SAN DIEGO, CALIF. – The weekend extra special to two Drovers, who were recognized by their teams and the NAIA as being the definition of a Champion of Character.
Seniors defenders Annie Zoch and John Gardner were named 2011 NAIA Champions of Character this weekend during their national tournament opening round trips.
Each NAIA National Tournament team nominates a player who exemplifies the NAIA motto of strong character and its five core values: integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership.
The recognized player must be strong in the classroom, on the field and in the community.
Zoch has played for the Drovers for four years and has led the team as a captain the last few seasons.
“She’s a great kid and a great student athlete. Just an excellent player,” Coach Jimmy Hampton said. “I’m really, really going to miss her when she’s gone. I feel very fortunate to have spent the time with her.”
The business senior has been named Sooner Athletic Conference All-Conference First Team three years.
“It was really exciting to get the award. I felt accomplished,” Zoch said. “It means a lot to me.
Hampton pointed out her loyalty, honesty and hard work that set her apart of the rest the team.
“I think it’s my leadership on and off the field and a good attitude,” Zoch said. “I’m proud of how far the team has come this year. Even though we didn’t get as far as we wanted, it’s a huge accomplishment.”
Zoch is from Mannford. She is the daughter of John Zoch and J.D. and Sherry Matlock.
Spending four years play and a year redshirting, Gardner has been a consistent form of leadership for the men’s team.
“He’s been with me five years, so it’s almost like losing a son,” Hampton said. “It’s kind of like having another coach on the field, from a leadership standpoint.”
Gardner describes his role as team captain as not something he was appointed to do.
“You either are or you aren’t,” he said. “It’s an honor to be a leader of such a successful team.”
Gardner was named All-Conference three years. Additionally, he was named an NAIA All-American in 2008 and a Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete in 2010.
“(The Champions of Character) is not an award about just playing or just off the field. It’s both. And that’s what I have been trying to do since I got here: Be a student athlete,” Gardner said. “I try to be the best I can be and expect the best out of my teammates.”
Gardner is a business and physical education senior from Liverpool, England. He is the son of John and Joan Gardner.