INDIANAPOLIS --- It may not have turned out the way Pioneer Nation wanted, but the Tusculum University community is very proud of women's tennis student-athlete Annie McCullough, who finished as one of the top-nine finalists for the 2020 NCAA Woman of the Year Award.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's awards ceremony was held virtually and hosted by Women's Basketball Hall of Famer and basketball analyst Rebecca Lobo, who won this honor herself in 1995.
Annie, along with her best friend and twin sister Caitlin and members of the TU tennis program gathered Friday night at the Niswonger Student Commons, watched the show together on a view screen, while being physically distanced and wore masks.
Asia Seidt, an All-American swimmer at the University of Kentucky, was selected as this year's winner of the NCAA Woman of the Year award.
"I would not have been in this position, a finalist for NCAA Woman of the Year, without a countless number of people. It really does take a village, and I want them to know that their hard work, sacrifice and dedication has shaped me into the woman I am today, and it does not go unnoticed," said McCullough.
"I would like to thank all my incredible teammates throughout my four years here at Tusculum, Coach Adam Jackson and all the coaches I have had since I started playing tennis. I am so appreciative of my professors, especially Dr. Dennis Ashford and Dr. Chuck Pearson who have guided me over the years. I am also grateful to the Tusculum community who welcomed me with open arms and never let go. And finally, I want to thank my friends and family at home. I would not be the person and player I am today without you all, and for that I am forever grateful!"
The nine finalists, three women from each NCAA division, were selected for their outstanding achievements in academics, athletics, community service and leadership. Finalists were chosen from the Top 30 Woman of the Year honorees, who represent 10 honorees from each division and 14 sports, including two emerging sports. In 2020, schools nominated 605 graduating female student-athletes for this prestigious award.
McCullough becomes only the third South Atlantic Conference student-athlete to advance to the NCAA Awards Show.
McCullough graduated from Tusculum last May with a 3.985 cumulative grade point average and earned her bachelor's degree, majoring in chemistry with minors in mathematics and solar research. She was named the SAC Women's Tennis Scholar Athlete of the Year for a second straight season and also returned to the CoSIDA Academic All-America® team in back-to-back years, earning second team honors in 2019 and first team accolades in 2020.
The Belfast, Northern Ireland native is a member of the SAC Commissioner's Honor Roll, Tusculum Athletic Director's Honor Roll, Dean's List, President's List and Charles Oliver Gray Honors List. She has garnered ITA Scholar Athlete accolades every season she has been at Tusculum and has been tabbed to the Division II Athletic Directors Association Honor Roll in each of the last two years.
She was one of the founding members of the hydrogen evolution research program at Tusculum, which is designed to develop a catalyst for use in solar energy applications. She was the recipient of the TU Senior Key Award for Excellence in Chemistry in 2020 and the Northeast Tennessee Section of the American Chemical Society Outstanding Graduating Senior Award.
Annie, along with her twin sister Caitlin, became the first players in Tusculum women's tennis history to earn NCAA Division II All-America distinction. The McCulloughs are one of 16 teams honored in doubles, while Annie was among 23 student-athletes garnering All-American status in singles competition.
The McCulloughs finished as the national runner-up in doubles at the 2019 ITA Division II Cup. The sister duo concluded the fall campaign ranked No. 2 in the Oracle/ITA Division II Women's Tennis National rankings and had a 4-2 record against ranked teams during the fall. The McCulloughs did not appear in any matches during the spring due to injuries, and boast an impressive 54-12 record in three seasons together at Tusculum thus far.
In singles play, the 2020 SAC International Woman of the Year went 10-3 during the fall 2019 season to boost her career singles mark to an impressive 91-15.
During her stellar career, she has been named the University's Female Athlete of the Year on two occasions (2017-18 & 2018-19) and has earned All-Conference in each of her TU seasons including 2019 when she was named the SAC Women's Tennis Player of the Year.
She assists in the Tusculum University Tutoring Center where she helps her fellow classmates in a variety of subjects and disciplines. She has also been active in working in the community where she has volunteered with the Make-A-Wish program, volunteered reading to kindergarten students at a local school, served as an instructor at numerous youth tennis clinics and was active with the University's Nettie Day of Service.
"Annie has always been and continues to be a leader and a fantastic representative of Tusculum University and our tennis program," said Coach Adam Jackson. "She excels in all facets of being a student-athlete because she has an unmatched work ethic and mindset. I am so proud of her and ecstatic that she has considered for this award among so many deserving women."