Courtesy: Liberty Athletics
LYNCHBURG, Va. – Hannah Baker, a senior on the Liberty women’s swimming & diving team, has been named the recipient of the 2020 Rock Royer/Mac Rivera Award.
In 1974, the Rock Royer/Mac Rivera Award was established to honor the top senior student-athlete at Liberty University who best exemplifies the standards and lives of both of these great Christian men.
Rock Royer was Liberty’s first football coach in 1973. Mac Rivera was a member of Liberty’s men’s basketball team from 1972 until 1975. Both Rock Royer and Mac Rivera tragically died at a young age, with Royer dying in a plane crash and Rivera passing away after a fall.
This award encompasses more than just athletic ability. It recognizes the Liberty University graduating senior student-athlete who has maintained an exemplary testimony on the playing field, in the classroom and among the student body.
The award is typically announced at Liberty Athletics’ annual FLAMESPY Award show selection at the end of the spring semester. However, due to the COVID-19 virus and the cancellation of the spring semester, Liberty Athletics was unable to host a physical celebration of the 2019-20 athletic season with its student-athletes this year.
“A near 4.0 student and Nursing major, Hannah excelled in the classroom here at Liberty, maintaining high marks in a demanding program, while also competing and training at an elite level. That said, it is not the academic or athletic prowess that sets Hannah apart, it his how she was able to excel amidst personal challenges that I believe makes her a worthy candidate,” stated Liberty Women’s Swimming & Diving Head Coach Jake Shellenberger.
Shellenberger added, “Twice during her career here at Liberty, Hannah received news that her mom developed cancer, the second occurrence during a phone call the evening before the start of this year’s conference meet. I cannot imagine the strength it took for Hannah to swim through it all, but swim through it she did, placing 2nd in the 200 free, 3rd in the 50 free, 4th in the 100 free. Also a member of four winning relays, Hannah certainly led us to those back-to-back titles.”
Shellenberger concluded, “Perhaps more impressive – she did all of this with no one on the team the wiser – upon receiving the news, she decided not to tell anyone and simply swim through it. She didn’t want sympathy, she didn’t want to bring her teammates down, and she didn’t want to distract from the team goal of winning the title. After hearing the news at our post-meet dinner, our women and their parents alike were shocked Hannah was able to perform under such circumstances – a testament to the aforementioned “x-factor” that a Rock Royer /Mac Rivera Award recipient displays.”
A two-time team captain, Baker helped the Lady Flames capture back-to-back CCSA titles in 2019 and 2020. She swam on nine CCSA-champion relay teams and was a five-time CCSA individual podium finisher. Her 1:46.55 leadoff leg of Liberty’s CCSA and conference-meet record 7:10.73 800 free relay in 2018 remains a program record for 200 freestyle.
Baker is the third swimmer all-time at Liberty to go 12-for-12 at CCSA Championships, qualifying for A Finals in all 12 individual events she entered at conference meets over the last four years. She is the first swimmer in program history to earn top-three CCSA finishes in the 50 free, 100 free and 200 free during her career. During her time at Liberty, the Lady Flames posted a 49-7 dual-meet record, the winningest four-year dual-meet record in program history.
A native of Fairfax, Va. who maintained a 3.95 GPA, Baker graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. She was named a 2018 CSCAA Scholar All-America honorable mention recipient. During her time at Liberty, she has helped the swimming & diving team achieve national acclaim, as the team’s 3.79 GPA in Fall 2018 was the highest of any NCAA swimming & diving team in the nation.
Outside of the pool and classroom, Baker has spent many hours helping with community service projects. During her time at Liberty, she aided with the Dollar Makes a Difference campaign, Trick of Treat so Others Can Eat, Share the Warmth, Serve Lynchburg, R.S. Payne School Field Day, Human Kind 5K and Fun Run, Football Clean-up, Liberty Athletics Golf Outing and Freedom 424 5K.
“Liberty was a safe haven I thought I wanted but had no idea I needed,” Baker said. “Liberty gave me a place that I could intertwine my faith, athletics, academics and service. Here I was able to spend every Sunday serving in my church, afternoons practicing with my teammates, and evening tutoring underclassman nursing students. A combination no other Division I elite university could provide. It was a place where I felt no pressure to compromise my morals to fit in. At Liberty I felt that I was home. A place where those who were my teammates, became friends, and then became family.”
“Finally, Liberty gave me a steadfast foundation for my future. It was here that I was given the opportunity to purse both a nursing degree and continue my athletic career in the pool, a request that got a hard no from all other schools I was looking at. I am forever in debt to coaches, teammates, and academic affairs for saying “together we will help you do this,” instead of “no way, that is way too hard.”
“For me, Liberty will always be remembered as a place of love, of opportunity, and of faith. A place I know that no matter where life takes me, I will have a home and a community to support me. A place I will always be proud to call my alma mater.”
Baker is the second Liberty swimmer to win the Rock Royer/Mac Rivera Award, joining former teammate Alicia Finnigan who was named the 2019 recipient.
Baker is the 53rd overall recipient of this distinguished award, and this is the 47th year Liberty Athletics has presented its top athletics honor to a well-deserving senior student-athlete.
Rock Royer Award
1974 – Rick Herceg – Football
1975 – Sling Patterson – Football
1976 – David Neff – Football
1977 – Scott Goetz – Football
Mac Rivera Award
1977 – Paul Dalton – Men’s Basketball
Rock Royer/Mac Rivera Award
1978 – Gary Avila – Wrestling
1979 – Dave Anderson – Football
1980 – Karl Hess – Men’s Basketball
1981 – David “D.J.” Hertzler – Football
1982 – Sharon Snodgrass – Women’s Basketball
1983 – Bill Gillespie – Football/Men’s Track & Field
1984 – Rick Seilhamer – Wrestling
1985 – Sue Andrew – Women’s Cross Country/Track & Field
1985 – Dave Bream – Baseball
1986 – Ron Stamer – Men’s Soccer
1987 – Pam Wilder – Women’s Basketball
1988 – Annie Hunt Fairchild – Women’s Cross Country/Track & Field
1988 – Andre Sims – Football
1989 – Kathy Guetterman – Volleyball
1990 – Lynn Attwood – Women’s Cross Country/Track & Field/Women’s Basketball
1991 – Craig Holiday – Wrestling
1992 – Mike Coleman – Men’s Basketball
1993 – Theresa Bream – Volleyball/Women’s Basketball
1994 – James Downey – Football
1994 – Matt Hildebrand – Men’s Basketball
1995 – Todd Setsma – Men’s Golf
1996 – Ryan Werner – Men’s Track & Field
1997 – Michael Prettyman – Men’s Track & Field
1998 – Ben Anderson – Football
1999 – Jarrod Everson – Football
2000 – Elena Kisseleva – Women’s Basketball
2001 – Andrea Wildrick – Women’s Track & Field
2001 – Nathan Day – Men’s Basketball
2002 – Heather Sagan – Women’s Cross Country/Track & Field
2003 – Collin Mascagni – Men’s Soccer
2004 – Tatiana Tkachuk – Volleyball
2005 – Sam Gado – Football
2006 – Sonia Rodriguez – Women’s Soccer
2006 – Phillip Thompson – Baseball
2007 – Arlene Zelinskas – Women’s Track & Field
2008 – Allyson Fasnacht – Women’s Basketball
2009 – Beth Bennett – Softball
2010 – Chris Rocco – Football
2011 – Zach Duke – Football
2012 – Jesse Sanders – Men’s Basketball
2013 – Jennifer Klugh – Women’s Cross Country/Track & Field
2014 – Trey Lambert – Baseball
2015 – Alex Close – Baseball
2016 – Ashley Rininger – Women’s Basketball
2017 – Holly Van Noord – Women’s Soccer
2018 – Evangeline Crist – Women’s Tennis
2019 – Alicia Finnigan – Women’s Swimming & Diving
2020 – Hannah Baker – Women’s Swimming & Diving