaneza (Men’s Volleyball)

  • Positive attitude and strives to get better every day.
  • Has made huge improvements in technique from beginning.
  • Consistent throughout the season, asks questions for better understanding and always thankful after each workout.

Female Iron Eagle: Annaliese Froese (Women’s Soccer and Women’s Lacrosse)

  • Amazed at her ability to play two sports and pursue a Doctor of Chiropractic degree.
  • One of the best leaders among all Life U Athletics teams.
  • Gives 100% even when she can barely stand.
  • Probably the best overall technique among all the teams and loves to compete in the weight room.

LIFEtime Achievement Awards:

Bria Sands (Women’s Track and Field)

  • 2021 Mid-South Conference Athlete of the Year.
  • Holds top four NAIA mark in all jump events for 2020-21.
  • 2019: NAIA Indoor and Outdoor National Champion.
  • 2018: Mid-South Conference Freshman High Scorer.
  • Mid-South High Scorer for Women’s Indoor Track & Field.

George Phelan (Men’s Rugby)

  • 2020-2021: Captain, Team MVP and finalist for Rudy Scholz Award.
  • 2019-2020: Vice-Captain, All-American and First Team All-MSC.
  • 2017-2018: National Champion; First Team All-American.

Mary Zimmerman (Women’s Volleyball)

  • 2020-21: First Team All-MSC, All-Academic MSC, MSC Attacker of the Week and AVCA All-Region.
  • 2019-20: First Team All-MSC, All-Academic MSC, MSC Defender of the Week, NAIA Defender of the Week and Female Iron Eagle Award winner
  • 2018-19: Second Team All-MSC.

Male Student-Athlete of the Year: Brandon Orum (Men’s Wrestling)

  • 2021 NAIA National Champion at 125 lbs.
  • Upset No. 1 ranked wrestler in NAIA semifinals.
  • NWCA Scholar All-American and Academic All-MSC.
  • MSC Freshman of the Year.

Female Student-Athlete of the Year: Peyton Prussin (Women’s Wrestling)

  • Captured 116 lbs. NAIA and MSC titles.
  • Dominated all season, going undefeated.
  • All except three matches ended via fall or tech fall, only allowing seven points to be scored against all season.
  • Spent entire season ranked No. 1.

Team of the Year: Men’s Wrestling

  • Won program’s first NAIA National Championship.
  • Won MSC South Division title.
  • Undefeated on season, beating opponents 479-16.
  • One individual NAIA National Champion and 10 All-Americans.

In addition, the Life University Association of Student Athletes presented three new awards that were voted on by LIFE’s student-athletes:

Walk-On of the Year: Joe Hawthorne (Men’s Rugby)

Teammate of the Year: Jordan Nelson (Women’s Wrestling)

Committed Beyond Measure: Levonis Davis (Women’s Track & Field)

A video of the event is available on the Life University Athletics YouTube Channel.

Founded in 1974, Life University is a health sciences institution most known for its Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) program, the largest single-campus chiropractic program in the world. LIFE also offers 14 undergraduate degrees, as well as a pre-chiropractic, degree-seeking pathway. Three graduate degrees are available, encompassing areas of sport health science, clinical nutrition and positive psychology. Some degree programs are offered to distance learners through the College of Online Education.

Life University strives to empower its students to succeed both professionally and personally. LIFE advances a leading-edge approach to higher education while also remaining true to the University’s philosophical commitment to produce informed leaders who exemplify humanistic values in their professions. To achieve this goal, LIFE recognizes and demonstrates its dedication through three official Life University Values: Lasting Purpose, Vitalism and Integrity.

LIFE’s 110-acre campus just northwest of Atlanta is home to more than 2,800 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students who come from all 50 United States and more than 45 countries.

Additional details about Life U Athletics can be found at

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