ROCK HILL, S.C. – Tusculum's Taylor Rakes and Wingate's Liz Willis, a pair of senior student-athletes, have been selected as the 2011-12 recipients of the SAC Presidents Award, the most prestigious individual honor given by the conference.
Winners of the award, which is voted on by the SAC Faculty Athletic Representative Committee, exemplify excellence in athletics, academics and community leadership. To be eligible for the award, student-athletes must have been named the SAC Scholar Athlete of the Year in one of the league's 14 sponsored sports.
"We're proud to select these two fine student-athletes as winners of the SAC Presidents Award," said Marty Gilbert, Mars Hill Faculty Athletic Representative and chair of the SAC FAR Committee. "Taylor and Liz both personify the core values of the SAC, and we've been fortunate to have them represent the conference this year."
Rakes helped lead the Pioneers to both the SAC regular season and tournament titles, a national ranking as high as No. 2 and a selection to the NCAA Division II Baseball Championship in 2012.
After missing the 2011 season due to Tommy John surgery, Rakes came back as a staple of TC's weekend rotation in 2012, going 10-1 with a 3.18 ERA. Following the regular season, Rakes was named to the All-SAC Second Team.
A business and economics major, Rakes graduated in May with a 3.89 GPA. In 2011-12, he was named to the SAC Commissioner's Honor Roll, the Tusculum President's List and Dean's List, the Charles Oliver Gray Honors List and the Alpha Chi Honor Society.
Additionally, Rakes earned a spot on the 2012 Capital One Academic All-America First Team, and received an Economic Achievement Award from the TC business department.
An active presence on campus, Rakes has been involved with numerous groups and activities that include the Tusculum Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, the TC Business Club, campus service-learning classes and the TC homecoming week. He was also a participant in last summer's inaugural SAC Leadership Conference.
Rakes spends time giving back to his community as well. During his time at Tusculum, he volunteered at the Greene Valley Development Center, the Make-a-Wish Foundation and local soup kitchens. He has served as a youth baseball mentor in Greeneville, and also provided free lawn care for stationed armed forces personnel.
Willis, meanwhile, had one of the most decorated individual seasons in SAC volleyball history in 2011, becoming the first-ever volleyball student-athlete to sweep the SAC Player of the Year, SAC Scholar-Athlete of the Year and SAC Tournament MVP awards in the same season.
Behind Willis, Wingate went a perfect 18-0 in the SAC and 32-1 overall, advancing to the NCAA Championship Southeast Regional Final.
In Willis' four years at Wingate, the Bulldogs went 68-0 in conference play and 130-7 overall.
She averaged 11.72 assists per game in 2011, the highest number in the conference and the fourth-best in Division II.
In addition to her SAC awards, Willis was selected as the Southeast Region Player of the Year and an All-American by Daktronics and the AVCA.
A biology major that graduated with a 3.87 GPA, Willis was named to the Capital One Academic All-America Second Team and the Alpha Chi Honors Society, and received a Postgraduate Scholarship from the NCAA.
Wingate also presented Willis with the CC. Burris Award, the Jerry and Alice Surratt Award and the Arthur Joseph "Pepper" Geddings Leadership Award.
Willis served with numerous campus groups, including as a tutor, a summer resident assistant, a housing assistant, a student worker at the WU infirmary and a producer at the Wingate Sports Network.
She also gave her time as a volunteer fire fighter and first responder, and coordinated the 2012 Charlotte Promise Walk for Preeclampsia.
Rakes is the first Tusculum student-athlete to win the SAC Presidents Award since football player Jarrell NeSmith in 2009-10, while Willis follows former WU women's basketball star Anna Atkinson, who won in 2008-09.